CHICKEN ON A HOT PLATE by JAIMIE VERNON

For as long as there have been people with talent to share, there have been people waiting impatiently to exploit it. P.T. Barnum was the first to realize that a) you could make people pay a nickel to see a woman who couldn’t afford a Lady Bic razor on her face and b) you could pay the woman herself a penny if she would just stop shaving her beard off. Barnum was shameless in using any perceived talent (sword swallowing, knife throwing, anvil lifting) or any physical infirmity to sell tickets. He became massively rich and his ‘performers’ became slaves to the grind. Some were smart enough to negotiate riches in partnership with Barnum, others were just glad to have a few square meals a week and a place to sleep every night. It beat the alternatives.

Barnum and Thumb

In the 1950s a carnival rat named Tom Parker learned the trick of the trade from such snake-oil salesmen like Barnum. He would bet patrons that he could make a chicken dance. They’d gladly part with their pocket change – because there’s nothing more sure in this world then the gullibility of a sucker – and Parker would indeed make the chicken dance. The soon-to-be bereft of money passersby would be unaware that Parker had a hot plate cloaked beneath the table top where the chicken would spend its time hoofing it back and forth to avoid a future as thighs and breasts in a bucket of KFC.

Parker learned to apply that sleight of hand in convincing a young lad from Tupelo, Mississippi to entrust him with his music career. Elvis would never again want for anything – including his own freedom from a life of indentured servitude. Elvis would die a prisoner of his own fame in 1977. Parker, now known to the world as Colonel Tom, would outlive Elvis by 20 years – enjoying the comforts of life off of every penny he milked out of Elvis Presley The Icon, Inc.

Parker was not the first nor the last. Few artists who’ve spent any amount of time in the music business have remained unscathed. The music industry should come with a warning sign, “Sharks In Water – Enter At Own Risk.” The purveyance of acts re-recording their biggest hits later in their careers is directly related to the con that greeted them when they signed their original record deals. Never was this more true than in the 1950s to artists like Chuck Berry, Ronnie Hawkins, and even Merle Haggard. In the 1960s it happened to folks like Tommy James and the Grassroots among others.

Famously in the 1980s and early 1990s artists fought back to reclaim their right to work for fair compensation. Prince even changed his name to “The Artist Formerly Known As” in deference to his record label Warner Music. It wasn’t that they weren’t paying him, they just weren’t allowing him to create at a rate that satisfied his Purpleness. Following in his footsteps were famous cases by George Michael and Don Henley – both of whom fought to be excused from class. They left the labels with money on the table just to be free of corporate meddling in their art.

Then there’s the corporately created musical entities and the complete imbalance of power – from The Monkees, to the Bay City Rollers, to any number of 1980s boy bands. In Asia the J-Pop and K-Pop music genres are littered with fly-by-night pre-manufactured pop idols…and the corpses of those too young and immature to deal with the greed and exploitation from overnight success. The suicide rate by young teens in Japan is epidemic. Most of whom were once a flavour-of-the-week.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzC4hFK5P3g

In most recent news the #MeToo movement has lifted the lid on what industry people have known for decades; The patriarchal power of music brokers over its female artists. Until now, the patriarchy has been winning. However, the tables have been turning. Singer Kesha risked her entire career by taking her handler, Dr. Luke, to court citing physical, sexual, and mental abuse during the period they worked on launching her to superstardom. The civil actions are still ongoing.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edP0L6LQzZE

Meanwhile, Taylor Swift has gone after her production team for failing to account for and pay her share of royalties dating back to when she was a sweet country pop artist. Now that her global revenue stream is larger than most African nations’ GDP [her appearance in the musical bomb ‘Cats’ notwithstanding], she thought maybe being compensated for what she created wouldn’t be an unreasonable thing to ask for. The production team strongly disagreed and have doubled down. This civil action is also ongoing.

Then there’s the truly sad and bizarre story of Mars Argo. Mars was the online personality of Saginaw, Michigan singer/actress Brittany Sheets. Together with her boyfriend Titanic Sinclair (real name Corey Mixter), she created a YouTube following in 2008 by posting goofy, satirical, and often politically charged skits and monologues. YouTube soon came after them for the found musical content on their channel (usually songs playing in the background of the videos by famous artists). Mars and Titanic decided to form a band. They wrote songs, hired some side players and released the album ‘Technology Is A Dead Bird’ in November 2009. The music allowed them to populate their own videos with a self-made soundtrack – adding more revenue to their exploding profile on YouTube.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tp1ZluX4aYs

This was followed by several EPs in 2010 and 2011. The couple decided to move to Los Angeles in 2012 and make their franchise legit. The production budgets for the YouTube videos doubled and the Mars Argo brand bloomed on YouTube making her an early internet star. However, by 2014 the couple’s romantic association fell apart and ultimately ended the band in 2015.

