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Bruce Springsteen angers fans with latest tour’s ‘outrageous and exorbitant’ prices | Culture

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Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen’s manager, attributes the high cost of tickets to a desire to combat resale and the use of a “dynamic pricing” algorithm that is not all that well calibrated. On July 20, tickets went on sale for six of the concerts on Springsteen’s 2023 U.S. tour: Tampa, Orlando, Hollywood (Florida), Tulsa, Denver and Boston. Barely 24 hours later, the community of the New Jersey artist’s ever-devoted fans was boiling mad: tickets were being sold at “obscene” prices, in excess of $5,000 in some cases. Moreover, the cheapest ones—theoretically $60—were nowhere to be found.

As Ron Lieber explains in a New York Times article about Ticketmaster’s “dynamic pricing system” for Springsteen’s concerts, “no scalpers were selling those tickets. Instead, a new definition of face value had emerged, one that many fans had never encountered.”

Music journalist Bill Werde, former editor-in-chief of Billboard magazine, also took to social media to express his dissatisfaction and shock: “Hard to believe that Bruce Springsteen turned out to be the one to make music fans miss scalpers.”

This is not our Bruce

Bruce Springsteen during a concert in Barcelona in 2008.
Bruce Springsteen during a concert in Barcelona in 2008.EFE

What is strange in this case is that it involves the man who offered his rock music with roots and a conscience as an antidote to what he saw as the antisocial outburst of Ronald Reagan’s conservative counterrevolution. When your product is the proletarian ethic, you can’t sell it at the price of Iranian caviar.

More than a rock star, Bruce is the high priest of a contemporary religion with millions of followers. Its sacred books are albums like The River, Born to Run and The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, and its sermons on the mount, the ceremonies that fuel the sacred fire, are his concerts.

For his staunchest followers, the people who use their savings to follow Bruce from Dublin to Rome via Barcelona and Paris, a prohibitively priced ticket, or the lack of tickets altogether, is tantamount to expulsion from that community of believers. The emotional damage that this causes explains the degree of acrimony with which many of them are now revolting against their idol. As rock critic Jordi Meya wrote in RockZone magazine, “How much is a broken dream worth?”

Fifty years ago, Bruce Springsteen was more concerned about his fans’ pocketbooks. In December 1972, he performed for the first time in Ohio, at the Hara Arena in Dayton. He was the opening act for the New York doo-wop band Sha Na Na at a large venue with barely a thousand spectators that night. It was a somewhat dispirited concert, given before an unreceptive audience and under a poster that, because of an egregious mistake by the promoters, announced the performance of “Rick Springsteen.” But the main reason for Bruce’s complaint, as he explained the next day in a radio interview, was “the highway robbery” that a group of friends from New York who went to see him experienced when they had to pay more than $10 (the equivalent of about $70 today) for a ticket.

Bruce Springsteen en una foto de los ochenta.
Bruce Springsteen en una foto de los ochenta.

The 23-year-old Springsteen felt that spending five bucks to see a couple of bands was more than enough. If rock gave up its folk roots, it would die, he said. Of course, that Bruce was still very attuned to the bohemian coffeehouse and beach bar circuit of Asbury Park, on the New Jersey shore, the enthusiastic but precarious scene where he had been performing assiduously since 1969, both as a solo artist and in groups like The Castiles, Earth, and Steel Mill.

A few months later Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ came out, the album with which the Boss began his inexorable march to glory. After his rise from obscurity to incipient stardom, $10 became a pittance for seeing rock’s great white hope perform live.

A questionable defense

Returning to the present, Bruce and his representatives remained silent as the storm of criticism raged on social media. Finally, on July 26, almost a week later, Jon Landau—the former music critic who “discovered” Springsteen in 1974 at a concert in New York and has been the rock legend’s manager, spokesman and squire ever since—offered a series of technical explanations that have only added fuel to the fire.

Landau recognizes that a “modest number of tickets” are being sold at prices of over $1,000, but he asserts that the average cost per ticket has been in the mid-$200 range. According to Landau’s explanation, the higher prices are exclusively the result of a dynamic pricing algorithm, the function of which is to intelligently use the law of supply and demand, so that fans with more resources can get better seats close to the stage and help lower the price of the rest of the tickets.

