Jeremy Corbyn has a Small Team Mentality

94582170_File_photo_dated_12-02-16_of_Labour_leader_Jeremy_Corbyn_who_has_been_asked_to_address_more-xlarge_trans++dQ8YrSsR88w3pzEpBtW9VpxkSp59y3f5RW3cbWCveiYAfter drawing to Iceland in the group stages of Euro 2016, Portugal striker Cristiano Ronaldo expressed his disdain for what he felt was the squad’s ‘small team mentality.’ He was clearly unimpressed with the manner in which the team celebrated, stating that they acted as though they had just won the Euros, rather than an opening game in the first stage of the competition.

Here it should be noted that Ronaldo, whose strict tanning regime has made him look like a kind of leather-bound mannequin, is one of the highest paid, most-revered footballers in the world, who plays at the highest level and at one of the wealthiest and most successful teams, Real Madrid. By contrast, Iceland is the world’s smallest country with a population less than the city of Leicester, whose captain plays Championship football and has two managers, one of whom is a former dentist.

Ronaldo’s comments were duly criticized and mocked for precisely the reasons stated above. That Ronaldo should carry himself off as an entitled and arrogant dick comes as no surprise and, as anyone who has watched the surreal documentary he endorsed about his life can attest, he is also incredibly insecure about his own greatness. Even so, his failure to respect and congratulate a team who overcame incredible odds to make it to their first international tournament shows that perhaps he should examine his own attitude when throwing out such statements.

In a sense, perhaps it is Ronaldo who has the small team mentality. I would call it petulance, arrogance, an inability to look past one’s own ego to be the bigger man, to do what is good and right and expected for everybody involved. Hell, he hadn’t even lost that game! Last night, as I watched the team that Ronaldo has spurned progress to the quarter-finals, I was reminded of the put-down he had thrown their way. And in that moment, as I turned my thoughts away from football and to the hellish mania that is England’s political landscape, the words took on a greater significance. In these troubled times we now find ourselves in, it would appear that this ‘Small Team Mentality’ is not just consigned to Portuguese superstars, but other notary figures who should be acting as leaders rather than as spoilt children.

Jeremy Corbyn has a small team mentality. Know that it gives me no pleasure to write this. Today, the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition faced a vote of no confidence from his party in which he spectacularly lost – 172 votes to 40. It is easier for me to name members of his shadow cabinet who have stayed than those that have resigned. This mass revolt has been in the offing since he was elected leader, but it was triggered by the result of the referendum on the European Union. Mr Corbyn, and the Labour party, had campaigned on remaining in the EU, and had duly lost. After nearly a year of disappointments, it would appear that this failing was the final straw.

Why do I say that Corbyn has a small team mentality? Because in a time of national turmoil, when our Prime Minister has resigned, when our markets are collapsing, when lies and naked racism win the day, when our citizens are abused in the street, their shops torched and their livelihoods in question, when the Far-Right appear more empowered and enabled than ever before, when friendships and alliances lie in ruins, when true leaders  are few and far between, and when it becomes clear, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that one man can no longer lead, what is it that the man in question does? He refuses to stand down.

I had supported and voted for Mr Corbyn last September, believing him to offer a radical new change for a Labour Party that I believed to be beleaguered and directionless at the time. In the disappointment of the General Election, I thought he could offer something that none of the other candidates did. I voted for him because I felt he might be the only one who would finally offer a real alternative to the crushing austerity policies of the Conservatives. I suppose I was not wrong. He certainly offered an alternative.

The year has not been an easy one. Corbyn has faced a hostile press and a hostile parliamentary party, even before he was elected. His every decision has been met with criticism. He has been derided as a traitor, a communist, and a moron. He has been pilloried in the popular press as a buck-toothed throwback, a beige-jacketed geography teacher who has just discovered Das Kapital. They even made a musical about him. Politicians, on both sides of the House, have not been much kinder. Every time he stands to speak he is met with jeers and mockery, while his contemporaries cringe or check their phones, blushing that they should belong to the same party as him. Arguably, this is a baptism of fire for which no one is deserving, and it is true that the year has not been easy on him. But he has not made it easy for himself, either.

Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the difficulties, gaffes and missteps has been one of repeated indifference. Instead of proactively getting in front of stories and controlling narratives, he lets newspapers run with whatever they want. Corbyn’s approach to media relations serves as a perfect example of why you can’t ‘no comment’ the press. After all, if you don’t give those bastards something to chew on they will happily chew on you. In addition, instead of tackling disagreement and disunion in his party ranks he has instead shrugged them off for being snide, and suggesting instead that they respect his mandate to lead. He pushes on with his vague message in some bloody-minded belief that whatever it is he is doing, it is working. Worryingly, he has utterly failed to take stock of how his leadership may have alienated people, particularly through the actions of his supporters, both online and off.

Momentum, the organisation formed after Corbyn was elected, seemed at first to be a positive step to making more people active and engaged in politics. Yet as Corbyn has faced criticism, some harsh and some reasonable, the group seems to have devolved into a kind of isolated sect of armchair conspiracy theorists who will turn on anyone who speaks wrongly of their anointed leader. Labour MPs such as Jess Phillips, BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssburg, and activist Abby Tomlinson have all been victims of online trolling from these delusional keyboard warriors. Phillips herself has, on various days, been called a ‘traitor’, a ‘Zionist’ and, more recently, ‘vermin.’ No prizes for guessing what links these three people. What has Corbyn done to address this? Well, following the resignation of many of his shadow cabinet, he addressed Momentum. At a rally. To keep him as leader.

Jeremy Corbyn is not responsible for his followers, but he is responsible for the kind of message he sends, and how it looks when the main body of his support seem to care far more about fighting the Labour party than they do about standing up to the real forces that are tearing our fragile union apart. Above all, Corbyn, and his support base, seem to resemble exactly what the rest of the country must resent (and a group that I no doubt belong to). London-centric, middle-class, educated liberals who have no clue what is going on in the communities North of Watford, or why it might be that nativist, anti-immigrant rhetoric may have proved so popular as rallying cries for people left behind by globalisation and the free market, long disenfranchised by political parties and social progress and left to rot.

What exactly is it that Jeremy Corbyn hopes to achieve by his continued obstinacy in the face of certain defeat? What exactly is it that his supporters are waiting for, that he should suddenly transform into the credible political force that can unite this disquieted isle?

The world is a scary and dangerous place, more now than ever, and in these times it can bring some comfort to think that it is just you against them. If only everyone else saw things the way you do! As a former Corbyn supporter, I too have been convinced of demons – demon politicians, demon Blairites, and a demon media that is both unbiased and unfair. Seeing my leader humbled, time and time again, I have contented myself to think that he could succeed if only everyone else would just give him a chance. The problem is, he hasn’t given anyone else a chance either.

For good or ill, the British exit from the European Union happened. There is no point in blaming each other for it, not even Corbyn. Right now, when all seems likely to fall into chaos, we need leaders who are willing to see past their small team mentalities. At a time like this we need somebody who can speak across divides, be they generational, racial, political, by region or by class. By his defiance, by his stubborn refusal to work with others, to compromise, Jeremy Corbyn shows himself up as a man who is engaged in a conversation that only he can hear. He risks the Union, the country, and Europe by his egotism. And now he must go.

Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

 

The Life of Pablo is sometimes brilliant and very often baffling. It’s baggy, unfocused and, much like the bizarre Madison Square listening party that preceded its release, lacks any sense of direction and plot. This is naturally a shame, for whatever else can be said about the almost self-parodying egomaniac, none of his previous projects have wanted for vision and concept.

The album has moments that remind you just what a master auteur and lyricist Kanye West can be. The problem is that they are almost always followed up by such indefensible dross that it makes listening to the album from start to finish very infuriating. The opener, Ultralight Beam, would have you believe that this is a Kanye back on form, with its gospel croons and stripped-back production. With the exception of the hokey ‘Pray for Paris/Pray for the parents’ line, it is an engaging and affecting start. Kanye has never been much of a singer, but somehow he makes it work here, despite being completely flat. It almost sounds, dare I say it, tasteful.

But then you have ‘Father Stretch my Hands Part 1’, with perhaps one of the most uninspired trap beats going this year (and there are a few of them), dire DIRE autotune and some odiously cringeworthy lyrics, even by Kanye’s hilariously poor standards. ‘Now if I fuck this model/And she just bleached her asshole/And I get bleach on my t-shirt/I might just feel like an asshole.’ Kanye West has previously compared himself to Shakespeare, which makes sense, for as the above demonstrates, Mr West clearly shares the Bard’s uncanny knack for articulating inner turmoil.

