First things first, Hawthorne Heights is a terrible band. That's the easy part, and not the point of this column. Yet still, the very generic Ohio band, which seems to steal lyrics from the most clichéd of high school diary entries, has somehow managed to sell over 700,000 copies of their debut album The Silence In Black and White. Last week, in a flurry of industry hype, Hawthorne Heights released their second album If Only You Were Lonely. All signs pointed to the band and Def Jam R&B prodigy Ne-Yo finishing neck-in-neck on top of the Billboard charts. The results of the charts won't be known until later this week, but if Hawthorne Heights finished #1, it'd be huge news since their large in size—low on quality—record label, Victory, is an indie label and the top of the charts are always exclusively reserved for "known" artists on major labels. But the potential triumph has been overshadowed by the series of bad moves, tasteless hype and dirty tricks that Victory has pulled during the past week.
First off was the manifesto. More suited to rally troops than move some emo units, the decree was written by Victory's staff and sent to the band's fans. The message was less than subtle. It amounted to the label begging the fans to buy the record immediately, an act they compared to saving "rock" music as we know it: "ROCK music needs your support. Our society and culture has put rock music on the backburner... A current example is an artist that we are up against called Ne-Yo. Many people are saying that Ne-Yo is going to outsell us." The statement goes on to explain how "we" can stick it to Ne-Yo—not surprisingly, it's by buying a Hawthorne Heights record—and is filled with such fiscal desperation it rings eerily reminiscent of a "friends helping friends" pyramid scheme pitch. And what about that business about "saving" rock music? Rock music is doing fine, and in fact it's watered-down emo bands like Hawthorne Heights that pose more of a risk to the future of the genre than hiphop (or Ne-Yo) ever could.
While this raised a few eyebrows, the kicker came with a leaked internal street-team email, from Victory employee Abby Valentine. In addition to more rock vs. rap saber rattling, she pleads for their emo-army to pull some dirty tricks. "As for Ne-Yo, the name of the game is to decrease the chances of a sale here. If you were to pick up a handful of Ne-Yo CDs, as if you were about to buy them, but then changed your mind and didn't bother to put them back in the same place, that would work." She then lists a series of ways to "trick" stores into thinking they are out of Ne-Yo CDs, basically by hiding them, which might not necessarily be illegal, but it's terrible form and the sort of thing a label should NEVER ask anyone, not even wide-eyed and impressionable street-teamers, to do. A few days later the label issued a half-ass apology (they said it was a "joke"), but the damage had been done. Both these emails were far from the comments of an indie label that is thinking in the best interest of the music. They were just desperate gestures from a business trying to make another buck off a demographic of kids that should probably know better by now. Oh, and once again, Hawthorne Heights is a terrible band.