Very Fine Day #17: Jeff Benjamin
Jeff Benjamin is an award-winning music journalist and has been Billboard’s K-pop columnist since 2013. Jeff has covered the Korean-pop music industry for years, writing for the New York Times, Rolling Stone, GQ, Forbes, and more. While I don’t have a gigantic insight into the K-Pop Media Circles of the United States, I will go out on a limb and say he is one of the most read and most followed in his field. Currently, Jeff also works as an editor at TIDAL. In this interview, there’s a lot of talk about the Korean music industry, but particularly the way it compares to other industries around the world as well. Music, and the business of it, has a lot to learn – and becoming a music journalist is tougher than ever.
VFD: Well, I'm glad to hear that, because that's kind of what the whole point of this is, right?
It’s unbelievable that we have had 15 years of social media being a major part of the internet, and it hasn't been fixed that people don't disassociate online personality from reality.
And you have all these people that are just like: That's who they are. They are this Twitter person. And it's like: No! They wake up, and they go to a cafe, and they go to McDonald's, and they have normal lives.
Jeff Benjamin: Exactly. And I feel the same way. And I was just curious… I just don't know how much you know about me, or if that's what this interview is for…
VFD: I mean, we'll get into it. But I know who you are and I know what you do – which is good!
Jeff Benjamin: Well, I’m happy to explain whatever you need for K-Pop and things like that.
VFD: I think it's really interesting, right? Because K-Pop has, obviously, been a huge thing for a long time. But in the last – and you should disagree with me here if I’m wrong – but the last four or five years in the US and Australia and the West, it has just continued to crescendo. And as an outsider, I don't really have much of a reason as to why other than – not to sound patronising – but other than the music being good and perhaps a younger generation really enjoying it.
Jeff Benjamin: Yeah, I think they've just been smart with strategies and platforms and that's been a really cool thing of what I've been able to watch for a decade now.
Jeff Benjamin: It's like, just being able to see how this has been able to happen. As a foreigner, from an international perspective, and as someone who loves pop music from all over the place, it was like: OK, I think Korea is onto something here.
VFD: It definitely does seem like that as well. Like there's almost a governmental or major body behind the whole music movement in a way that a lot of other music movements don't have.
Jeff Benjamin: I think that's been kind of done up in the media a bit. That the government is behind Kpop or whatever.
I mean, in many Western countries, America doesn’t need an organisation to push its culture around the world. American culture is a lot of pop culture, and we don't really need to spread our pop stars around that much. But I think these cultural organisations are pretty common in many countries.
And yeah, at the same time, it hasn't really been like the government pushing it, per se, but there has definitely been that help and that interest in using pop culture and pop music as a sort of soft power.
VFD: And it has been very successful. You were saying before that you have been up until the early hours this morning for the launch of a single. Like, a single song.
And that happens a lot. A single song creates so much, both physical and digital online hype, it's actually incredible. Like, the power of what exists there. If you channelled it into anything other than music, people would start thinking: what the hell is this?
Jeff Benjamin: Right. And I mean, one of the biggest things too is that there’s this amazing, passionate fan base behind all of these artists, and in this industry in particular. And there's certain reasons as to why the fan base is really passionate, and in a way that we don't really see in a lot of other things. And I feel like that's a huge part as to why I have been doing what I'm doing. It's like: if it didn't have those results, and that passion behind it, I don't think I would have the same results and be able to keep doing it the way that I've been able to do it.
VFD: Right. So then how did you start?
Jeff Benjamin: Yeah, I mean, we could do like the long, drawn out: Oh in kindergarten I always loved asking kids what music they were listening to thing…
But I think the actual answer it that growing up as a kid on the internet, I really did love all kinds of music. But I was getting into K-Pop when things were just popping off in the US.
The first artists landed their first album on the Billboard charts here in, like, 2009. That's when the first single from a Korean artist landed here. And I was interning at Billboard in 2011, trying to be a good intern, trying to find things that would make me stand out while also doing the things I was genuinely interested in.