It’s almost not even worth expanding on the rabid misogyny of ‘Famous’, a track which has already caused a stir for its line about making Taylor Swift, you guessed it, famous. Worse than offensive, the writing on this track is just lazy. Swizz Beats provided an excellent, heavy beat but it’s totally wasted on a rapper who spends the track riffing on Puerto Rican floats and his penis, an appendage that has come up (no pun intended) in West’s music so often I wonder if its liable to release its own solo album.

Five tracks in and there is still no sign as to what this album is about. Is it about fame? Is it about the creative process? Is it about Kanye’s penis? Needless to say, the aesthetic is similarly confused and jarring. For example, ‘Feedback’ could well be an offcut from Yeezus with its minimalist, harsh production and raw energy but this is immediately followed up by ‘Low Lights’, a beatless track that features an (as far as I know) unnamed speaker with ‘Praise the Lord’-style sermonising about her life and the struggles she has faced. It’s sudden changes like this that make it seem as though you aren’t listening to one album but have instead selected shuffle on a playlist of mediocre 2016 hip-hop which, by and large, this album is made up of.

There are positives to be taken from the album, however. The adlib ‘I Love Kanye’ shows that the rapper and producer is not beyond self-scrutiny, much like the smartly introspective ‘Real Friends’ that finds Kanye West pondering about his own celebrity in a way that isn’t simply self-aggrandizing but mature and human. ‘FML’ is also a worthy listen, with some tense, stop-start pacing and a well-chosen hook from The Weeknd, who is a reliably apt addition to a track about self-loathing and destructive behaviour.

Then there’s ‘No More Parties in L.A.’ This deserves special mention because it’s not just good, it’s exceptional. Perhaps he didn’t want to be outshined by Kendrick Lamar (who always attempts and usually succeeds at besting other rappers on their own material), but Kanye is brilliant here. The delivery, the confidence, the hunger – it’s all there. It’s difficult not to get excited by lines like ‘I know some fans who thought that I wouldn’t rap like this again/but the writer’s block is over MCs cancel your plans’. Unfortunately, given the lacklustre work that features on the rest of this record I doubt Kanye’s contemporaries will be cancelling anything soon.

The rest of the album doesn’t really bear much serious analysis. From its dodgy MS-Paint artwork, its disjointed track selection, and its vaguely Biblical title (which, in the course of the album’s 58-minute runtime is never expounded upon), The Life of Pablo is both restless and undisciplined. In a way, it’s the perfect reflection of the creative mind that birthed it. Kanye West still has plenty to say, but right now he seems incapable of marshalling his ideas coherently and effectively.

As has been speculated upon, Kanye West could just be trolling everyone. In an age as cynical and narcissistic as this one, there is a distinct possibility that this is all some carefully curated publicity stunt, but I honestly doubt it. There are some great tracks here but nothing to prevent non-diehards from continuing to mockingly regard Kanye West for what he seems intent on becoming – a punchline to a joke he’s neither privy to, nor could possibly comprehend.

Gogo Penguin – Man Made Object

The questionably-named trio return with an unquestionably great album. While the band do not necessarily take many risks with their sound, they demonstrate clear growth and development when it comes to compositional prowess and emotional depth.

Bolstered by performances on Jools Holland and early championing by preeminent tastemakers like Gilles Peterson, the group’s second album V2.0 earned plaudits across the board. V2.0 arrived as a work of taut yet intricate arrangements, taking inspiration from jazz as much as contemporary electronic music. Gogo Penguin would go on to receive a coveted Mercury Prize nomination for the album, as well as a record deal from Blue Note Paris.0003650132_10

While deserved, the move from Gondwana to Blue Note attracted some interest and excitement from the chin-stroking crowd. The band may take influence from jazz, but there is a question (perhaps a pedantic one, but still worthwhile) of whether they qualify as a jazz band proper. After all, Gogo Penguin have been apprehensive about the use of the tag to describe their music, as so little (if any) of it is improvised. Would their move to Blue Note signify a different direction for the group?

Seven months after the Blue Note announcement, Gogo Penguin performed some of the tracks that would come to make up Man Made Object as part of 2015’s London Jazz Festival. They were accompanied by choreographer Lynne Page and her dancing troupe. Modestly attired in plain whites and greys, the dancers and their movements served as a perfect visual representation of the new music. Carefully choreographed yes, but somehow fluid, joyous, and above all, free.

