2019 was deemed by many as the “year of the scam”. The competing Fyre Festival documentaries (Hulu’s Fyre Fraud and Netflix’s Fyre), and the success of Hustlers and The Laundromat grabbed audience’s attention with fictionalized depictions of real fraudsters. Streaming services carried this momentum into 2020 with scam documentaries, such as McMillions and Made You Look. In 2021, this only continued with Operation Varsity Blues, I Care A Lot, and LuLaRich depicting a variety of fraud stories rooted in truth. Now, only 3 months into 2022, we’ve seen five scam story releases already. From the dating horror stories of the victims of The Tinder Swindler, the bizarre character of Anna Sorokin in Inventing Anna, and the corporate catastrophes brought to light in Super Pumped, WeCrashed, and The Dropout, it seems that the year of the scam has become an era. These kinds of stories have always been told and have always been entertaining, but with the recent rise in media centered around fraud, it begs the question of why, and why now? Scamming: The American Spirit Outside the film and television industry, scamming is incredibly prominent. Just by reading the news, we can see major political scandals, election meddling, police misconduct, big bank bailouts, and other situations in which the fraudulent activities of major institutions have come to light. Many people find their faith in these people and the surrounding systems dwindling. The hope that justice will be served can feel unrealistic after constantly having to witness unjust situations. The idea of righteousness is increasingly fleeting. Scam media has the unique ability to provide audiences with a scrap of optimism. The sheer multitude of scam stories in entertainment (most of them being about or based on true stories) only adds evidence to the fact that scamming is everywhere. But in order for a scammer’s story to be told, they must be caught. Watching these movies comes with the reassurance that the culprit doesn’t get away with it in the end. This can bring back faith in the integrity and goodness of mankind to those who have lost it, and this comfort has drawn in an audience of millions. The exciting and satisfactory nature of catching a scammer has led scam media to soar in popularity, inventing its own genre. True crime is massively popular, but many consumers often feel shameful about finding entertainment in violence and trauma experienced by others. Scam stories are much easier for audiences to take in. Not only do they typically lack gore, but viewers can also easily divide the on-screen con artist characters from the real suffering they caused for many. Many people watching have the notion that they are not vulnerable to these situations and see the victims of scams as stupid or naive. The reality is that we are all just as vulnerable as anyone else. When the victims of a scam are not seen as someone a viewer respects, there can be a large element of schadenfreude (pleasure derived from another’s misfortune) drawing people in. It can be cathartic for those struggling financially to watch the wealthy lose their money or to see outsiders disrupt organizations that are inaccessible to most of the population. Scam media has created its own style of true crime that keeps what fascinates us and leaves what upsets us, even when the consequences of these situations can be just as bleak. By focusing these stories around the scammer, these shows and movies depict incredibly charismatic characters that simply fascinate us. The idea that someone could be so blatantly confident in themselves and so sure of the fact that they will get what they want is shocking. It’s the polar opposite of the imposter syndrome and numerous obstacles faced by many people every day. Dishonesty, and those who weaponize it, is itself incredibly compelling. A huge tenet of human society is the idea of honesty. We go through life assuming most people have the best intentions. When someone does the opposite, utilizing false kindness for evil, it is a riveting experience. We have a deep desire to understand this kind of personality because it is so unfathomable to us. Scam media digs deep into the minds of these characters and captivates audiences by exploring their motivations, not just their crimes and their consequences. The film and television industry has told many scam stories over the years, but for a long time most were rooted in the finance world. Now, we can watch scams of every shape and color. From romance scams to medical scams and every kind of fraud you can imagine in between, scam media is a wide-spreading genre. Because of the variety of scamming itself and the media that depicts it, every piece of scam-centered media captivates audiences for its own specific reason. In 2022 alone, we’ve seen Anna Sorokin charm her way into New York society (Inventing Anna), Simon Leviev use dating apps and the real women on them to his financial advantage (The Tinder Swindler), and Elizabeth Holmes climb to the top of Silicon Valley only to crash down once it came out that her genius invention never successfully worked (The Dropout). By analyzing these pieces of scam media, we can begin to understand how uniquely captivating each story can be.