And I was really interested in British pop music. That was the era of Ellie Goulding and Adele and One Direction. But at the same time, I wanted to show more of that world… but there just wasn't that same interest and hunger in showing off British girl groups, or there wasn't that same interest for them to cross over here.
So I was really into K-Pop, too, and I was always trying to get my editors to let me write things about it here and there. And the results were good. I think the traffic numbers were good in general. But then there was also this larger impact that having a place like Billboard write about K-Pop and Korean artists was making. Just this larger discussion and buzz.
So I kind of just became the dude that knew how to write about K-Pop and knew how to do it right. Because there were some issues in the past with some reporting, I saw some weird things here and there.
And then I graduated in 2012, which you might remember was the year of PSY and “Gangnam Style”, and it just kept going from there. It was very good timing.
VFD: So did you study journalism or writing in college?
Jeff Benjamin: I originally went to school for music business and I had really bad grades. Because I knew I wanted to do something in music, but that business side was just killing me. I was at risk of being kicked out of school. Even my advisor at the time was like: Oh, do you like writing? Your writing class grades are much better.
But it was actually the internship at Billboard that made me realise why I love this way more than anything I was doing beforehand. I interned at Bad Boy Records, P. Diddy's label, and it was fun but it wasn't that satisfying. I was just waiting for, like, three artists to release albums. And I couldn't work with anyone else.
But with journalism I could write about so many different things. It was so exciting. And I was like: Oh, my God, I can pitch stuff. And I can talk to different people and go in different genres. I was way happier. So I switched my major halfway through and somehow graduated.
VFD: What do they teach you in music business school anyway?
Jeff Benjamin: Yeah, that was my biggest issue with the programme. It was very much music classes, like music theory, oral comprehension. And then business classes, like calculus and macro economics. Things I couldn't care less about. And then there was one class a semester that was actual music business, and those were hit or miss. The legal class was terrible for me, but the publishing class was interesting. Either way, it was just not the right fit.
But all I did at night was just hang out on blogs and write comments about the different musicians I liked and stuff like that, not exactly realising it was a very minor version of music journalism. But what I wanted to do is find updates about the artists I liked. I wanted to discuss it with people in the comments. And I wanted to follow the writers who I liked and see what else they were into.
VFD: That's interesting that you break down the beats of music journalism like that. How would you describe how you report on things? Are you critical? Do you do reviews? Or is it more about updates on this scene?
Jeff Benjamin: Well, the really cool thing was that, at first, I think it was just getting whatever story I could get. Especially as the college kid. I was just pitching all over the place and trying to get these stories happening.
But after 2012 and what happened with “Gangnam Style”, it was all really good timing. Billboard Korea launched in the fall of 2012 that year, so there was this hub to give support to. And then in 2013, or at the end of 2012, my editor at the time at Billboard was like: Hey, we're relaunching the brand. We're going to include columns. There's going to be a hip-hop column, a latin column, an indie column, and we’re thinking about doing a K-Pop column, would you want to hit it up?
And I'm like: yeah, of course!
I always say I started as a columnist because while I was working my day-to-day journalism job I also did all kinds of music at Fuse TV. It's this music channel, it's not really around anymore. But I was doing news and being a staff writer, doing the column at night, because I didn't feel confident at any of it. So I wanted to do as much as possible. I did data entry on the weekends to make sure I was safe.
But the column was my way of developing what I wanted to talk about with K-Pop. I feel really lucky that I had that column, because I really had openness and general oversight to cover the things I wanted to cover, and cover it in a way that I thought made sense for Billboard.
But at the same time, I wanted it to be something that could be respectful and could be done well. Because I had watched so many websites and blogs and columns all just start and kind of fail. And I really didn't want that to be the case. I wanted to always generate interest with what I was doing. Because I have no interest in starting something small.
So by the end of the first year I was really proud. Our numbers were surpassing the other genres – not pop and hip hop – but the other columns. And I had a lot of help from the Korea side.
It really was able to make that impact right off the bat. And it was cool, because when it launched I even saw coverage about it launching – indicating that this stuff was happening and that K-Pop is becoming a thing.
