Lots Of Money At SXSW

Something at SXSW must have ticked off New York Times’ Jon Pareles and David Carr, and that something is apparently a Lady Gaga showcase.

Photo: AP Photo / Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner
Lady Gaga performs at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q during SXSW in Austin, Texas.

The massive Austin, Texas, event received criticism from both writers this year for being a wee bit too corporate.

Truth is, it’s been shifting away from indie-cred to corporate event for some time now (television personality Rachael Ray’s first showcase was arguably the shark-jumping moment years ago).

This year, however, a Twitter event surrounding Gaga’s “infomercial” of a showcase sparked the Times’ writers to voice that something has definitely changed.

Gaga’s performance was sponsored by Doritos, which had a “Doritos Bold” stage at the event.

“Doritos chips are known for their bold flavor,” the company said online. “In 2013 it was time to move from bold flavor to bold action. We started by giving fans control over how bold our concerts got at the SXSW music festival.

“We built the tallest, boldest stage at SXSW: a 62-foot-tall, functional Doritos vending machine powered by Tweets. The bold part? We gave fans control over how bold they wanted the concerts to get. No matter if you were at SXSW, on your phone anywhere or watching the live stream on Facebook or on Fuse TV, you could pick the acts, control the playlist and trigger bold special effects.”

In concordance, Gaga asked her little monsters to use hashtag #boldstage and submit a video of them doing something “bold” to get access to the performance.

“In fact, any journalist covering the event was required to do the same thing, which explains why I – and my colleague Jon Pareles – were not there,” Carr wrote. “If we had done so, we would have consented to ‘give sponsor a royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, nonexclusive license’ to use our social media efforts to sell corn chips.”

Carr and Pareles balked at Gaga’s inconsistency – even if a percentage of the sponsorship money went to her charity – because they learned that the performance included her telling the world, “I won’t play by your … rules.”

Another thing that got Pareles’ goat was Gaga’s defense of sponsorship during a keynote Q&A with, yes, a Fuse TV rep, where she said festivals need sponsorship dollars because record companies no longer have the budgets.

“Which was, of course, nonsense,” Pareles wrote. “Her ‘us’ is the tiny sliver of established, high-maintenance hit makers. Self-made bands have been coming to SXSW for nearly three decades without labels or sponsors. The best thing Lady Gaga could have done for struggling bands would be not to steal the spotlight from them.”

Gaga was not the only heavily promoted artist; not by a long shot. Jay ZKanye WestColdplayKeith Urban and Cee-Lo Green all made appearances with the help of sponsors.

Meanwhile, rapper ScHoolboy Q was upset his fans couldn’t get into his shows unless they had a formal invite.

“It’s stupid. They changed it all up. It’s corporate,” he told the Associated Press. “I don’t ever want to come back unless they change it to where the fans are in. I’m tired of performing and seeing my fans outside the gate. … That’s not fair. It’s not about the fans no more, it’s all about money, who can give you the best look.”

In balance, Pareles complimented indie acts that came from around the world: The StrypesQuiltTemplesThe WytchesBoogarins and Cherry Glazerr  among others. “Bands like those can still make something of the exposure SXSW offers – if not in real time, then in the endless online documentation, the amateur YouTube videos and radio-station recording sessions that now are as much a a part of SXSW as the showcases in Austin. With any luck, and no corporate support necessary, listeners can hashtag those.”

This year’s “Feedbackers” – those who attend Rachael Ray’s Feedback free-food showcase – were treated to Cee-Lo Green, Blondie, and Green Day performing as their alter-egos, Foxboro Hot Tubs.