Haynes: Hype Paralysis
By Campbell Haynes, Contributing Columnist
Published on Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Hype can be a cruel mistress. Expectations frequently overwhelm the achievements young stars actually accomplish. Our current age of the Internet makes this buzz paralyzing and all-encompassing. It also offers a sinister potential: The blogosphere can skyrocket anyone to fame. Riding this wave of buzz is a challenge that few manage successfully. Hype, then, threatens to overwhelm the strengths of the individual with abstract promises of fame; resisting these buffeting winds of ego-boosting hype becomes the central challenge for up-and-coming stars.
Rising stars in sports and music launch themselves into the public consciousness easily: A short YouTube video of a young quarterback with a rocket arm or a quick-witted rapper flowing over a well-known beat can incite buzz. The Internet provides a ready-made platform for ambitious talents to establish themselves.
The nature of the Internet as a hype machine manifests itself quite obviously in college sports. Basketball and football recruiting have recently become cottage industries of sorts. Independent recruiting services first emerged around the turn of the decade. Rabid demand from college sports fans fueled their increasingly meteoric popularity and eventual absorption by sports media behemoths like ESPN and Yahoo.
Jimmy Clausen’s experience serves as a cautionary tale. Proclaimed a “10-year prospect” by Rivals.com, Clausen was on recruiting services’ radar by the fifth grade. His hype reached a fever pitch after a 58-touchdown sophomore season, and he proclaimed his intention to bring four national titles to South Bend. Clausen achieved success in the College Football Hall of Fame, but never the national titles or Heisman trophies that his hype all but guaranteed. He fell victim to his own buzz: His invocation of potential immortality — the College Football Hall of Fame — guaranteed that anything but immortality would be a disappointment. Clausen’s very decision-calculus reflects his misguided approach: He chose the University of Notre Dame, thinking Charlie Weiss would make him the next Tom Brady. He failed to realize that hype guarantees nothing but sky-high expectations.
Clausen’s collapse illustrates the central peril of Internet-driven hype — the buzz becomes the narrative, overwhelming the real talents of the individual. A similar narrative emerged in the hip-hop community in the last two years surrounding the precocious lyricist Kendrick Lamar. Critical acclaim and rap blogosphere buzz increased with each Kendrick release. Dr. Dre, fancying himself a kingmaker, signed Kendrick and his Black Hippy crew to Aftermath Entertainment. Soon, Dre was clumsily rapping verses ghostwritten by Kendrick. The coronation was all but official. Hip-hop writers stumbled over themselves to label him the next Tupac or Nas. The buzz reached a crescendo over the summer, as blogs feverishly proclaimed his impending debut, “Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City,” an inevitable classic and seriously compared it to Nas’ “Illmatic,” the pinnacle of hip-hop debuts.
While it probably will not enjoy the legendary status of “Illmatic,” “Good Kid, m.A.A.d City” delivers on its promise. Rather than basking in his preordained greatness or veering away from his strengths, Kendrick stuck to his guns. The album features few outside producers or vain guest features. Kendrick’s strengths — lyricism, innovative use of voices and social consciousness — shine through in an album that does actually evoke a young Nas in its subtle yet piercing social commentary. Moreover, Kendrick carefully avoided a College Football Hall of Fame moment. On Sunday night, he treated fans to a free concert outside the Lakers game. The event caused a near-riot, with fans from all over Los Angeles clamoring to see the newly crowned prince of the West Coast. Such an event could have felt contrived, but it came off as almost organic and very spontaneous. This distinction explains Kendrick’s strength: He derives confidence from his city and his belief in his own talent.
Riding the wave of buzz successfully requires a commitment to individuality, a commitment inherently threatened by the hype itself. Kendrick understands this well. On “Buried Alive”, the best cut on Drake’s “Take Care,” Kendrick recalls Drake’s advice: “You belong to the people when you’re outside / So dig a shovel full of money, full of power, full of p*ssy, full of fame / and bury yourself alive.” Kendrick’s breakthrough — from the insidious influences of Compton to the all-encompassing waves of buzz — stems from his refusal to be buried alive. Internet hype paralyzes many of our up-and-coming stars. The best, however, understand individuality breeds success and cling to it, against all odds.