Performers Sound Off


By Hannah Sly

Where did Lewis Capaldi come from?

A year ago, he was relatively unknown. Fast forward to the present, the Scottish singer-songwriter possesses the glowing fame that is equal to a multitude of established artists who, unlike Capaldi, have spent years building and later maintaining as they attempt to stay relevant in a rather volatile industry.

Capaldi’s meteoric rise into the public consciousness is surely one of the most extraordinary in recent times.

An abundance of artists behind nostalgic one-hit wonders have defined a year musically, but subsequently failed to sustain that momentum. After their brief encounter of fame, they disappear completely from the popular culture radar – never to be seen again.

There’s been plenty of comparable male singer-songwriters who have failed to replicate Capaldi’s prolonged level of eminence. For example, take Jake Bugg and Tom Odell – both achieved number one albums in the UK but gradually faded from the public eye soon after.

This could prove somewhat controversial, but let’s face it, Capaldi’s music is rather monotonous and repetitive. Don’t take my pessimistic word for it, his debut album, conveniently named Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent, received mediocre reviews following its release in May. NME gave it a disheartening two stars, the Guardian three. Despite admiration for Capaldi’s powerful voice, lead singles and impressive song-writing skills, all reviews echoed similar sentiments – why is there such a huge disparity between his music and online persona? NME’s review expressed bewilderment that “such a charismatic star could make a record so lacking in personality”. After listening to all 12 songs chronologically, you can see why they came to this conclusion. A steady stream of heartbreak ballads with similar sounding backing tracks…

Having said that, the critics are the minority here. Capaldi’s album reached number one in the UK and stayed there for six whole weeks. If that’s not enough, his debut became the fastest-selling album of 2019, opening on 89,506 sales in week one, surpassing established artist Ariana Grande who previously held the title. His UK and Ireland tour sold out in 10 minutes – making Capaldi the first artist in history to sell-out an arena tour before the release of a debut album. Impressive.

How was this swift success possible? How has he managed to swerve the one-hit wonder territory and make history so early in his career? Two things spring to mind – his humour and social media.   

In an age dominated by oversharing, memes and ‘stan’ culture, Capaldi, a millennial, clearly capitalises on this contemporary trend. Almost everything he does professionally is intertwined with his social media platforms. 

For instance, when Noel Gallagher made unpleasant remarks about Capaldi in an interview, he retaliated not by condemning his words, but by exploiting the dispute. For context, Gallagher branded Capaldi “Chewbacca”, advised him to enjoy his 15 minutes of fame, and called Scotland a “third world country”. In true Capaldi style, he walked on stage at the TRNSMT festival holding the Scottish flag, wearing a Chewbacca mask

He then changed his Twitter name to ‘Chewis Capaldi’ and picture to Chewbacca. At Glastonbury, he walked on stage wearing a shirt with Gallagher’s face inside a love heart, before singing his hit song ‘Someone You Loved’ to an army of fans.

Naturally, the photographs posted online afterwards received substantial engagement

Instead of customary ‘please buy my album!’ posts, Capaldi uses witty images and self-deprecating humour to promote his work, thus attracting a wider audience via the power of online sharing. He’s not afraid to be himself – amusing not only his fanbase, but those who happen to stumble upon his online platforms unintentionally. In an era of unattainable perfectionism, it’s refreshing to see a celebrity embracing authenticity over falsity.

Even when he teams up with branded sponsorships, Capaldi’s still genuine. 

After formulating a continuing narrative on social media that he’s finding it difficult to ‘find love’, he joined with Tinder to produce billboards using various comical images taken directly from his social media pages – posing unconventionally, wearing his famous novelty sunglasses. Capaldi also tapped into the bizarre popularity of Greggs on Twitter and used his popular humour in the real world to promote his new album on a London Underground billboard – embracing Capaldi-esque terms like “Scottish Beyoncé” and “finally famous”. He knows he’s equally notable for his both music and online persona. 

Capaldi refuses to engage in any contentious political chit-chat. His lyrics are free from edgy statements and his social media is crammed with unflattering selfies rather than his views on Brexit. 

Capaldi joins the long list of contemporary British, casual, guitar-holding male singer-songwriters who have “exceptional voices and wilfully unexceptional images that entrench an impression of authenticity”. Ed Sheeran… George Ezra… artists who could easily walk into a university lecture and blend in effortlessly. Two decades ago, appearance was everything – for both men and women. 

This has faded somewhat. Well, for men…

The ‘authentic’ singer-songwriter trend has failed to prosper among female artists. How can women embrace authenticity when the industry expects them to look perfect? Capaldi himself said that female artists would “come up against more media scrutiny” if they were to dress casually, share unfiltered selfies and post slapstick humour.


