Jack Antonoff and the McKinsey bagmen
A new Taylor Swift album has just dropped, and so returns Taylor Swift talk. The college student, only behind the former gifted kid-millennial in Swiftian adoration (mostly of Taylor, not Gulliver), has found it satisfactory at a minimum, but it has not — as of yet — inspired my involvement in bus arguments with drunk Pitties like the release of “Red (Taylor’s Version)” did last year. Interestingly, there does seem to be a contingent of hate for this “Midnights.” More specifically, hate for one Jack Antonoff. Antonoff is a pop sensation who went from performing in the band Fun, to producing a large quantity of primarily female pop stars’ albums. If you liked Lorde’s “Melodrama,” Lana del Ray’s “Norman Fucking Rockwell,” or Taylor Swift’s “Lover,” he was there for you. He’s also a singer-songwriter in his own right, and may also be in the Anthony Weiner Society of Humans that Indirectly Elected Trump through his former long term relationship with actress Lena Dunham.
McKinsey & Company, more commonly referred to as simply McKinsey, is a 96-year-old management consulting firm founded by the eponymous James McKinsey. As their website says, among other things, they “partner with clients to help them innovate more sustainably, achieve lasting gains in performance, and build workforces that will thrive for this generation and the next.” In simple, non-buzzwordy terms, they offer solutions to their clients. Similar to Antonoff, they provide advice and means to action for those seeking it.
McKinsey is the Jack Antonoff of management. The company has a yearly revenue of over $10 billion, and worked with such prestigious clients as Enron, Purdue Pharma, and ICE, among other clients of varying levels of extreme evil. They reportedly helped the Saudi government identify dissidents, encouraged banks to securitize mortgage assets in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis, and nearly bankrupted SwissAir. Obviously, this is a firm that does not mess around.
But what cause do I have to invite comparison between them and a simple music producer? Well, some will read up to here and think, indignantly, “How dare he compare such an evil firm to a simple musician?” And others, disturbed, “How dare he compare such an evil man to such a competent consulting firm?” Cribbing a strategy used by the best of the New York Post, Washington Post, Daily Mail, and other tabloids, I will be supplementing this article with a few cherry picked tweets to demonstrate this supposed anti-Antonoff animosity, and you’ll just have to believe me.
Jill Krajewski writes “Jack Antonoff dulls the edges of every pop star he produces and must be stopped.”
Nina Corcoran writes “Please, artists, I'm begging you to hire anyone but Jack Antonoff to produce your album.” Some news publications of various levels of credibility even got in on the fun, from the real news media source The Atlantic, to the once great Vice News, to the Gawker offshoot’s offshoot Defector. All articles about the senseless hate poor Antonoff faces, and the two lesser media articles about Caleb Gamman’s video showcasing that he is “...able to instantly detect if Jack Antonoff worked on a song due to a visceral hatred of his production style.” Hell, I’m sure some people find it entertaining.
The chief complaints seem to be that he “homogenizes” the pop girls’ sound, and that he’s the reason Lorde’s “Solar Power” sucked, “Lover” sucked, “Midnights” sucked, etc… Obviously, this is completely ridiculous. It’s not like he’s Phil Spector, the production demon that homogenized everyone's sound and imprisoned his wife and threatened to hire a hitman to kill her and literally killed Lana Clarkson in real life. Antonoff is just a great guy that likes making music with his friends, and by all accounts works with them to preserve their vision, acting as a shield against criticism. In the same way, McKinsey is just a consulting firm that often works with terrible groups, giving them legitimacy for whatever harebrained evil schemes they want to do, and serving as some sort of weaponry deflecting against criticism. Let’s be completely honest here, banks were doing, and were going to continue to do, extremely shady things in the mortgage business with or without the involvement of McKinsey. These types of companies, in the long run, end up with high people in high-level positions that have previous relationships with McKinsey (being founded by a former McKinsey-ite in Enron’s case), and are under no obligation to do what McKinsey recommends. Acting on the often incredibly obvious advice that the firm gives is purely the company's choice.
Similarly, the artists which consult with Antonoff also have a choice and choose to incorporate his vision into their own. I would be remiss not to mention the only positive article to have been and ever will be written on Antonoff, The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz’s “Jack Antonoff’s Gift for Pop-Music Collaboration.” Here we actually learn how, and why, Jacky A. does what he does. To force those interested to read the article, I won’t spoon feed quotes to regurgitate to the metaphorical baby birds that make up my audience. Just know that Antonoff is a really nice guy and great producer, according to all who have worked with him. The article explores this with interviews, biography, and a professional writing tone.
It may sound like that article is sooo good. But unlike mine, the New Yorker article doesn’t tortuously compare a pop producer with a consulting firm, and then highlight the absurdity of this comparison as if it makes the article more sensical. Antonoff, like McKinsey, is loved and hated by many. Companies still seek McKinsey’s advice, just as the pop stars of today do for Antonoff. So who is truly the Mastermind?