That is, in a sentence, how I would describe Man Made Object. Much like V2.0, the album’s power does not come from its complexity (although the musicianship on display is astounding), but rather its plotting – its peaks and troughs, its knots of tension and its sighs of release. This is a band that have not so much changed their style but honed it, perfecting their craft with a record that is tightly structured and features plenty of virtuosity but also manages to be absorbing, immersive and uplifting.

Highlights: Branches Break, Smarra, Initiate, Protest

Downsides: GBFISYSIH

For more information on Gogo Penguin visit their website here.

Man Made Object is available to buy on iTunes here.

 

 

 

 

 

Huh Detective: We Get the Sequel We Deserve

[SPOILERS, OBVIOUSLY]

The second season of True Detective concluded last weekend and was completely different to season one. In that respect, it was a huge success. The reeking bayous of rural Louisiana were swapped out for the lurid sprawl of inner city Los Angeles, and a story fuelled by bleak nihilism and metaphysical pretensions was swapped for, well, a story fuelled by bleak nihilism and metaphysical pretensions. Whatever the opinion of True Detective’s troubled second season may be (and, as the below will explain, I’m not exactly favourable), the run offered plenty by way of discussion and emphasised the importance, nay the obligation, to take risks in the stories we tell. I offer the following as what I believe to be the creative aspirations of the season and why they may not have resonated with audiences.

Oscar Wilde once quipped that everything is either about sex or power. If that’s the case then Season Two very obviously falls into the former camp. From its inception we are introduced to a group of characters that are all compromised by their inability to conform to gender standards, as designated by the societies in which they inhabit or their own broken, conflicted selves.

Washed-up cop Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) feels obligated to ‘be a man’ by defending his raped wife’s honour and killing the man (he believes) responsible. But this act of violence causes him to become an amoral, corrupt and abusive alcoholic and drug abuser (such vices being key signifiers for ‘male failure’ in television).

Detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) feels obligated to overcompensate, partly as a result of abuse suffered as a child but also because of a male-dominated work environment. She uses men, she eschews relationships, and she makes up for her lack of physical strength with her knife skills (such bladed weapons also serving as phallic proxies).

Mobster Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) feels obligated to achieve a mastery of his environment but is continually emasculated by both figurative and literal impotence. The former takes the form of betrayed confidences and business dealings and the latter in his frustrated martial relationship and (implied) infertility.

Highway patrolman Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) feels obligated to fulfil a masculine ideal (heterosexual, patriarchal, paternal), but ultimately struggles as a result of his repressed homosexuality as well as a strained relationship with his mother. From very early on, the series heavily implies that she has sexually abused him, and the disgust he feels towards her for her history as a prostitute implies a development of both Oedipal and Madonna-Whore complexes, confounding his macho aspirations as well as his attempts at forging meaningful relationships.

Make no mistake, these characters have interesting motivations and are worth writing stories about. So why did they fail to be compelling on screen? Some might blame the acting of Vaughn and Kitsch but that unfairly ignores some truly toe-curling dialogue and a plot that is utterly, irredeemably, incomprehensible. These characters are moved from place to place and person to person with a frequency and reckless abandon that is simply staggering to behold. I can only imagine that Nic Pizzolatto wrote this all up during some heinous amphetamine-induced comedown, having been forced to read the entirety of Raymond Chandler while locked in a basement at gunpoint. Throughout the run my mind was a constant stream of questions. Who’s this? What’s that? Where are they going? Why do I care?

Labyrinthine plots are a commonplace of noir and hardboiled detective fiction and don’t always have to be a problem, so long as you can establish a mood. Atmosphere and setting is everything to these stories. The ‘whodunnit’ aspect of a story like The Big Sleep is far less important than the creation of mood. Chandler managed to do this through LA’s seedy environs and characters, giving the reader a sense of ever-present danger and mystery, an atmosphere in which Philip Marlowe can only ever be hopelessly out-of-depth and embattled by forces beyond his control.

Season two tries so hard to establish an atmosphere of grim foreboding and portent but is so overwrought and heavy-handed that it just fails to captivate, instead coming off as flimsy pastiche. The chief offenders (among many more that don’t need to elaborated on) include continual shots of the interstate, a cheesy saxophone, and a recurring motif of a dive bar guitarist whose plaintive warbling worked at first but soon becomes ripe for parody.