Nonetheless, we emphasise social media as the sole source for Capaldi’s rapid rise to fame. How true is this really? He still had to sing in deserted pubs and support other successful music artists beforehand. Not all is what it seems.

Essentially, to be a celebrity, people need to like you – no matter the superiority of your voice. The extraordinary thing about Capaldi is that his entire brand has been built, and continues to exist, online. He’s a part singer-songwriter, part social media star; #relatable in an era whereby #relatability is a hugely saleable commodity

With a new decade on the horizon, expect to see an array of new artists imitating Lewis Capaldi. It’s certainly worked for him.  

Performers Sound Off

[[SOUND OFF]] XXXTentacion: Better off (Dying)?

By Nico Drysdale

Late, influential, yet heavily problematic and controversial artist, Jahseh Onfroy, otherwise professionally known as ‘XXXTentacion’, provokes thought as to whether he will be deeply mourned or his demise will be favoured.

As news spread online within mere minutes of the shooting and murder of young, Floridian hip-hop artist Jahseh Onfroy on June 18th 2018, fans and celebrities alike paid respectful tributes to the 20-year-old’s sudden death. “I never told you how much you inspired me when you were here”, tweeted Kanye West and, “You were a true artist, one of the most fucking talented of our time”, Blink-182 drummer, Travis Barker expressed​.​ Simultaneously, antagonistic reactions, an onslaught of unconcerned, unsympathetic memes and criticism, directed towards those who failed to actively condemn Onfroy, flooded social media.

Kanye West Instagram  ​tribute ​to XXXTentacion
American hip-hop artist Kanye West, pays tribute to XXXTentacion and expresses his sorrowful thoughts concerning the late rapper’s death

Was this an insensitive and unwarranted reaction? Or perhaps justified and comical?

Known for his quick succession from underground SoundCloud Rap fame to mainstream success, (with hits such as ‘​Look At Me!​’ ​​hitting US billboard charts,​​earning him a $10 million record deal for his third album); it was established that the allure and rapid reputation of the 20-year-old’s career, was popularised by and depressingly coincided with, the myriad of unsettling crimes charged against him (particularly those regarding domestic violence towards his girlfriend at the time: Geneva Ayala).​​ Google Trends data ​visualises how ‘XXXTentacion’ was minimally searched before October 2016, when the alleged abuse occurred, and how after this release of news, searches for his name dramatically increased.

XXXTentacion has been found dead in Miami’ meme
XXXTentacion has been found dead in Miami’ meme instantly circulated​ ​social media after his death.

XXXTentacion’s notorious relationship with crime began in 2014 with gun possession charges, escalating in 2016 when he was arrested and charged with “robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and home invasion”, consequently violating the ​house arrest ​agreement​ ​prior to trial on ​these charges​.​ Three months later, ​he was charged with “aggravated battery of a pregnant victim, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness tampering”​.

Pleading not guilty in court, as well as denying charges across interviews, the rapper ​laughed off ​domestic abuse allegations ​in a “profanity-strewn tirade” on social media calling the charges “fabricated”, pledging to “champion for women’s rights” through donating $100,000 to domestic violence prevention programmes. Complex magazine repeatedly questioned XXXTentacion’s representative for details regarding the proposed charitable donation, but no evidence of payment was ever actually provided.

Although domestic violence charges were ​discharged​ after Onfroy’s death, this is NOT the same as being found not guilty and is debted to his untimely demise. In fact, there is a plethora of concrete, public information suggesting that the late, controversial XXXTentacion was, to all intents and purposes, an abusive, misogynistic, active anti-feminist and all-round violent criminal.

Articles discuss the troubled tendencies, insecurities and woes of Onfroy, emphasising the conditions of his financially unstable upbringing, drug-addled, traumatic ​childhood​ and his personal struggles with mental health. These themes are ​prevalent​ within his music; a combination of hip-hop and depressive emo that are traced around “mental illness, suicide, extreme misogyny and a prevailing feeling of numbness” that reflects “​a life lived with disregard for humanity, both other people’s and his own”​. His involvement with SoundCloud Rap highlighted a new wave of artists “whose music embodied a disconnect with societal norms, embraced internet culture” and drug use – specifically Xanax. He subsequently gained and influenced a following of cult-esque, devout listeners whose struggles align closely with his, consequently inspiring and sparking a sense of belonging within those who could relate to his music; generating the problematic and ignorant idea that this excuses his criminal actions.

