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Asked: Jul 2nd, 2018
This week, I'd like us to consider the question of audience. I'm going to begin with having you watch a clip from an opera, La Bohème, by Puccini. What do you know about opera audiences now? What about in 1896, when La Bohème premiered? Even if you don't like it, why do you think this remains one of the top ten most performed operas in the world?
Here is a very well-produced, unsubtitled version:
Of course, while the performances here are excellent, understanding the lyrics are important to understanding the message, so here is another version (from 1965) of the same song, but this one has subtitles. If you'd prefer just to read the translation, you can go here.
Okay, so audience and purpose are very connected things. Puccini has several purposes. But one of them is definitely to entertain and sell opera tickets, something he was and continues to be very successful at doing (long after his death). Why? What does he understand about his audience?
From Puccini, let's move ahead over a hundred years:
I can't quite believe this video is ten years old. So here we have Beyoncé, singing a song that actually isn't that different from Musetta's (essentially, "If you liked it, than you should have put a ring on it"). The lyrics convey a very similar message, but how has the presentation changed for its audience? One of the things that Beyoncé and her team realized ten years ago is that people would be consuming their entertainment more and more not on a stage or big screen but on smaller and smaller screens (our phones, tablets, etc.). Can you see what she may have done to show she was aware of this audience and how to cater to their needs?
Finally, a more contemporary example. I apologize in advance, some of the language in this video is definitely adult. You'll get the idea in the first thirty-five seconds, should you want to spare yourself the curse words (which come later). I'm told by my students this was one of the songs of last summer:
Now, there are some clues here that this video was made for audiences today (or last summer). "Reality" or at least the sense that something is real, that we have immediate, personal access to celebrity is a thing now, for example. Demi Lovato knows this, which is why that video begins with the titles. There is also footage shot with an iPhone interspersed throughout the video. And while like Puccini and Beyoncé, Lovato's primary goal is to entertain and to sell her music, notice that the message of lyrics is, again, roughly the same: "You've lost me, and I'm going to make you sorry."
So, time for some reflection. In this journal, I want you to reflect on these questions; you don't need to do any outside research; I just want your thoughts: What do each of these artists understand about their audiences? In what ways are their/were their audiences the same? What seems to appeal across generations? What has changed, and how did each artist cater his or her message for the audience? Even though you're not writing pop-music (opera in the 1890s was pop-music), you're writing an argument, it's going to be equally important for you to consider your audience, if you want your argument to succeed at what it needs to do. Practicing understanding the connection between audience and purpose in another genre can be helpful.
So please reflect on these questions of audience and purpose. Try to make sure your response is at least 250 words long.