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The Reconstruction of the Beatles' Identity through YouTube

The next speaker at Transforming Audiences is Richard Mills, whose interest is in the presence of the Beatles on YouTube. The Beatles' image was carefully guided and constructed by their manager Brian Epstein, of course, and the nascent music press of the early to mid-1960 bought strongly into that, creating Beatlemania and connecting it to the wider Swinging Sixties rhetoric. The Beatles themselves eventually reacted against this commercialisation and commodification, and gradually changed their image to embrace countercultural ideas. The evolution of Beatles iconography on their record covers over time also points powerfully to this shift, of course - from the identical suits and haircuts of the first albums to the blankness of The White Album.

Traditionally, music, videos, and cover art are carefully contructed by the music industry, of course, and music audiences are positioned by the industry simply as recipients and customers; such control is now undermined and deconstructed through new media technologies, as well as through the additional material now being made available in re-releases and through the release of alternative takes and critical reflections by the artists and others around them. The narrative around the Beatles changes from one carefully prescribed, unified version of history to a jumble of contradictory micronarratives - and the same is true for many other bands.

YouTube has an important role to play in this. It has become a forum for outtakes and previously unreleased material as well as other fan materials, providing entirely new insights into the musical process and undermining the official narrative. Much as 1960s media technology was used to construct the Beatles image, now that very same image is being de- and reconstructed through our current media technology. As Barthes has said, 'the death of the author is the birth of the consumer'. reality is reconfigured, and the traditional artistic object is cut loose from conventional industry constraints.

Fans become active creators of this new identity of the artist, then; there's a change from top-down to bottom-up identity construction. Previously unseen material is now available in fan-created and -curated form; fan creativity is augmenting that of the artists themselves, and through this ongoing engagement the original work is now being disconnected from its original 1960s contexts and updated for today. This is true even more so in the case of fan remixes, of course, such as DJ Danger Mouse's Grey Album. Technological innovation is translating the Beatles' work.

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