VFD: You say you had help from the Korea side… Obviously, you can see the analytics and you can see under the hood and see where the audience is coming from. Was there a particular moment where it shifted? Where you’re like: the huge wave of interest coming from Korea is now being equaled, if not surpassed by, Billboard US, Billboard UK…
Jeff Benjamin: Well, I guess I should clarify that when I'm talking about “the help from Korea” it was the staff members over there.
VFD: Oh, I thought you were talking about the Korean audience!
Jeff Benjamin: But that's a great point to clarify, because I remember when I was trying to make a bigger pitch for K-Pop I was way too ambitious of an intern. Like, I don't know if I would have liked me as an intern. But I remember going to the editorial director and telling him: I think this is going to be big. And he’s telling me the business side of things. He's like: Well, what if the majority of the traffic is coming from Asia? I can't sell big ads from that.
And things like that would never occur to you as a 21-year-old student, but I was just very ambitious with letting people know I thought this was really cool. But at the same time, too, I had bosses in 2018 telling me: Oh, if you write about K-Pop your audience is just all gonna be from Korea. And I said: I don't think so.
Because I've been watching it for over 10 years grow in meaningful ways that go beyond just coming from one place. It has been album sales growing, it has been touring that has been growing exponentially, festivals are getting bigger, it's doing better on the charts… All these things that are important to good business beyond having just one viral star. All those things are really important.
And that's why I always kind of believed in it. Especially after 2012, the numbers were there! YouTube was putting out numbers saying… I can't remember exactly what it was, but it's something like: Before “Gangnam Style”, it was 90% Korea. After Gangnam Style, it was 80% from the rest of the world.
It was just some really good numbers and statistics that made me believe: OK this could be a real thing.
VFD: What made your boss say yes?
Jeff Benjamin: Ah, that's a good question. I mean, I did just keep pitching. Mostly because I needed money at the time after graduation and because I just wanted to write about whatever I could. I was down to write for whoever about whatever. But also, I believed in the stories. I wasn't just going to pitch them to some random. I had to believe that.
So OK - there was a hook to The West that would be interesting, but K-Pop fans wouldn’t really be interested in it. But I'm going to assume that the editor, his name is Tye Comer, and he's an amazing guy. He was a great mentor to me. But I'm gonna just assume that the numbers became undeniable in some kind of way. And that's what made them want to go for it. That’s what I hope at least.
VFD: Yeah, it's unlikely in media that they just take swings at things. Actually, I shouldn't say that.
I wanted to also ask you about fandom, in general, and digital fandom. Because I don't think it's over the top to say that it's pretty intense. And even I have just been tangentially related, in a few moments in my life, when I worked at BuzzFeed and I'd write something about K-Pop, or I'd write something just in that field. And suddenly you're just swamped with so many people that want to not just applaud you, or share your piece, but also tell you what they think about it very directly. And I just wanted to ask you how you approach that and what that's like for you as someone who is prominent in the space?
Jeff Benjamin: Yeah, well, I think I was lucky in the sense that I realised there was something to that really early on. I remember I wrote Rolling Stone’s first K-Pop piece ever in 2012. And I'm thinking: Oh, my gosh, this is huge. K-Pop in Rolling Stone. When really it was something very lowbrow. Like: The 10 Most Likely Acts To Break America, those kind of listicles.
I'm thinking everyone's gonna be so excited about it, but oh my gosh, there were – and I read them all because I was young and I didn't know any better – but there was just so much fighting. Like: Where’s this person? This person is right. But where are these people? Oh, I can't believe they never put this in there. Where's this person??
And I was like: Oh my gosh…
And that's when I quickly realised. It's like: you have to do this right. And granted, I believe in everything I write. But there definitely needs to be that due diligence. And I've met a lot of amazing fans and amazing people online. But I mentioned the Taylor Lorenz interview earlier because I think I really do empathise with her in the sense of like: she gets quite nervous, or quite worried about certain things online, or how they're going to be taken, or how certain people will take things about her online.
