Brooklyn art student Thomas Calabrese was just trying to do his homework, but music bloggers desperate for a scoop were quick to believe that his faux Vampire Weekend album cover was the real deal.
Wednesday morning, the music blogosphere lit up with news about the upcoming album from Afropop-appropriating New York band Vampire Weekend. They do in fact have a new album coming out in May. But sites like FACT, Complex, and Under the Rader were racing each other to give their readers a first glimpse at the album's supposed cover art, title, and complete tracklist:
Vampire Weekend announce full details of new album, Lemon Sounds: factmag.com/2013/01/23/vam…— FACT (@FACTmag) January 23, 2013
Vampire Weekend Title New Album “Lemon Sounds,” Share Artwork and Tracklist: After announcing its release date y... bit.ly/10Jb8Ua— Under the Radar (@Under_Radar_Mag) January 23, 2013
Update: XL Recordings says Vampire Weekend's new album isn't titled Lemon Sounds and the artwork is fake bit.ly/Wg0wZq— Consequence of Sound (@coslive) January 23, 2013
Lemon Sounds were the words on ever polo-wearing indie prepster's lips, and this was the cover they were all drooling over:
As far as mock-ups go, it's a pretty convincing one, nailing the band's fondness for precious pastels and sans-serif fonts like Futura. But reps from Vampire Weekend's label, XL Recordings, were quick to deny the new details. So who deviously convinced these music bloggers that they were posting legitimate info? As Simone Scott Warren of DIY found out with a little investigative legwork, no one. The man responsible for the artwork made no concerted effort to hoax the media. Content-hungry music bloggers duped themselves into thinking it was a good idea to call this the new Vampire Weekend album cover.
"The only thing we're not allowed to do is tell people on Facebook what the picture is actually for," art grad student Thomas Calabrese told Scott Warren, explaining the homework assignment that prompted him to upload the image to Facebook. The student who earned the most likes would get the highest marks. Calabrese explains his strategy:
I knew a lot of my friends would respond positively to me pretending to make a Vampire Weekend cover. I was winning until yesterday, when someone surpassed my 93 likes with a photograph of an anniversary picture being consummated with two 'lemon manhattan' drinks.
Calabrese also slapped together a basic website to fool his personal circle of friends, trying to convince them that he'd been hired to design the next Vampire Weekend album cover and was graciously giving them a sneak peak. Somehow, music bloggers found the page and just assumed it must've been for real. Scott Warren reports:
It's important to note Tom didn't send this in an email to a news website. He didn't send a fake press release to a blog ... He wasn't trying to dupe anyone, he was trying to get a good grade (and tellingly, he won't even let us publish this until the class is over, so no one can accuse him of cheating). The fact his project was picked up and reported as fact around the world has clearly shocked him—"my heart was working in overdrive," he told us.
That's the music blogosphere hype-cycle for you. Publish first, ask questions later. Many writers— Spin's Christopher Weingarten being the most vocal—have complained about this never-ending stream of bite-sized, dubious content spewing from music blogs. And the aftermath of this non-hoax shows just how hard it is for many of these sites to follow basic journalistic practices. Some outlets, like Exclaim.ca and Pigeons and Planes have admirably come clean and issued corrections. Others, like Consequence of Sound and FACT magazine are just pretending like the whole thing never happened.