With the internet comes a wealth of knowledge. In a matter of minutes, you can become an expert on anything. It’s made the phrase “I don’t know” mostly unnecessary and practically obsolete. If you’re at a computer or have a smartphone within reach (you probably do), then you do know. You know everything. This giant spider web of access to information has had a clear impact on the celebrities of the music world and how we, being the sea of leeches that we are, feed off of them.
In the past, artists could get away with keeping private lives and stage personas separate. Sure, there were some slip-ups–rock star scandals got exposed and pieces of artists’ personal lives were cracked open. These days, that’s almost impossible to avoid. Not only will the public figure out if you did drugs at a party or had sex with the nanny, but we’ll most likely know what you had for breakfast and when, give or take five minutes, you last went to the bathroom. And when we get that information, you better believe we’re going to share it with every last one of our fucking friends. It’s kind of disgusting, really.
This kind abundance of insight into the lives of those who entertain us makes us feel connected to the artists. We can see their Twitter updates, wait for their Facebook updates, and hear from them directly via Tumblr posts, picture uploads, and live streams. When it’s not coming directly from them, we can see pictures and play-by-plays from our internet acquaintances who see celebrities at concerts, events, or walking down the street minding their own business. If that’s not enough, there are rapidly reproducing parasites who call themselves bloggers that spend hours a day blabbing away about famous people.
“OMG, Kanye showed up at a protest.”
“Wow, did you see what Kreayshawn said about Rick Ross!?”
“LOL Lady Gaga’s outfit was SO outrageous!”
I know. I saw. We all saw.
But among all of this, something kind of strange has happened. Mystery has become cool again. With everyone putting themselves out there so much, it’s become exponentially more intriguing when someone makes an obvious attempt NOT to dole out a steady stream of life updates. If you’re an artist trying to master the art of mystery, here’s how to do it right.
1. Use as few words as possible. This will make everything you say come across as cryptic.
2. Avoid candid photographs. Pictures should be slightly blurry and/or partially obstructed. There should be very few of them. Hide your face when possible. If you choose not to go the mask route, make the photos seem distant, eery, or impersonal. Definitely no smiling.
DOOM is Daniel Dumile. He’s got a face, as evidenced by his early work as Zev Love X of KMD, but he doesn’t perform or get photographed without his infamous mask. To complicate things even further, he’s been known to get impostors to fill in for him at live shows. When confronted, he said, “When you come to a DOOM show, come expecting to hear music. Don’t come expecting to see.”
3. Details about who does what should be very unclear. If people constantly ask, “Are they a person, or a group?”, you’re on the right track.
Karin Dreijer Andersson is one half of the duo The Knife. She went solo as Fever Ray. People still confuse her low notes with male vocals in The Knife, and Fever Ray is commonly referred to as a band. And she does have a live band, but it’s not always certain what role they play in the creation process.
4. Disappear sometimes. There should be days/weeks when nobody hears from you at all. If necessary, move to someplace with a basement. Basements are prime for this kind of disappearance.
I guess to disappear, you need to first appear, and although the artist known as Jandek has done a handful of live shows, his existence is pretty much unknown. His real name hasn’t even been officially confirmed. For decades, he quietly and steadily released some of the strangest, most stirring music out there. It’s the kind of out-of-tune stuff that people would probably normally ignore, except for the fact that the mystery of Jandek is so compelling. He’s a true master of the art.
5. Be Honest. This might seem counter-intuitive, but there’s a difference between being mysterious and being deceitful. Being caught in the act of lying is something that will immediately draw attention to you, and this will make the mystery thing seem like a forced gimmick instead of an intriguing way of being that you’ve chosen. DOOM came very close to crossing this line with the impostor scandal.
SBTRKT wears a mask and tries to remain as anonymous as possible, but he’s also very honest about why he does it. He told Clash:
“I’d rather not talk about myself as a person, and let the music speak for itself. The name SBTRKT is me taking myself away from that whole process. I’m not a social person, so having to talk to DJs to make them play a record is not something I want to do. It’s more about giving them a record as an anonymous person and seeing whether they like it or not. If they play it, they play it.”
6. Keep a tight circle. You can have friends, but not a lot, and they shouldn’t be close friends. Someone as mysterious as you can’t afford to do things that regular people do. That means no small talk, no secret-sharing, and definitely no public high-fives. It’s for your own good.
Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel is often referred to as a recluse. Surely he has friends in this world, but he makes very few public appearances. He’s been making more recently, including his performance at Occupy Wall Street, but you won’t catch him out at a club with a lady on each arm and a crew of goons trailing him. His reclusive nature only makes the rare appearances seem a lot more valuable. That’s why tickets to see Mangum at a sold out show can reach some ridiculous prices.
7. Don’t be trendy. People relate to trends, they understand them. You don’t want people to understand you, do you? No, you don’t. So you must purposefully avoid all things trendy. If everyone else is wearing nice sneakers, you should go for spacesuits, or something.
8. Never use exclamation points or cyber abbreviations. These will make you seem really excited, which is the enemy of mystery. Compare:
- OMG! I just had the biggest, juiciest steak sandwich!! DElish!!
- Oh my god. I just had a sandwich.
See what I mean?
9. Say things, and then delete them. This will confuse people, especially if the messages you delete are seemingly insignificant. For instance, Tweet out: “Oh my god. I just had a sandwich.” Wait two minutes. Delete. Even if only three people saw that, those three people will be thinking, “What the fuck was that about?” You’re on your way.
10. Dispose of all pictures of yourself before you were mysterious. The past can come back to haunt you. No matter how mysterious you manage to get, one leaked picture of you caught in a corny moment and you may as well change your name to Justin Bieber.
Follow these rules, and you’re sure to win. Either that, or nobody will ever know who you are and you’ll probably lead a pretty miserable life. Good luck!