I should point out that the use of cliché is not inherently bad. This whole series has been established on cliché (see also chain-smoking, beer-swilling cops who don’t play by the rules and have domestic issues). But in this case the use of cliché to create atmosphere seems lazy, forced, and ultimately hollow. An incomprehensible plot might’ve worked if the things I’ve mentioned actually contributed to something atmospheric and engrossing but unfortunately they only made the story that much more infuriating to try and understand.

Ultimately though, plot and mood aside, it is the character arcs and their respective resolutions which hammer the nails home. Woodrugh, whose backstory actually seemed one of the most interesting, meets an untimely end because of a double-crossing (and spurned) male lover, and the subplots with both his mother and girlfriend are left completely unresolved. Ray achieves a particularly token redemption, winning the respect of his estranged son and coming to terms with his failures before being shot down in a forest. Frank patches up his relationship with Kelly Reilly (his wife), gets to kill the bad guys in a completely unremarkable gunfight, and then gets trotted out into the middle of a desert to get stabbed in the gut before walking to his demise. This was perhaps the best of all four, and actually had some dramatic heft by way of the hallucinations on his fateful walk, from his abusive father, bullying gangsters, a pleading victim, and ultimately his wife in a white dress. No I can’t remember her name. That’s how significant Kelly Reilly’s character is. Then there’s Bezzerides.

It’s refreshing to see female characters on screen that are not simply wives, girlfriends, mothers, plot devices or victims. It’s refreshing to see female characters who possess agency and can prompt both discussion and controversy in equal measure. In Bezzerides, Nic had a chance to prove that he could write a woman who represented all of these things. But as the series wore on, I realised that that wasn’t going to be the case.

Ani Bezzerides, like her counterparts, struggles to reconcile herself with the expectations of her gender. So obviously it makes sense that the only way for her to come to terms with who she is as a person is by consummating a relationship with her partner (and conveniently, other lead actor) Ray. This is, in my opinion, the bête noire of screenwriting. It’s lazy and undermines any kind of self-determination that Ani Bezzerides may have had. Instead, this forced coupling seems to suggest that all of her problems can be solved by a romantic union with a similarly ‘damaged soul’. This misjudged trajectory is broadly representative of the entire season’s problems. There are plenty of good ideas here but Nic doesn’t seem to know how to expand upon them in any meaningful way, and instead opts for a deeply unsatisfying conclusion that is as awkward as it is predictable.

Does this mean that people should be discouraged from writing this kind of story? Absolutely not. If anything, watching this series has inspired me to write more. Critical reaction, from fans and journalists, has been overwhelmingly poor to this season and, as always, there is a question of whether ripping something apart actually serves any real good for storytelling. I think it does (naturally), but I certainly take the point that there is a value in trying to create something even if it fails. The simple fact is that Nic Pizzolatto created one of the greatest television dramas of all time, and subsequently took a risk that didn’t pay off, as is his right and duty as a creative artist. I hope he never stops taking risks, even if they result in turkeys like this. It’s certainly better than an endless parade of boilerplate dramas drummed out by writers who resemble more of a corporate committee than actual artists. In essence, we got the sequel Nic deserved to write. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t very good.

A Sovereign Soul and a Tragic Ambition

How else to describe the life and artistry of Nina Simone? Iconoclast. Leader. Visionary. Both agent and victim to a time, class, and social life rent with injustice, trauma and brutality. As a child she dreamt of being the first black classical pianist. What she accomplished was greater than that, and ultimately, far more brutal. Nina Simone, as Liz Garbus’ documentary appears to argue, elected herself to be the vessel, the voice, of a people denied history and dignity and voices of their own. She wanted to be an agent of social change for black America, and she was not rewarded for it.

When I think of Nina Simone I am reminded of that one word, repeated, over and over again in Sinnerman. Power. But watching this documentary I’m also reminded that that very power comes at a cost. ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’ is a very fine, if patchy work of documentary filmmaking that avoids typical hagiography for an intimate, and often tough look into the life of one of America’s greatest recording artists and Civil Rights activists.

The film takes the tried and tested narrative structure of musical documentaries, cutting Simone’s professional career into three sections. There is the ascendancy, the heroism, and the inevitable fallout. First, we see Simone as the popular singer and musician, renowned for blending the elegancy of classical piano with the emotional power of soul. Early in her career we see her performing her hit ‘I Loves You Porgy’ on Hugh Hefner’s Playboy’s Penthouse, winning accolades and being taken under the wing of manager (and later husband) Andrew Stroud.