“Dynamic pricing” refers to a flexible sales strategy that updates and adapts prices to changing demand in real time. Airlines and hotel chains have systematically used dynamic pricing for more than a decade. With the rise of e-commerce and advances in artificial intelligence, the sales strategy has been expanded to areas like large events. The principle is simple: an algorithm analyzes demand in real time and, if a particular location is in high demand, the price rises automatically; less-coveted locations tend to adjust their starting prices downward. In short, the idea is to “auction” each available seat to sell them at the ideal price.

The system tends to work best (and go relatively unnoticed) for events with medium or low levels of attendance. The least in-demand tickets drop in price and can end up being a real bargain if purchased at the last minute, while the most expensive ones remain at acceptable prices. However, for highly anticipated, in-demand events—such as Bruce’s tour—the only way to avoid major distortions is to establish maximum, minimum, and average starting prices.

Bruce Springsteen signing autographs for fans.
Bruce Springsteen signing autographs for fans.MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI

Landau argues that if the cap were waived in this particular case, it would favor scalpers, who could buy at a lower price than the algorithm recommends and then resell the tickets at whatever price they want on the black market. In short, it’s a matter of widening the profit margin of artists and promoters by reducing that of scalpers. If someone is willing to pay more than $5,000 to see Bruce, why pay that amount to a criminal instead of Bruce and his business partners?

Beyond discussing mathematical models and the law of supply and demand, Landau contends that the abnormally high-priced tickets represent a “ridiculous” percentage and that it is perfectly possible to obtain “very decent” seats for “between $60 and $100,” a price he considers reasonable. Many fans responded to these claims on social media by posting screenshots to prove how difficult it was, especially for the Tampa concert, to buy tickets for less than $500 in most areas of the venue just a few hours after they went on sale, when many seats were still available.

Landau’s argument is questionable: Bruce has not done anything that other popular music stars like Drake and Taylor Swift—whose concerts pioneered the use of dynamic pricing systems without any price maximum —have not done as well. But perhaps the problem is that the Bruce Springsteen of a few years ago—the pride of working-class America—never would have appeared in the same sentence as Drake and Taylor Swift in the first place.

Amidst the controversy, some disenchanted fans brought up the fact that Bruce Springsteen is currently worth more than $650 million, and that he pays himself a yearly salary of $80 million as the manager of his own company. Moreover, in December 2021 he sold his music catalog and publishing rights to Sony for over $500 million, exceeding the $400 million that Bob Dylan received for selling his.

As Variety journalist Chris Willman explains, Bruce is now a very wealthy man who owes much of his wealth to the tremendous (and well-deserved) reputation of his live shows. At this point, expecting him to intercede so that his fans can see him play for the cost of a couple of beers is “supremely naïve.” With or without the algorithm, Bruce’s concerts will increasingly become a luxury that his diehard fans will not always be able to afford. Just like the Rolling Stones.

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Margot Robbie’s self-confessed ambition has made her the highest paid actress of the year | Culture

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Self-doubt is Margot Robbie’s greatest motivator, and competes with ambition in the Australian actress’s psyche. She couldn’t believe her own eyes when she first saw herself on a giant ad for the Pan Am TV series in New York’s Times Square. “I still have the photo,” she told EL PAÍS a few years ago, somewhat wistful for the days when she was still a nobody. The script of The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), the Martin Scorsese film that put her on the map, touted her as “the most beautiful blonde in the world,” but she didn’t believe the hype. “I remember saying to a friend, ‘I haven’t worked in six weeks.’ I’m sure there’s nothing out there for me,” laughed Robbie. But Hollywood didn’t share her skepticism. In July, Variety magazine ranked Robbie as the highest paid actress of the year when her US$12.5 million salary for the upcoming Barbie movie was announced.

Margot Robbie may be this year’s highest paid actress, but 17 men made even more money, led by Tom Cruise who was paid US$100 million for Top Gun: Maverick. Her Barbie love interest, Ryan Gosling, was paid the same as Robbie, even though she has the titular role, more evidence that pay parity in Hollywood is far from being a reality. Robbie ranked ahead of Millie Bobby Brown (US$10 million for the Enola Holmes sequel); Emily Blunt (US$4 million for Oppenheimer); Jamie Lee Curtis (US$3.5 million for Halloween Ends); and Anya Taylor-Joy (US$1.8 million for Furiosa).

Robbie’s misgivings about her career aren’t shared by other industry giants. Martin Scorsese compared her to Carole Lombard for her comedic genius, Joan Crawford for her toughness, and Ida Lupino for her emotional range. He described Robbie as having a surprising audacity, and recalls how she clinched her role in The Wolf of Wall Street by stunning everyone with a tremendous, improvised slap of Leonardo DiCaprio during her audition.

Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling during the filming of director Greta Gerwig's Barbie in California, June 2022.
Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling during the filming of director Greta Gerwig’s Barbie in California, June 2022.MEGA (GC Images)

Robbie showed the same boldness when she lobbied director Quentin Tarantino for another role opposite DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood (2019). She sent the director a letter telling him how much she admired his films, especially her all-time favorite, True Romance (1993). The letter probably wasn’t necessary, as Tarantino already had the I, Tonya star in mind to play Sharon Tate in his new movie, describing her to EL PAÍS as an actress with a visual dynamism and personal qualities that you don’t see every day.

Robbie has wanted to work in movies ever since her start in Neighbours, the long-running Australian TV series that is coming to an end after 9,000 episodes and 37 years on the air. “Of course I’m ambitious. My career motivates me. I came to the United States with a plan, and I’m always looking ahead,” she told us. Even as a child growing up in Queensland (northeastern Australia), Margot Elise Robbie displayed her business smarts and drama queen chops when she decided to sell all her brother’s old toys from the sidewalk in front of the family home.

She jokes about her childhood, but part of that little girl always comes out in the wide variety of characters she plays. She has had all kinds of roles in little-known films like Suite Française and Z for Zachariah, and also in box-office hits like Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey. She won Oscar nominations for playing driven women in I, Tonya (2018) and Bombshell (2020). “Yes, many of the women I’ve played share my ambition – this is a tough industry. But I’m full of doubt like anyone else. You never know how things will turn out,” she said.

 Margot Robbie and her husband, Tom Ackerley, at Vanity Fair magazine’s Oscars party, March 2018.
Margot Robbie and her husband, Tom Ackerley, at Vanity Fair magazine’s Oscars party, March 2018. Jon Kopaloff (WireImage)

Seeking more control over her films, Robbie founded production company LuckyChap Entertainment in 2014 with her husband, British filmmaker Tom Ackerley, and some friends. She hopes to use LuckyChap as a vehicle for herself and other actresses, as she did with Promising Young Woman starring Carey Mulligan, a black comedy thriller film that won writer/director Emerald Fennell an Oscar for best original screenplay. “Margot is an extraordinary person,” said Fennell. “That’s why she’s doing so well as a producer who is determined to try different things and give women a voice.”

Robbie met British assistant director Tom Ackerley on the set of Suite Française in 2013. They began a romantic relationship the next year and moved in together right after attending their first Golden Globes gala for The Wolf of Wall Street. Married since 2016, the couple and co-workers in LuckyChap have a bright future ahead, judging by all the work that is piling up for Robbie. In addition to Barbie, she will appear in Amsterdam, directed by David O. Russell; as silent film star Clara Bow in Babylon, directed by Damien Chazelle; and has a role in Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City. As if that wasn’t enough to keep Robbie busy, a remake of Ocean’s Eleven awaits her; she will play opposite Matthew Schoenaerts in the post WWII drama, Ruin; produce a remake of Tank Girl; and play a female Jack Sparrow in another installment of Pirates of the Caribbean. Surely Margot Robbie doesn’t have any more doubts about her career.

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Salem’s last witch regains her honor | Culture

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As statues of slave owners and slave traders continue to fall in the United States, the embers of the bonfires that burned women accused of committing spells and witchcraft are also being extinguished. In the umpteenth revision of history to try to exonerate the victims, the most recent episode concerns the last official Salem witch, Elizabeth Johnson Jr., from the massive 1692 and 1693 trials in the English colony of Massachusetts. Thanks to the initiative of a middle school teacher and her students in Andover, located in the same county as Salem, her spirit can now roam free. The enthusiastic students began the vindication process in 2020 and persuaded Massachusetts state senator Diana DiZoglio (D), who took up the cause and pushed for Johnson’s pardon, which was announced last week.

It has taken 329 years for Elizabeth Johnson Jr.’s name to be cleared definitively. She was the last of the Salem witches to be exonerated. While Johnson was spared a death by hanging, she was stigmatized until she died at 77, an uncommonly long life for the time. Historians say that Johnson showed signs of mental instability and was single and childless, all of which were signs of witchcraft during that period. She pled guilty before the court of inquisitors. Almost 30 members of her extended family were also implicated, as if witchcraft were contagious, hereditary, or both. Johnson, her mother, several aunts and her grandfather, a church pastor, were tried as well. According to historian Emerson Baker, the author of a book about the Salem witch trials, her grandfather described Johnson to the judges as a “simplish person at best.” Most likely, the judges would have equated “simplish” with different during that superstitious and pre-scientific period.

The fact that Johnson didn’t have any descendants deprived her of anyone to vindicate her good name, as relatives of the other defendants did. The first attempt to do so happened at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Then, in the 1950s, Massachusetts passed a law exonerating those found guilty, but it failed to gather all the names. A 2001 attempt at justice excluded Johnson because, after her conviction in 1693, she was formally presumed to be dead (executed).

The social hysteria against everything that deviated from the norm, against the minimal exercise of free will, was implacable against women, as Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible (the playwright adapted it for the big screen in 1996) and recent variations remind us. The theme lends itself very well to artistic creation, but in real life it amounted to opprobrium for those who suffered it and represented a cause for scorn among puritans.

Illustration of the 1692 trial of two Salem witches. The Granger Collection.
Illustration of the 1692 trial of two Salem witches. The Granger Collection.The Granger Collection / cordon press

Salem was more than a witch trial. According to historians, it was a collective exorcism fueled by a puritanical inquisition based on paranoia and xenophobia, a gratuitous auto de fe that unleashed people’s worst instincts: fear and the human tendency to blame others for one’s own misfortunes. At least 172 people were indicted in the 1692 trial. About 35% confessed their guilt and were spared the gallows; according to sources, around twenty insisted on claiming their innocence and did not escape that fate. The rest of the detainees were acquitted or sentenced to prison. The Salem witch trials represented a collective bogeyman through which one can foresee the later threat of the Ku Klux Klan. It is hard not to wonder what bonfires would have burned today on the pyre of social media and extreme polarization.

The great Salem witch hunt can be re-read through the prism of gender. As the adage goes, se non è vero è ben trovato (Even if it is not true, it is well conceived). Witches, like those in Salem and the woman in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter (made into a film in the 1950s), were demonized for going off the rails. The dominant society’s puritanical stance against any kind of heterodoxy or freestyling, against rebels with or without a cause, led people to be targeted for dressing exotically by puritanical standards or for daring to drink at a tavern, a sacrilege for the morals of the day. It’s not difficult to draw a straight line from the bonnet of a witch on the gallows to the handmaid’s white bonnet in Margaret Atwood’s novel: all were women who were demonized, objectified, and scapegoated for deeper ills.

Beyond gender, other historians emphasize the socioeconomic dimension of the Salem witch trials, which combined a deep-seated inequality with racism, the United States’ original sin since well before the Declaration of Independence. The trials targeted colonial society’s most vulnerable during a period of economic instability that unleashed fierce rivalry among Salem families. According to historian Edward Bever, society was permeated by interpersonal conflict, much of it stemming from competition over resources. People did whatever they could to survive, from physical aggression to threats, curses, and insults. One of the first women accused, Sarah Osborne, was a poor widow who dared to claim her husband’s land for herself, defying the customary laws of nature, which granted the inheritance to sons. The accusation of witchcraft ended Osborne’s claim. Tituba, an indigenous slave, was accused of being a witch because her racial origins differed from the norm. Sarah Good was also poor, but she defended herself against the humiliations of her neighbors, which led her to the gallows; her daughter, Dorothy Dorcas Good, was Salem’s youngest victim: she was arrested at only four years old and spent eight months in prison.

Since then, history has not changed the fact that vulnerable women pay the price for circumstances beyond their control. That the Puritans of the time considered women—the evil heirs of Eve —prone to temptations such as the desire for material possessions or sexual gratification was only an added factor. Poor, homeless, and childless, these women in the shadow of society’s dominant morality were fodder for the gallows. But Elizabeth Johnson Jr. didn’t just manage to save her life; 329 years later she recovered her honor as well.

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Meridian Brothers: A fake salsa band ignites the rebirth of an old New York record label | Culture

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A new album will land on the salsa dance floor by the end of this week; one that fuses rhythms from the 1970s with the technological dystopias of the future. Behind it is Ansonia Records, a label that, after its creation in 1949 among Latino immigrants from New York, would produce several merengue, jibara, bomba, guaracha, mambo, and boogaloo albums, before stopping altogether in 1990. This Friday, after more than 30 years, Ansonia Records will return with a salsa album.

