There’s an article in the New York Times about Starbucks’ now-mainstream approach to music. The reaction? Complete and utter surprise from some, disappointment from others.
As far as I can tell, if anything about this turn of events–why not call it the mainstreamization of Starbucks?–is surprising, it is the fact that anyone is surprised by it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my Grande Soy Chai Latte as much as the next girl, but I am really, really confused by the fact that anyone would have labeled Starbucks as anything other than mainstream.
To be fair, the article deals with the musical selections that Starbucks has been featuring in its stores. At one time, apparently, Starbucks-addicted shoppers went to their local coffee shop to stock up on independent artists, musicians they may not normally hear on the radio or see on VH1 or MTV (not that one ever sees musicians on either of those channels anymore). Careers were made as a result of exposure gained through Starbucks. Now, sadly, coffee consumers enter their cherished Starbucks and find only Jack Johnson, John Legend, Paul McCartney. In short, artists whose careers have already been made and who do not need further exposure. What happened to the Madeleine Peyrouxs of the world? Are we responsible latte drinkers supposed to just step aside and forget our responsibility to buy overly-expensive caffeinated beverages and then soothe our consciences by buying the album of some struggling musician?
What exactly is going on here? Why would this be a source of shock, horror, dismay? Starbucks has to be one of the most mainstream corporations on American (and, at this point, global) soil. If the corporation was able to bolster careers, it was because of its mainstream status. A small (maybe with a few franchises, maybe with only a single location) coffee house, a thoroughly un-mainstream coffee house, would never be able to launch a career. And now that Starbucks is being a little bit more true to itself, people feel deceived. It. Makes. No. Sense.
I think that people may need to move beyond the feeling that going into a Starbucks is somehow hip and trendy, a demonstration of the fact that they are hooked into what is edgy and up-and-coming. What should be understood is that Starbucks is not some socially-conscious and socially-responsible corporation, it is just a corporation that wants (and needs) to make money. That is what capitalism is based on. If it is so important to you that you hear new musicians, exciting artists, avant-garde music, maybe you should find an independent radio station or something. Don’t just take the easy, lazy route and then complain when it backfires on you.