And I definitely feel that, too, because there's just this intensity online with fandom in particular where it's about looking at one thing and responding in that way.
So I think I've navigated it OK so far. And that goes back to that thing where I have really always tried to come at it from a really respectful viewpoint. I love all kinds of music, but it's not a small thing for artists who don't speak English, generally don't sing in English, don't operate here, don't have that visibility over here, to then be able to try to do things over here and try to make impact over here. That's not a small thing.
So I always try to do my due diligence to show that respect and that recognition, while also having a lot of help from people and colleagues. Whether they're Korean American or in Korea themselves. And I always trying to kind of learn from that and hopefully that that comes through on the fandom side.
VFD: Do you ever feel like you can't be honest, though? Well, “honest” seems way too emotional. But if you have a piece that needs to be critical, right, or direct… how do you handle that knowing full well that it is putting you right up there in the firing line?
Jeff Benjamin: Yeah, I think it's a great question to consider. And I think ultimately it's going to be a disservice if we don't keep it critically sound and keep it 100%. Because I think it's just gonna be a disservice in general of how things move forward. And it's not even just about K-Pop. One of my editors from Billboard when I was an intern was Jill Mapes, who had an issue with her really good review of the Taylor Swift album for Pitchfork.
Jeff Benjamin: And it's not just about K-Pop, it's in so many different fandoms. And the artists themselves know that they can feed that as well with their tweets or talking about blogs. It's definitely an interesting thing.
With me, my whole thing was always: a column is my space to talk about the things I'm interested in, talk about things I like, and if it's not interesting to me or if I don't feel its impact, I'm generally not going to write about it.
And that was the thing, too.
I've gotten into “trouble with fandoms” where there's so much more context beyond what's actually happening. Like, Billboard used to do these out-of-five star reviews. And I think I gave this one artist a 3.5 star review very early in their career. And then when the artist got bigger it came back to bite me because I said: A lot of the singles are amazing, this group knows how to make a great single, but the rest of the album tracks do not live up to what they can do and what they did with these singles.
And somehow that came across as me being negative and people were calling Billboard about this old review. It was two years old at that time. But that's the thing, too. There’s so much more that goes into it all as well.
I got a lot of flack last year for a review where an editor changed the numbers. I gave it a higher score at the end and they made it lower. And I'm not even sure if the people who are upset with me actually read the review, because I thought what was said in the core was quite positive. They just didn't like that it affected the Metacritic score at that point.
I know a lot of people are nervous about it, and a lot of people are just scared to be honest with it all, but I ultimately feel like it's kind of a disservice not to be. We all have different perspectives, including the artist. Of course the artist is going to think that it's good. People are allowed to share what they want to share. So I don't want to say “we should censor ourselves” or anything like that, but at least with me, I always came from the point of view that I was there to lift up the things I want to lift up.
Sometimes, certain assignments come up where you have to be a little more critical. The reason that I think I was able to avoid a lot of that fandom stuff was that it was a column, and to most of the artists and the teams behind them, they wouldn't share a review if it wasn't positive. And I used to get annoyed by it. People are like: Oh, do you just really love K-Pop? You love everything about K-Pop? And I'm like: No, you just didn't see the more critical review. I tried to do it, but you guys didn't see it. It's an interesting kind of balance, I think, to hit.
VFD: I feel like it's definitely also one of those beats where over time, as more people get involved and more people start writing about it, that will normalise the act of being a bit more critical and enjoying that. That's criticism.
Jeff Benjamin: Yeah exactly. And that's the thing: There's so much discussion of who should have what opinion, or who can give what opinions, and they're all valid discussions. But right now, it's all just… fresh. And it's so new to everything that I think we're still figuring out what's actually going on here. And how can we move ahead?
I read a really great K-Pop review in Pitchfork the other day that was not a positive review. But it was a really well done review. But people had issues with how the writer wrote it, the sex of the writer, the way he said whatever it was he said. There's so many different factors that you're never gonna make everyone happy. Right now, there's a lot of confusion. And it's interesting to observe.