Fans rushed to defend Onfroy after he pleaded not guilty in regards to the horrific, violent domestic abuse charges against him, in turn, prompting a new narrative that painted his ​“accuser as a liar”. However, the alarming accusations, which ​Pitchfork​ described in harrowing detail in 2017, paint Onfroy as a repulsive, repeated psychological and physical abuser that inflicted a “grim pattern of routine abuse”, on his said girlfriend at the time, highlighting the blatant toxicity of himself and his fanbase.

Furthering this, ​Pitchfork​ also produced a transcript from a 27-minute recording of Onfroy detailing and confessing to unnamed acquaintances, to multiple crimes, including the physical violence he inflicted on his ex-girlfriend and other individuals. XXXTentacion’s public response consisted of a series of disturbing videos he posted on Instagram, threatening to “domestically abuse y’all little sisters’ pussy from the back” to anybody that called him “a domestic abuser”.

Disgustingly, the Floridian rapper’s incarceration only seemed to propel his ever-growing celebrity forward rather than hinder it; landing him a ​reported​ $6 million record contract with Capitol Records after Ayala’s deposition was publicly released in 2017. From threatening to murder her and their unborn child, proceeding to brutally beat her until her eyes were leaking blood, forcing her to pick between two grill utensils because he was going to “​insert​ one of them in her vagina”; XXXTentacion frankly shows his true colours and raises fundamental questions about the “​separation of art from the actions of those who create it”.

Spotify fleetingly blacklisted the rapper’s music from playlists, (a widely criticised action) in 2018 for flouting the regulations of their hate content and hateful conduct policy, due to the string of violent allegations against him. Sadly, the streaming service reinstalled his music when his publicist questioned why the actions of other artists who had been accused of similar offenses had not undergone the same treatment. Similar controversy was sparked when a posthumous collaboration between XXXTentacion and likewise SoundCloud Rap artist Lil Peep was ​created​, despite Lil Peep explicitly ​rejecting​ XXXTentacion for his abuse of women when he was alive.

Deeply mourned or a welcomed demise?

No doubt the 20-year-old’s music influenced an incredibly devout fanbase; but was this without harm? His cult-like following spoke to listeners who’s struggles aligned with his; inspiring those who similarly shared a disconnect with societal norms, generating toxicity to the extent that they would purposefully ignore his frequent and violent criminal convictions. NO amount of talent or recognition can erase the psychological and physical trauma the internet ‘sadboi’ inflicted on several individual’s lives; when you actively chose to expose yourself to the works of an abuser, you are amplifying indelible suffering, in turn silencing victim’s voices, further enabling repeated patterns of abuse. This will be Jahseh Onfrony’s true legacy.

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You might like… Gabriel Gbadamosi on Fela Kuti (BBC Great Lives series)

Image credits: Toludpilgrim (cc by-sa 3.0)

There’s an interesting 30 minute exploration of Fela Kuti’s eventful life here, courtesy of the BBC and Radio 4.

Poet, playwright, and critic Gabriel Gbadamosi chooses as his Great Life the political maverick and inventor of Afrobeat, musician Fela Kuti, and tells Matthew Parris why his work deserves to be better known.

Whether withstanding ferocious beatings from the Nigerian police, insulting his audiences, or demanding a million pounds in cash upfront from Motown records, his strength and stubbornness were legendary, and his gift for controversy unmatched.

Fela had more than 25 wives, some of whom he beat, and was President of his own self proclaimed Republic. He smoked dope and was the scourge of the rulers of a corrupt Nigerian state and was acclaimed as having the best live band on earth.

Gabriel Gbadamosi is joined by Stephen Chan, professor of International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, to discuss the musical and political life of this outspoken force of nature.

Presenter: Matthew Parris

Producer: Melvin Rickarby

Click here to stream the recording or right-click here to save the file as an mp3

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You might like… Jazzie B on James Brown (BBC Great Lives series)

Image credits: Alexandre Dulaunoy (cc by-sa 2.0)

There’s an interesting 30 minute exploration of James Brown’s colourful life here, courtesy of the BBC and Radio 4.

Matthew Parris invites his guests to nominate the person whom they feel is a great life. In this programme, music entrepreneur and DJ Jazzie B of Soul II Soul chooses American singer and musician, James Brown, ‘the Godfather of Funk’. 

Jazzie B, who was awarded a CBE for services to black British music, spent time with James Brown towards the end of his life and says he became ‘like a big brother’ to him. Here, together with music journalist Charles Shaar Murray, they talk to Matthew about why they believe ‘Mr Brown’ is a Great Life.

Producer: Maggie Ayre.

Click here to stream the recording or right-click here to save the file as an mp3