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Rock'n'roll is the latest victim of corporate globalisation - and it shows

John Harris

Saturday May 8, 2004

The Guardian

A few years ago, I travelled to Brazil to watch the American rock band REM perform at Rock In Rio, an outdoor festival of unimaginable vastness. It was quite a spectacle: close to a million people, a stage seemingly the size of an aircraft carrier, and a stifling heat that led to the odd breakdown of pop etiquette - this was the festival at which the then virginal Britney Spears left her microphone switched on and unwittingly regaled the crowd with the f-word.

Twenty-plus years into their career, REM are among the few surviving standard-bearers for a transatlantic subculture that took root in the wake of punk, founded on the notion - vague, but usually palpable - that rock music should express some kind of dissent. Staunchly anti-Republican, proudly eco-conscious, and with a record of playing benefits for liberal causes, they used their trip to South America to issue at least one attention-grabbing soundbite: "George W Bush is not my president," their vocalist, Michael Stipe, told the local press.

On the night of their show, unfortunately, none of that counted for very much. Rock In Rio was sponsored by AOL, who were using the event to launch their Brazilian operation. The visual language was globalisation's semiotic trickery in excelsis: lest anyone fear that AOL's arrival represented any kind of online imperialism, their logo had been resprayed in the heartwarmingly Brazilian colour scheme of green and yellow. The presence of some of the USA's biggest musicians, however, drove the most important message home: opening AOL accounts could, it seemed, induct the Brazilians into the same spangled world as Britney, Guns'n'Roses and - oh, yes - REM.

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thanks, umma...very interesting reading.

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