Hermano del futuro, vengo buscando iluminación; brother from the future, I come looking for enlightenment. So says one of the songs from the new album, called Metamorfosis, by the old salsa group Renacimiento. But there is a catch: Renacimiento does not exist. It never did. It is a fake group, and this is a fake cover, explains musician Eblis Álvarez, founder of the Colombian group Meridian Brothers, who had already experimented with various genres, from cumbia to vallenato. A group that practices “tropical cannibalism,” says Álvarez. This year, Meridian Brothers decided to launch a group of salseros straight out of fiction: Renacimiento.

Colombian group Meridian Brothers.
Colombian group Meridian Brothers.Perla Hernández Galicia (Cortesía)

“Renacimiento [rebirth] is the typical name that musicians would give a salsa group in the 1970s,” Álvarez tells EL PAÍS. “For example, in the Nueva Trova movement there was talk of a political rebirth, but at the same time they combined this with a spiritual factor: when one listens to groups like La Columna de Fuego [from Bogota] or Los Jaivas [from Chile], there was a common pattern: everyone was waiting for a rebirth of the soul, and of society.”

Although on stage Renacimiento is made up of five artists — María Valencia, Alejandro Forero, César Quevedo and Mauricio Ramírez, besides Álvarez — when the album was recorded it was the founder who played all the instruments, besides doing the voice of the salsero that accompanies the songs. The album has nine tracks, some similar to the older, slower salsa, and others to the faster, contemporary style. Between the piano, the timbales and the percussion, we find verses with the concerns of the 21st century: love that “communicates by algorithm,” or the threats of atomic bombs that “take us to the cemetery.” Metamorfosis, the single that has already been released, begins with a man who wakes up turned into a robot and longs for a time “when nightclubs really had an atmosphere, not like now, full of cameras, full of drones.”

“I wanted it to sound like salsa from the 1970s,” says Álvarez. “There is no originality, or the originality of this lies in being able to replicate the music as best as possible, but in terms of the material there is nothing original, as it is made with the collective unconscious of Latin America, of Colombia, of Latinos. This is an extrapolation from the 1970s to today, and it speaks of transhumanism, like the matter of highest concern that everything, absolutely everything, is now packed inside the damn cell phone.”

The rebirth includes both the album and the label, as this is the first recording in more than 30 years to be released by Ansonia Records, a company created in 1949 and later forgotten, despite having been one of the first labels founded by a Latin migrant in the United States. Puerto Rican Rafael Pérez, its founder, brought Dominican, Puerto Rican and Cuban musicians from Latin Harlem or the South Bronx, who had not found a home among American record companies, to several studios. He produced his records before the time of the powerful Fania, which made New York salsa famous.

To Liza Richardson, an American radio host who was also a music supervisor on series like Narcos or the movie Y tu mamá también, Ansonia Records is a gem. In the early 1990s, she found an Ansonia album in the station’s archives and, fascinated by the label’s production, became close to the heirs of Pérez. In 2020, she bought the record label with the intention of reactivating it. She, with the help of a small team, has begun to digitize more than 5,000 Ansonia-produced songs; an eighth of them can already be found on streaming platforms like Spotify.

Colombian group Meridian Brothers during a live show in Bogota.
Colombian group Meridian Brothers during a live show in Bogota.Perla Hernández Galicia (Cortesía)

Souraya Al-Alaoui, manager of Ansonia Records, explains that most of the artists chosen by the label were focused on the Latin American diaspora. That was their base; they valued the traditional sounds from islands like Cuba or Puerto Rico, and were not looking to become westernized.

“Johnny Pacheco, founder of La Fania, started with Ansonia Records, and Ansonia was an inspiration for what would later become La Fania,” says Al-Alaoui. “Ansonia was also a pioneer as a label owned by a Latino, an independent label with a founding message: ‘this is from us and for us.’ That’s why it was an inspiration for what came after.”

Over the years, La Fania grew and the seed of Ansonia Records faded away. The label never managed to promote its musicians in concerts like La Fania did, and after the arrival of the digital world, they did not set up a website or try to upload their music to any streaming platforms. Thus, it became a label that was only known by a small group of music lovers, like Liza Richardson and Eblis Álvarez.

“Now, we are hoping to release a new record every year, and we are thrilled to start with this one by Meridian Brothers,” says Richardson. “This is an album that looks to the past but tries to move towards the future, and that is exactly what we are trying to do: look to the past to, at some point, be able to grow again, to thrive.”

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