VFD: Yeah, definitely. Do you think that streaming music had a big impact? Or what I should say is: what do you think was the impact of streaming becoming more accepted and more mainstream in diversifying people's music digestion?
Because I look at that as an outsider and I’m like: What are the reasons behind this?
Well, one major one is that every song in the world is a click away in a way that wasn't before. Like, if BTS existed and we didn't have Spotify, and all they had was album launches at your local CD store… I have a feeling it probably wouldn't have happened the same way.
Jeff Benjamin: I think that's really legitimate. I actually think a really big part of why the Korean industry has been able to really connect in a bigger way is because they were just so smart about adopting new platforms. Like, you kind of said: oh, every song in the world is available at a click away. But y’know: Japan, China, a lot of those markets, which are huge markets, haven't really adopted the global stage.
You don't really see a lot of Japanese music on Spotify, for example, or YouTube, or things like that. So Korea was kind of different in the sense that they were really embracing of YouTube and iTunes. Streaming took a little bit longer.
These days I'm actually doing editorial and curation work at TIDAL for K-Pop. And that's been really interesting, because this is a bit of a new world for K-Pop, because they've had streaming in Korea for a long time but they have their own, local, platforms. So getting them on board with Spotify and Apple Music and TIDAL is an interesting new challenge. So I think it's cool.
But yeah, I think with what you were saying: streaming was not only there but it was also accessible to all Korean music. All these K-Pop songs have English titles and Korean titles for the most part. And the artist’s names can be translated to English, or their sub-names are in English. There were a lot of these aspects that just made the music a lot more accessible.
And when you see something like a big flashy music video on YouTube it's so much easier to send someone the YouTube link to “Gangnam Style” and say: Hey, check out this video, than: Hey, download this zip file of this album, but convert the language in case it shows up in cryptotext.
So I think streaming was a huge part of that. But specifically, I think YouTube was just huge for K-Pop. Because it really hasn't always been about the music. I always say K-Pop is not just about the music. It's a whole music scene. It's a whole scene in and of itself, in a culture. So it's been about the fashion, the choreography, the performance, the fact that the music itself is in Korean but has a lot of English sprinkled into it. There's been all these factors that go beyond a good piece of music and make it garner that large audience.
VFD: Yeah, it's pretty hectic, isn't it? Like, the mechanics of the K-Pop world and the amount of – I feel down saying this because it's not like there’s no hard work in the music industry, because obviously everyone works very hard – but you see documentaries and you see reports about the K-Pop industry in particular, and the amount of hard work and hours spent. And going over the same choreography again, and again, and again, and again, and again. Why do you think that's the case? And am I even right?
The way I see it is there's a tiered system where young K-Pop groups try to get signed by labels that then promote you and teach you to dance and make you a thing. And it seems way more formalised than in the US and UK. Where it’s like: we're going to make One Direction but that's it.
Jeff Benjamin: Right, I think you kind of got it. It’s a bit half-and-half.
I think if the kid wants to become a singer or become a performer… it's very rare for a group to be created on their own in the K-Pop world and then join a label. Most of the time the kids are auditioning, or getting scouted, and joining these companies where they train. And you can train anywhere from a couple months to a couple of years, up to 10 years I think is the longest I've ever heard. And it’s like: once the company decides that you're ready, and you and your fellow trainees are ready, then they'll decide who's in the group and who has what role…
VFD: I can imagine that involves some pretty heavy conversations.
Jeff Benjamin: Yeah, I'm sure it's devastating. It's a bit like the Motown era. Motown did the same thing. They recruited people, auditioned people, and put them into their different groups. Or even in the Hollywood studios and how Disney is a bit.
It's a lot of this incubation period: they train in singing, dancing, media, acting, modelling, to eventually be perfect upon debut. To eventually be an artist on the label. And hopefully they keep growing and keep getting bigger. So how I always see it is: you're supposed to be perfect from debut and you're then supposed to just keep getting better and bigger every single time.
