I opened up the Los Angeles Times this morning (I still subscribe to the print version) and found, in the front page index box, a little photo of Yuja Wang in that little red dress, a promo for a story in Calendar, the newspaper’s arts and entertainment section. ‘Her again?’ I thought in my semi-conscious, pre-caffeinated state.
Splashed above the fold in Calendar was yet another photo of Wang, in full color and skimpy regalia, strutting her considerable stuff upon the Hollywood Bowl stage. Below were not one, but two, full-length stories, one by Times’ music critic Mark Swed, both jumping to a considerable spread inside, and discussing and parsing and analyzing said dress into its constituent parts and meanings. At least I think that’s what they were about — I didn’t read either one.
Personally, I don’t find the story interesting. Am I a snob? Possibly. But it’s more that I find the Yuja Wang scandal, if that’s what it is, terribly predictable. I already know what everyone will say, blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda, and so, dear reader, do you. And at this point, as the story has spread throughout the internet, everything that can possibly be said about Yuja Wang’s dress has been said.
But I don’t blame the Times, or not much. I know what happened. They got a ton of hits on Mark’s review of Yuja Wang’s dress and they saw the folks all over the internet discussing Mark’s review of Yuja Wang’s dress and they thought — since they’re a business and all — that maybe they ought to follow up on Yuja Wang’s dress.
Yuja Wang gets a lot of hits at Classical Life, too. A few days ago, I posted Yuja Wang’s little red dress, and it has been topping my hit parade ever since, even though I had virtually nothing to say about Wang and her dress. The headline was enough to attract readers. I can see on my blog dashboard that readers are searching for stories about Yuja Wang’s dress. Among the search terms used this morning that brought readers to this blog (according to the dashboard), 15 of them involved Yuja Wang, some of them used multiple times. Included among them: “Yuja Wang is hot” and “little red dress.”
The same phenomenon is behind much that is covered in the media today. Online, they know what you’re reading, and they know what you’re not reading, and so, naturally (but stupidly in my opinion, but we won’t get into that now), the media gives readers (and viewers) what they want. I got upwards of 13,000 hits on a story I wrote for my newspaper recently, and something like 120 comments, which is considerably more than I ever got for a story on classical music.
Was it brilliant? Certainly not. Was it interesting? Not really. But it was about Rebecca Black. And as long as readers keep clicking on stories about Rebecca Black and Yuja Wang, newspapers are going to keep writing same.
In my column running in tomorrow’s Pasadena Star-News et al. I called the flap over Yuja’s dress “summer’s silly season.” Moreover, as I noted, I don’t know how many people remembered how she played Rachmaninoff’s third concerto at the Bowl (quite well, IMHO) but a lot of them surely remember the dress. Onward …
Brilliant post, Tim!
Amazing photo of what appears to be a WW2 Japanese-American internment camp. Details please..
It’s a photo of Manzanar, taken by Ansel Adams. The men are reading the Los Angeles Times, btw.
However capitivating she may have been in said dress, it’s reassuring to know that she does, on occasion, actually show up to perform. Having managed to cancel her scheduled appearances with the Pacific Symphony during each of the past two seasons, I was beginning to wonder if she actually exists or whether she’s just a figment of someone’s imagination. Perhaps one of these days she will finally deign to honor us with her presence here in Orange County, irrespective of her choice in attire. One can only hope.
Yuja Wang has appeared twice in Orange County under the auspices of the Philharmonic Society. The first time she replaced the ailing Murray Perahia with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. The second time she played Rach 2 with the Shanghai Symphony as a part of our China Festival. She was scheduled a third time but she canceled herself and was replaced by Louis Lortie. We will probably invite her back some day.
And her second cancellation here was for appearances with the Pacific Symphony, not Phil Society. She spreads the love.
If Mr. Swed’s comments about the dress indeed led to a broader audience, perhaps the powers-that-be on Spring Street (or are they in Chicago now?) will decide that his services are better utilized if be wrote on a greater variety of topics besides classical music — I see it now: “Mark Swed, Fashion Writer and occasional Music Critic for the Los Angeles Times.” After all, there is unfortunately a precedent set at a paper just to the South. . . .
As much as I often take issue with Mr. Swed’s writing, that would be a truly sad day if it were ever to come to pass.
Just to be perfectly clear, I intended no criticism of Mark Swed. He is a good friend and colleague.
Besides, as said, I didn’t read the article. It might have been a masterpiece. I just wasn’t interested in the topic. But clearly, many readers are. These days, when a music critic gets the opportunity to reach a broader audience, he (or she) should probably take it.
Music critics are under enormous pressures these days, at least the ones that are left. Mark is the Last of the Mohicans in our area, Southern California’s only full-time staff classical music critic. It’s a shameful situation for a place that has become such an important center for classical music.
We should all support him the best we can.
Incidentally, I didn’t think his first article on Wang, the review, was anything to get riled up about. I thought he was just having some fun with the dress. And he proved to be right — that dress is what that concert will be remembered for. He was correct to devote so much space discussing it.
Mr. Swed certainly has a very important position, and I’m glad that he still has the job that he has. The recent sad news out of Toronto (their classical music critic, John Terauds, was just re-assigned as a business writer) is just the latest stark reminder that we are lucky that the LA Times still allows their full-time classical music critic to act as such.
I have no problems with the fact that he wrote about the dress or that he wrote so much about it, I just wish it did it better than he did. Assuming you were right and he was just trying to have some fun with the dress, I wish it came across that way. He certainly knows a great deal about music and can be very descriptive about it, but he doesn’t write with the wit or sense of humor as some other critics (the dress being just the latest example). And far too often, he gets basic facts wrong.
The fact that Mr. Swed is the last full-time music critic in the area, writing for the largest newspaper in the 2nd largest city in the country, makes his reviews and columns that much more important; therefore, it is even more disappointing to me when his writing isn’t as good as it could/should be.