For anyone who ventured onto the online wasteland that was MySpace in 2012, it seemed impossible to imagine that the social networking platform was once the most popular in the world. It seems crazier still that Rupert Murdoch paid an incredible $580 million for it in 2005, and it even surpassed Google as America’s most visited site a year later.
The much simpler, cleaner and initially less obtrusive likes of Facebook and Twitter stole nearly every one of their 25 million users away. Myspace, the brainchild of Tom Anderson, has become little more than a stagnant and increasingly desolate web space that appeared to have resigned itself to mere curiosity/museum status.
Step forward Justin Timberlake. Perhaps inspired by taking on the role of Napster founder Sean Parker in David Fincher’s excellent Facebook biopic, the “Sexyback” star decided to get a piece of The Social Network action for himself by teaming up with Specific Media to buy the ailing site for $35 million.
A bizarre move perhaps for one of pop’s biggest superstars to align himself with what had become the laughing stock of the web. But considering he managed to transform himself from the curly-haired, dweeb frontman of a manufactured boy band to arguably the coolest and sexiest contender to Michael Jackson’s King of Pop throne within the space of a year, then maybe he’s the ideal man to attempt to reverse MySpace’s fortunes.
After officially relaunching the site in early 2013 to tie in with the release of his first single in six years, “Suit and Tie,” Timberlake has undoubtedly rectified some of its previously glaring mistakes. Less cluttered, more user-friendly and easier on the eye than the unmitigated mess that MySpace eventually became, the new MySpace resembles a glossy magazine more than a social community with its stream of hi-res images, seamless navigation and new editorial features.
Indeed, despite the ability to swap playlists and ‘connect’ with other users, the whole social aspect of MySpace has virtually been ditched in favor of pursuing a more creative music-based angle, suggesting the likes of Last.fm are going to be its major competition more than Facebook or Twitter.
It’s an undoubtedly clever move to distance itself from the inevitably unfavorable comparisons with the behemoths of the social network world. And of course, before budding artists migrated to the likes of Soundcloud to upload their newly-recorded music, MySpace had built up quite the reputation for giving the chart stars of the future a vehicle to promote their music.
Arctic Monkeys utilized the site to rapidly become one of the word of mouth success stories of the decade. Sandi Thom scored a UK number one single on the back of an online live session. Even Lily Allen had previewed most of her Alright, Still debut to her growing MySpace fan base a year before it hit the shelves.
With a radio stream similar to Spotify and Pandora, a Discover section which recommends other similar artists and devotes an entire section to new music, the new MySpace will no doubt encourage at least some of the five million unsigned acts to return to the site they once logged into a daily basis. Particularly for the fact that they can benefit from useful in-depth analytics which reveals where fans are listening from and for how long etc.
But as aesthetically pleasing and potentially valuable to emerging singers, bands, DJs and producers as MySpace v2.0 is, it’s still not quite clear why Timberlake and company paid so much money for a site with such a flagging reputation if they were going to render it almost unrecognizable from its original form.
The Timberlake brand is potent and commercially viable enough to launch such a product on its own, so surely the most logical step would have been to create and develop a brand new platform which didn’t possess a stigma that would make their entrepreneurial intentions all the more difficult.
Of course, it’s too early to determine whether the relaunch has been the kind of huge gamble which has paid off. Early reactions are positive, particularly from the media, but the MySpace brand is so damaged that it’s hard to envision it reaching anywhere near its former glories.