Without warning the content of the Mars Argo YouTube channel disappeared – nearly 90 video clips in all – with the exception of the three music videos created by the band itself. Sheets suddenly disappeared from social media, YouTube, and the internet immediately after. Conspiracy theories began to spring up all over the blog-o-sphere including that Sheets had been murdered.

Titanic Sinclair, however, was still visible and posted cryptic images and messages on his website including a video by someone named Poppy. It was an unsettling, bizarre video featuring an emotionless blond-haired girl eating cotton candy. Soon ubiquitous talking head videos begin to populate YouTube monthly, then weekly. Poppy was soon being hailed as an internet influencer drawing millions of views to her channel which featured her discussing in a cheery monotone religion, fame, fashion, and any number of pop culture topics and taboos. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnIlXxb0eoc

Unbeknownst to her increasing fan base was that Poppy had been signed to Island Records as a singer-songwriter. Her debut single – under the name ThatPoppy – called “Everybody Wants To Be Poppy” was released later in 2015. It was straight up J-Pop inspired and blew up her YouTube channel. More songs and more videos followed. Camps were divided as to whether this was well-choreographed performance art or whether Poppy was, in fact, being controlled. Some even theorized that she was a propaganda tool by the Illuminati (as you do on the internet). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpgsQ-A8Ko0

She appeared live, then an E.P. emerged with four more songs, then she took a sponsorship deal for Steve Madden Music – running ads for him on her channel. The full-length ambient album ‘3:36 (Music To Sleep To)’ co-written with Titanic Sinclair was released in 2016. She appeared on Comedy Central in a series of short clips. She was the face of Japanese retailer Sanrio.  Her proper album debut ‘Poppy.Computer’ [if you type this phrase into Goggle it goes directly to her website] surfaced in 2017 along with a live tour. In it she sang her twee teen pop anthems with a thrash metal band backing her. They appeared in each promotional video as well. Tours of Japan and features on YouTube’s ‘Rewind’ followed. She was now a brand. She was an internet star. She was the true definition of a manufactured pop idol. Then the Poppy truck hit a very big brick wall.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gmswmbosYo

Her name was Brittany Sheets. On April 17, 2018 Sheets filed a 44-page lawsuit in a California court for copyright infringement alleging that Titanic Sinclair (Corey Mixter) and Poppy (Moriah Rose Pereira) had based Poppy’s entire online persona on that of Mars Argo – Sheets’s alter-ego. Furthermore, she cited Sinclair for physical, sexual, and mental abuse both during and after they had split up as a couple.

Mixter and Pereira took to social media immediately saying that Sheets was jealous and just wanted a piece of their global fortune. The lawsuit specified no damages. Only the return of Sheets’ copyrights and that Mixter never contact her again (the suit was more enforceable than a standard restraining order).

The truth came to light. It seems Mixter had gutted the original Mars Argo YouTube site in 2015 so that the unsuspecting public couldn’t make comparative notes. The 90 missing performance art clips featuring Sheets/Mars Argo had been replicated by Pereira on her own website from 2015 to 2018. Sheets had been replaced by a prettier, hipper, more compliant avatar in the form of Poppy.

In a quickly resolved decision, the California court sided with Sheets and she was awarded her Mars Argo identity back, the copyrights to the band’s music, the performance art videos, the promotional music videos, and the end to Titanic Sinclair’s hold on her and her career. No money exchanged hands. Both parties carried on with their lives as did Poppy, who released another album and more performance videos. Most recently the duo has taken to harassing Elon Musk’s girlfriend and performer Grimes in a series of thinly veiled performance videos with not-so-subtle references to the billionaire couple.

That leaves one unanswered question: Is Titanic Sinclair the new Colonel Tom Parker and Poppy the current chicken on a hot plate? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oy1N3ntOoNc

=JV=

Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 41 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 24 years. He is also the author of The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and editor of “Sunny Days: The Skip Prokop Story.” Available through Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Jaimie+Vernon 

One Response to “CHICKEN ON A HOT PLATE by JAIMIE VERNON”

  1. Marlene Schuler Says:

    Informative and interesting information on a subject that one may have never paid much attention to. Snake oil salesmen/women are everywhere … artists beware.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: