One thing that struck me right away in Barcelona was the predominance of chart-topping American pop music — I could hear it pumping from this booth outside El Corte Ingles every day when I went to class, it played in tiendas and supermercats all over the city, and on my first evening in the area, I distinctly heard some Justin Bieber flowing out of the club Razzmatazz near our housing in Poble Nou. (This is in opposition to Paris, where I was during spring break, and where I was constantly hearing very mediocre American hip-hop/R&B that I had never before… Also while in Paris, my friend Clare introduced me to the videos of the French artist Yelle, who is beyond the scope of this current post but merits further consideration. I think there is something distinctly French about French music videos.)
As may have been implied in my post on remix, one of my favorite focuses of visual culture is the music video. But music videos on TV – Spain has a channel called RAC105, which is what MTV would be (what MTV should be, at the risk of inciting argument…) had it not become predominated by reality TV and other programming that seems to have forgotten its roots in avant-garde video and, oh yeah, music. My beef with MTV aside, RAC105 was fascinating in its selection of videos: almost all American pop, plus some local Spanish color, and one random house single from Eastern Europe called Mr. Saxobeat by Alexandra Stan. Pop songs and music videos tend to have a shelf-life in the context of radio-play and MTV-play (when MTV gets around to playing music videos…), but RAC105 defied a lot of my expectations about what would get played — it was not uncommon to have Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” followed by “Born This Way” followed by something Annie Lennox recorded in the 80s. It reminded me, in its programming and ordering, of the often-eclecticness of KRLX, my beloved home college radio station (where, incidentally, I DJ when I am on campus). Maybe this connection is related to the relative lack of commercials on RAC105, such that it, like college radio, can sort of play whatever it wants – or rather, whatever it is that it thins Spain wants, which seems to be this intriguing mélange of American music (plus the token Romanian house stuff…).
There are also definitely videos that I saw for the first time on RAC105 (Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me”, in which the relevance of Rocky Horror and Tommy references elude the best of us…). The channel was on most of the time we were all in our lounge/kitchen, and was very popular with my fellow study abroad students, but we would often ask each other, is this popular in the U.S.? Is this what Spain thinks is popular in the U.S.? I never had definitive answer for either of those questions. Nonetheless, I find it fascinating to consider how music videos that may or may not reflect our culture and its values are being received abroad – what is catching on in Spain, and what, through the lens of Spanish TV, we can assume is catching on at home while we are away.