Second, we see Simone step into her role as activist, her music taking on a fiercer, more vital mantle. Her recording of ‘Mississippi Goddam’ signals this new shift, and we are told that, after the Alabama church bombings in 1963, Simone’s voice ‘never went back.’ It is during this time that Simone becomes friends with civil rights leaders such as Dr Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, as well as writers like Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry. Through voiceover clips and live recordings we can see how this period of her life was when she felt the most confident in her work and what it could do for people. ‘We will shape and mould this country or it will not be shaped or moulded at all’ she says in one defiant clip. It was this defiance and anger which would, in the words of her daughter ‘sustain her’, but would also alienate her from audiences and potentially cost her not only a livelihood, but happiness also.

Third, we see the later period of Simone’s life marked by despair, loneliness, financial trouble, and a destructive impulse that hurt both herself and those that loved her. Her association with black militancy cost her work, and the heavy blows dealt to the civil rights movement with the murders of both Dr King and Malcolm X would sap her of purpose and drive for change. There is a recording of a performance she gave the day that Dr King was assassinated in which she stops singing and breaks down listing those lost. Soon after she gives up playing piano and moves to Liberia. When she does eventually return to music, it is at a disastrous concert at Montreux. In some incredibly painful footage we see Simone appear on stage, a bizarre half-shadow of herself, glaring out at the audience while the applause awkwardly dies down. She makes a few harsh remarks that are met by nervous laughter. She begins to play, and about a minute into her song she stands up and angrily demands that an audience member sit down. That Simone should be so ferocious and short-tempered is hardly surprising to anyone who is familiar with her life and work. What is shocking about this moment is that it shows a time in the life of true isolation, and a bitter anger that, without direction, could be turned against anyone.

The film honours and pays tribute to Simone, but does not shy away from showing the darker sides of her story, whether that involves the abuses she endured or the abuses she herself inflicted on those she loved. There is some particularly unsettling interview footage with her late husband Andrew Stroud, whose somewhat blasé attitude in recalling how he came to manage and marry Simone is juxtaposed with testimonies of his savage cruelty and tendency to overwork the singer. Simone is not just a victim either though, and we are afforded some harsh insights from her daughter Lisa, who recalls how she could ‘never do anything right’ and was regularly beaten.

Ultimately, Garbus poses no real answers to her film’s tantalising premise. Instead, we are given the facts as they are presented and must decide for ourselves. This is perhaps both the strength and weakness of the film. It is all context rather than speculation, straight biography as opposed to critique. Added to which the film ends very abruptly, sadly, and all too soon. In attempting to cover the musician’s life and influence, the film feels strangely truncated and speeds along at a pace that does not leave much time for reflection. Still, at a time when there is a renewed interest in the work of Simone, we can be thankful for a biography that, while by no means attempting to dethrone the singer, does shine a new light on the troubled but brilliant artist. What happened, Miss Simone? Nina Simone happened. And we are so much better for it.

Crossing the Streams: Apple Music’s Swift Coup

Apple’s U-turn on royalties is one of the great PR stunts of our time. Just days after the multi-billion dollar company announced a 30-day free trial of its streaming service, pop juggernaut Taylor Swift penned a much-circulated tumblr post decrying how the company would not be paying artists royalties from streams during this period. Apple Music’s Eddy Cue then announced a backtrack on this policy, tweeting that ‘Apple Music will pay artist[s] for streaming, even during customer’s free trial period.’ We hear you Taylor Swift and indie artists, he added.

Of course, whether or not Swift and Apple actually colluded in secret can only be speculated. Still, the whole episode is genius from a marketing perspective, and represents a bold power play from two giants of commercial and cultural capital. It was not long before this story was picked up worldwide, and it isn’t difficult to see the immense benefits it has to both parties. Taylor Swift got to continue to be in the headlines, as well as maintain her status as a champion of artist’s rights and all-round nice person. Apple got to act like it actually gave a shit about artists while simultaneously sticking the boot into Spotify, whose issues of artist payment have been the target of much controversy.

And boy did it work a treat. USA Today called it a ‘sweet smackdown’, while Forbes remarked that Swift’s ‘win’ over Apple had cemented her ‘Elite Powerbroker Status.’ Musicians and recording artists all the way from Elvis Costello to El-P lauded her stance as sticking up for the rights of musicians, with the underground rapper and producer stating that she ‘just fully earned my respect.’ Which I suppose is kind of a big deal, especially considering how much he hated ‘Welcome to New York.’