So there's a lot of pressure, too. And there's definitely that sense of perfection. And I always felt a little bad about this. I don't know if guilty is the right word, but I just look at US performers these days and I'm like: No one is really giving stage performances, and thinking about things, and putting things together the way K-Pop is most of the time. Our pop stars and our performers just get up on a stage. Maybe they'll walk around a little bit and thats kind of it.
And to even be able to hit the bare minimum at the K-Pop scene, you have to be at perfection. And then you’ve just got to keep going.
I think it's really exciting when someone like BTS did get an opportunity at the American Music Awards, or the Billboard Music Awards. All it took was just those little moments to show people: this is how they perform. This is how they act.
And it's like: oh my god, this is so good! Where has this been all my life?
So I think that representation, that visibility, is such a key part. And that's why I was always so proud of Billboard. It's so cool to see K-Pop next to pop, next to rock, next to dance music. Not all those columns survived, by the way. But K-Pop is still here. We're still here.
VFD: I mean, if you said to me name five K-Pop bands I would probably only be able to name one, and it would be BTS, right? I would be able to name a few songs, but they seem to have absolutely launched into the moon. And is there any particular factor around that?
Jeff Benjamin: Well, that’s the thing about that – I do think BTS has good music, but even their earlier stuff I thought was a little aggressive for me. And they continue to refine their formula and change things. But the thing that really got me about BTS is I knew they were good performers, I knew they had a cool look about them. And I knew fans were pretty excited about them. But the thing that really got me, in particular, was the messages. Once you actually look into the music itself – and it's not like I was translating Korean in my head – I would just go to the fan sites that were the ones translating these lyrics. And nowadays, Genius has English and Korean translations for K-Pop. Like, it's crazy. But this is really back in the day where you have to wait a bit to get your translations. And I just remember reading the lyrics and being like: wow… this is some deep stuff.
There was this 2015 album that really blew my mind called “The Most Beautiful Moment In Life: Part Two” that was their first album to actually enter the Billboard charts. But I remember I was just preparing myself for a review, because they had done OK in the charts and toured in America, and it was just kind of standard that I was going to write about them. They hadn't even really broken big at the time. But I started looking deeper into this album and I was wondering: what is this album? I was just blown away by it. There was a song about depression, a song about reckoning a relationship to leaves falling off a tree that eventually die and wither away.
I was like: this is beautiful stuff. I thought they were great performers, great singers, great rappers. But when I actually looked into the deeper messages I was like: oh, wow, these guys really have something to say. And that's been a theme that I think kept up.
You might get drawn in by the fashion, the performance, whatever, but I think what really hooks that fandom and makes them so passionate is those deeper messages you eventually find in their music.
And BTS set up a whole wave in the industry – not to say that there weren't socially conscious artists in K-Pop before then – but after BTS I started seeing a lot of artists creating their whole worldview and their universe to have a larger story and message that they were trying to show.
Before it felt more like: have a big single, have a big song, have a big performance, whatever it might be. But I started noticing that there was that shift happening and I thought it was a great shift.
But yeah, I'd say that's what I always get to: there's this socially conscious deeper message that happens in BTS’ music and that's what makes that fan base so amazing. They took the time. They really took the time to not only get into BTS as pop stars, but also get into BTS’ theories and messages and philosophy.
VFD: So what do you think someone who was in your position 10 years ago, out of college, wanting to be a music writer, music journalist, or a critic… What is the path there? Because to me, it seems like along with sports writing one of the hardest things to break into. And the pool of possible jobs is in an already small pool.
Jeff Benjamin: Yeah, especially after 2020.
VFD: Yes, exactly. That didn't help.
Jeff Benjamin: I don't know if it's exactly answering the question at first, but I will answer the question.
I just feel like media is at such a tough time right now. Because I see a lot of K-Pop writing, or just music writing in general, and it's actually kind of annoying to me because there isn't that same perspective and heart that I think I saw a lot back in the day.
Like right now, I feel like it's just things popping out like popcorn. It’s: OK, we got pitched this artist, put them in this format, put it out. OK, next one.
