Death by Buzz: Remembering Musicians the Hype Machine Killed


Hype is the most polarizing force in today’s music world. The internet has made it incredibly easy for listeners to streamline their new music exposure and stay on top of emerging acts, but hype encourages erratic attention at best from consumers. These days, the ears of the masses are always hungry for the next big thing, an honor often bestowed on the strength of a single song, by blogs, aggregators, viral videos, and sometimes even commercials, rather than real criticism.

Over the years, hype has encouraged the bandwagon to move in many positive directions, but what about when hype fails? After the jump, we unearth some of the bigger misses of the last ten years. Sorry, guys — we haven’t forgotten.

The Vines

After their first album in 2001, The Vines were hailed as the second coming of grunge. Placed in the same league as The Strokes and The White Stripes and lavished with critical attention by both NME and Rolling Stone, The Vines even got a Rolling Stone that read “MEET THE VINES: ROCK IS BACK!” After an appearance on The O.C. soundtrack, it was settled — that would be The Vines’s greatest legacy, because their music was thoroughly meh.


What better hype is there than having your single picked to be the backdrop for one of the first splashy-rainbow-dancing-silhouette iPod commercials? Actually, not much was better at the time than those commercials, because Jet’s jangly “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” ruled the airways and, yes, everyone’s iPods. The critics bombed them for years, with Pitchfork embedding a YouTube clip of a monkey peeing instead of reviewing their sophomore effort Get Born. Now that’s what we call criticism.

Lily Allen

In 2006, Lily Allen’s music became a case study in full-on digital hype. Her first album blew up on MySpace and launched her career, with more critics talking about how revolutionary her early internet career launch was (Hey, JBiebs!) than about the quality of her tweedle-dee British street songs. They were good fun, but it seems even Lily knew that she wasn’t all she was cracked up to be musically. In 2009, with two full-lengths under her belt, she announced that she had no plans to make another record and might focus on acting instead.


Matisyahu was the first musician whose business card could accurately read, “Hasidic reggae-rap-hip hop artist.” We don’t know how no one ever thought to marry Jewish theology with beatboxing before him, because the hype over his debut was unstoppable — his name invaded every American household, and one of his singles was even in the running for the theme song of the 2010 Olympics, oddly enough. It wasn’t actually picked, and maybe for good reason: his gimmick got old fast, and his songs have hardly (if at all) touched the charts since 2006.

Susan Boyle

Susan Boyle’s Britain’s Got Talent hype won her the hearts of YouTubers and moms who saw her clips on the nightly news across the globe. She had the voice of an angel and would be the next Celine, Aretha, Diana! Only more adorable, given her dowdy look, inspiring story, and that accent of hers! But hype is a heavy load, especially when you’re new to the spotlight. In fact, Boyle’s BGT loss landed her in rehab for a short while. She returned to recording albums, but her cultural relevance plummeted alongside her act’s novelty.


Swedish pop band jj made major waves with their first single “My Life, My Swag,” off of their first, two-song release, jj n° 1. They went from that Pitchfork Best New Music single to a 5.4 for jj n° 3 . But how? Well, the duo may have gotten a little overextended after recording and releasing three albums between 2009 and 2010 to ride the buzz of “My Life, My Swag” before it faded away. Their recent mixtape Kills was launched back into the stratosphere of Pitchfork 7.0+ ratings, but it hasn’t entirely redeemed their body of original LPs. A little patience could go a long way for jj moving forward.

Ok Go

Ok Go may be YouTube’s favorite band for their irresistibly zany treadmill-dancing, Rube-Goldberg-machine-constructing antics. Their 2010 single “This Too Shall Pass” from Of The Blue Colour of the Sky has garnered over 25 million YouTube hits to date, but the buzz hasn’t been helping them sell albums — after two months on the shelves, the album hadn’t even sold 25,000 copies in the US. You know you’ve got a problem when you’re the least musical band in the biz.


Poor MGMT. Oracular Spectacular, their debut, earned them a solid helping of mass success and critical praise. But before the masses who so loudly praised MGMT as the band of a generation even heard their sophomore album Congratulations, the album’s buzz pointed wholeheartedly in the direction of horrific failure. “It’s unfair when a new album’s clouded in popular myth before most people have heard it,” NME wrote in their review of Congratulations. Yeah, well, the hype machine giveth and the hype machine taketh away.