Let’s step away from the adoration of Christ-apparent Swift for a moment and actually examine this series of events. As Billboard pointed out, ‘one might wonder why Apple, as savvy a company as exists, failed to anticipate music industry backlash over its proposed deal. One might also wonder why a company renowned for its negotiating skill so quickly admitted defeat on this particular deal point.’ Why indeed.

As Bloomberg reported back in April, Apple has been courting musicians such as Florence and the Machine and Taylor Swift in an attempt to sign streaming deals. Taylor Swift, as powerful as she is, cannot resist streaming forever without alienating a sizeable portion of her listening base. The success of streaming services like Spotify only goes to show that people are, on balance, not too fussed about purchasing music if the access is there and can be obtained for a relatively low cost. As critic Anthony Fantano pointed out, streaming hasn’t devalued music – listeners have.

If streaming is inevitable for pop artists (and indeed, artists of any genre), why should Taylor Swift, arguably one of the biggest acts of our time, be so set against it? When she ‘criticised’ Apple Music for their policy on royalties, it wasn’t the first time she had gone out to bat against streaming. She famously removed her discography from Spotify last year, and wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which she unequivocally stated that ‘music should not be free.’ Which sounds like the sort of thing Lars Ulrich would have, only Swift managed to avoid being called greedy and instead was seen as a supporter of independent musicians, something the Metallica drummer summarily failed to do.

Who is Taylor Swift referring to when she speaks of independent artists? Is it the small-time music-makers or is it actually the record labels themselves? It could well be both of course, but I can’t help but feel that the real issue is to do with the threat of diminished sales. Naturally, a dent in album revenue has a big effect on the artist, but an even greater one on the label, who (depending on what kind of deal the artist has) have traditionally taken a bigger slice of any money made.

The issue here is that a lot of people, musicians and labels alike, tend to view a stream as a sale. So big, commercial artists may get millions of streams but are unlikely to see much return because of the amount owed to labels, studios, and so on. Conversely, small artists might get a larger share of the profit, but because of their size and popularity, the money made will not amount to anything significant.

As labels tend to take a bigger share of the profit from an artist’s work, they are bound to be hurt more than the artists when it comes to streaming. Mark Mulligan of Music Industry Blog has argued that Taylor Swift is still indebted to the old model of record label. Given that Swift’s success has so far has largely been linked to her label and their work in promoting her, it is understandable why she would be so quick to argue against a new means of consuming music, especially if it poses an existential threat to the recording industry as we know it.

I want streaming to be fairer. I think Taylor Swift (whatever her intentions) is right to point out the issues with pay. But this problem goes further than just companies not paying their musicians enough, and to pretend otherwise misses the bigger picture entirely. I’m by no means representative of most people, but I stream music because I simply can’t afford to buy all the records that I want. I tend to support a few artists that I really care deeply about and are probably not swanning around on a yacht somewhere, but on the whole, I will use a streaming service to listen to most of my music and try out new stuff before I commit to purchasing. If you want to accurately approach the problem of streaming music and the cost it has on musicians and labels, this is an attitude and mentality that you simply cannot afford to overlook. The troubles that Jay-Z and friends face with Tidal only go to demonstrate this fact.

The alignment of Swift and Apple Music looks set to turn Apple Music into the first real threat to Spotify’s throne. Just this week the company announced a number of high-profile exclusives such as Pharrell’s new single, and also struck a deal with Beggars Group, the organisation that handles such independent labels as 4AD, XL, Matador and Rough Trade. And, lo and behold, come the week’s end, Taylor Swift announced via Twitter that she would, in fact, be putting her multi-platinum album ‘1989’ up on the streaming service.

The Taylor Swift and Apple Music saga was a perfectly executed coup, raising the stakes and putting the streaming service firmly on everyone’s radar. Of course, Apple were always going to be a formidable challenge. Given that all this should happen in the same week that another Tidal boss quit, as well as the puny reception that Google Play’s announcement received, shows exactly why the tech giant is not one to be trifled with. According to the New York Times, the new service has the potential to draw 100 million subscribers over the next two years, and considering how the company are currently valued at $700 billion dollars, I think it’s safe to assume that they are in no trouble of running low on financial backing.

The question of whether or not independent artists will actually benefit from being on Apple Music remains to be seen. Personally I doubt that this really represents a significant win for artists but who knows. Whatever else, Taylor Swift and Apple Music have steered the conversation in their favour and have come out on top. They will forever be known as the real winners here.