I'm not seeing that same attention to detail being put out there. So I think media is at a tough place. And I think I've had to rework my brain a bit too, to be like: OK, why do I actually like doing this?
Being on the streaming side (with TIDAL) it's been kind of fun, because I feel like I have to go back and focus on the music more.I don't have the visuals lots of times. I can only listen to the music. So I'm like: what does this sound like? Do I like how this sounds?
But in terms of advice… I think it's just finding that one thing that makes you – and it really sounds cliche and like I'm a pop star – but that was the thing I had to kind of realise.
I was that kid on the playground who would… Did you have Hootie & The Blowfish in Australia? Do you know who that is?
VFD: Yeah, I know.
Jeff Benjamin: I don't know what it was, but as a five-year-old I was obsessed with Hootie & The Blowfish. Like, I was obsessed. And I knew their songs on the radio. I was so excited. I’d go up to kids on the playground and be like: Who's your favourite artist? And these kids have no idea. No one cared when they were kids. They'd say things like whatever their parents liked. They'd be like: The Beatles. And I was so disappointed when people would say that. I'd be like: You guys don't know who Hootie & The Blowfish is???
But that was the thing – I just always wanted to find those people I really wanted to champion. And I would like to hope when I'm not listening to the negative comments, or the trolls out there, the people who actually care and who are going to take the time to see what you're doing, they're going to recognise that you're coming at it with the right perspective and for the right reasons. And I think people can read through that.
I think when I was trying to put myself in the music business box it just wasn't my thing. My boss was always telling me I couldn't write about Kylie Minogue on P. Diddy's blog, and I was like: oh, but I want to! She's like: Well, yeah, no, that's not what we hired you for…
But it's just finding those unique things that get you really excited. And then hopefully finding the paths and avenues where people are going to support that vision. I have really good people at Billboard supporting me, for the most part, but at the same time, I also had editors telling me: Stop trying to make K-Pop happen. And: it's not going to happen. There were a lot of different things where I say: I know not to go to that person to be my champion for that. Like, let me find the champion that will support it and own it. Own what you're doing and own what gets you excited.
Because I think that's what's gonna not only make people recognise you for what you do, but also recognise that you're real about it. And also: be smart with the numbers too. Like, do your due diligence. The unfortunate thing is that a lot of this is business based.
Ivie Ani is this really awesome writer, she's done a lot of stuff on music from Africa. And she said something really smart that I never thought about. She said writers need to have, especially freelance writers need to have, a whole rollout plan for their pieces. And that's how I always treated things. It’s like, giving the respect and the time to what you do.
And that's why I think it's kind of exciting. Like, this is a subtack we're talking on now. And I think traditional media is a little boring these days. So I'm curious what I can do, and I’m starting to play around with some ideas right now as well.
VFD: Yeah, I think there's probably another one or two years. So you should jump in. Because then I think everyone starts going: Hey, we should join up and make some kind of Media Group, some kind of substack group… And then it's over.
Jeff Benjamin: Totally. And I do think that's going to happen. It's not going to be so much about these conglomerates just buying everything, but it's going to be about the like-minded people. And I think we're going to be more grouped by the ways we think, and the ways we produce stuff, rather than conglomerates just needing to own everything.
VFD: Definitely. I think also it’s going to be an amazing job to be a media reporter in about two years, because of the drama and the chaos that's going to happen… But you will also have individuals with really successful substacks that have to then decide: do I take all the money I have been making? Or do I help these upstarts like I said I would? That’s gonna be interesting thing.
Jeff Benjamin: Right? Like Brian Stelter, he's at CNN, but the way he started with this amazing letter that everyone knew about… I remember seeing him speak and I was like: Dang, who would have thought media would be something that would be interesting?
Like: No offence. I'm subscribed to his newsletter now. But I find it fascinating. But who would have thought? So that's what I think: just find that weird little unique thing that kind of makes you go for it, and then expand it. Breathe life into it. See what happens.
VFD: Well, thank you so much, Jeff. Really appreciate it.