Hanging on the telephone: the pop and rap acts waiting for your call

Fever Ray and Eminem have reignited pop’s obsession with the hotline. Will you accept the charges?

Last week, Eminem’s manager Paul Rosenberg tweeted a photo of a billboard advertising a medicine called Revival. If you call the accompanying number – 1-833–243-8738 – you get a recorded message, set to a piano version of Dr Dre’s I Need a Doctor, with Eminem song titles subtly slipped into the medical advice. It swiftly followed Fever Ray’s comeback, signalled by a video imploring you to phone a number that connects to the answering machine of a creepy old-school personals service. It’s happening: the pop hotline is back.

First up, some context: in 1990, fans could call David Bowie and leave a message to request the songs they wanted him to play on tour. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince had The New Rap Hotline, 1-900-909-5333, where for $2 for the first minute (35¢ for each additional minute) you could hear a recorded message that changed daily. In the UK, Smash Hits had numbers in the back of the mag to call to listen to the week’s biggest pop hits – like a pay-per-minute Our Price listening post, only one your parents would get incredibly angry about when they saw the phone bill.

Watch the teaser for Eminem’s hotline.

Instead of passively reading a tweet your favourite artist wrote, 2017-style, hotlines meant you could interact! Sort of. In 2006, Alicia Keys sang her “home” number in Diary, 489-4608, and if you used the New York area code, 347, you reached a message from Alicia herself. If, however, you used the code for Georgia, you’d get through to a confused Baptist preacher called JD Turner.

After a few years of screening calls, phone hotlines made a comeback in 2015. On the Dark Sky Paradise album, Big Sean gave out his real cellphone number, 313-515-8772, and fielded calls from fans before realising that, actually, saying “Yes, it’s really me” 8,205 times a day is boring. Shamir, meanwhile, played telephone agony aunt to fans to promote his breakup single Call It Off, while Justin Bieber fans could, er, make his Hotline Bling by calling 231-377-1113 to hear his remix of Drake’s hit.

So, is 2017, with Fever Ray and Eminem’s old-school music promotion tactics, the year pop goes analogue, like those irritating people who have swapped their iPhones for Nokia 3310s? The warning signs were there: Adele’s flip phone in the Hello video; Maroon 5’s Payphone; Liam Payne’s ringtone on Bedroom Floor. Could the fuzzy phone effect replace the crackly vinyl sound that lazy producers use to make a track sound “classic”? Will Beyoncé drop the mystique and be calling you 24/7 like an annoying PPI spammer? Will Taylor Swift leave you long, pointless voicemails like your mum? Call us on our premium-rate number, 0800 111 GUIDE, to find out!


Issy Sampson

The GuardianTramp

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