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I had the exciting opportunity to sit down with Shane Pi, an up and coming indie-alternative singer/songwriter to discuss the big moves he’s been making this year as an artist- Releasing an EP entitled “Is This Art?”, performing more shows, and gearing up for the future! To start can you speak a little bit about where you’re from and what influences that has on your music? I’m from Massachusetts. I grew up in Franklin, Massachusetts which is on the commuter on the way to Boston, so I had easy access to the city growing up. I was around Berklee students all the time and I think that just shaped my music outlook because the people around me all had big aspirations and were very musically passionate. And then in college, being involved in the DIY scene and house shows in Boston really shaped who I am as a musician for sure. Can you speak more on how performing at house shows specifically helped shape your style, and have those experiences influenced your current EP at all? Yeah, I just think that it’s very different from a venue because it’s more intimate and most of the time it’s someone’s actual home, so it just feels more personal. I think it shaped me to feel a more human and intimate connection to music, like live music and music presentation. You first started releasing music under a different name. What moved you to start producing under Shane Pi and what was that transition like for you? I went a slightly different kind of direction with the sound [of my music], and also I found that the name I had before was kind of hard to spell and there were some branding things that were tough. Ultimately, I felt that the album I had made as Bellweather was something that I didn’t want to delete or get rid of, I want it to be out there, but I also don’t think that it’s a good first step towards what I’m doing now musically. It just felt like a fresh start was the right move and just using my actual name was a better plan. The album was more like an artistic statement, I was processing a lot of grief and learning a lot about myself through that. It was a good thing for me at the time, but also I do other art forms like animation and visual art, so having my name is helpful to have that umbrella for all the things I create. What has drawn you to create concept albums and are there any additional challenges you face by ascribing deeper meanings to your music? Yeah, that first album was a concept album and I think that a challenge it posed was trying to make the songs themselves coherent while also having the body of work be in and of itself coherent. I’ve definitely improved as a songwriter since then, and I think the challenge mainly was making each individual song its own statement while having the overarching project be in and of itself another statement. Do you have any specific artists that have inspired you, whether they’re famous or people you’ve worked with, maybe from your time in Boston? Yeah, as far as famous artists, big ones would be Pink Floyd. On the concept album topic, Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra to name a couple. Those are big ones that I’ve really drawn a lot of inspiration from, whether it be from their approach to music or their actual aesthetic or their sound or their songwriting. In Boston, I found influence from my friend Nick Sabet, who goes by Foto. He just makes unbelievable music and I’ve known him for a good majority of my life, and he’s someone who’s helped me pull myself along and I know the speed that people can be going at and the quality of art people can make because of him. What changes have you seen in the music industry during your time as an artist? Obviously the first thing that pops into my head is Covid since all my gigs got canceled and shows became obsolete for a while. I think that a lot of people are realizing the importance that shows had, and it’s not that people didn’t realize that before, but with them gone they really missed it. I forget who said this, but I heard someone say in an interview that music for a while was a product, we were selling it as vinyls or CDs or tapes, but now with the streaming era it’s become so accessible that music is returning to its roots as a service. You perform it, and that’s really it, because no one is making a lot of money from streaming. I thought that was really insightful and that it’s very true, that it’s now a service again and it’s kind of a double-edged sword, but it’s cool to share music live with a group of people. You said you were a visual artist and an animator. How do you think this influences your perspective on creating music? It’s really hard to put into words, but I think if you’re a creative person, it all kind of blends together like a Venn diagram. I definitely think that my affinity for the film has affected the way that I think of music because I think of these big, grand scenes. I think the brain has this way of combining different stimuli and sound and visual are not so separate. I think that having avenues to be creative in both kinds of realms is just inevitably going to have a huge effect on what I do. Before I move into questions about the EP, is there anything about you that you think is important for your audience to understand when they’re listening to your music? I just try to keep it playful, and have this child-like wonder about it. I think it’s really easy to grow up and be in your mid-20s and fall into these patterns that have worked for other people and try to be too professional. The way I’m looking at it is I just want to make music and art and I want that to be my life. I think it’s important to not put so much weight on it and have to be so professional and fit into a paradigm of money and making you famous. It just has to be good for you and work for you. Is that something you feel that you felt throughout your entire time making music, or something you feel you learned recently after a few years of being in music? I think both. I’ve always just known that whether or not I ever find any measurable success from music or art, it’s just something that I’m going to do because it’s just something that I did as a kid before I even knew what money was, so it’s not like I’m driven by money. Frankly, if you’re driven by money, music is not the best place to do that. I think that what I’m realizing now is that that’s not even the most important thing. So, if you can make enough to just keep doing it in a way that you enjoy, it’s a bonus if other people enjoy it and if you gain an audience and if people have fun that’s a beautiful thing. Can you speak a little about the inspiration for “Is This Art?” and the meaning behind this project? Sure, the music itself is just kind of a collection of five songs that I’ve written over the course of a couple of years. They’re mostly love songs, breakup songs, little pockets of emotion that you find while you’re growing or grieving. The concept for the album art and name is because I realized that I wanted to release this album under a new project name and I found myself distilling my art to its effectiveness as content. The whole idea I was grappling with was if this is even art anymore if I just have to make it marketable and if people just have to double-tap it on Instagram. Like is that even art or is that just content? My thing is that I make it as art, but will anyone else care? So I’m just posing the question “Is This Art?” to ask if this is just content, something that you will just consume and move on, or is this art? Can you expand on what it’s like to be a musician in this age of content creation and what it feels like to produce art in this context? Yeah, it feels like it’s a balance of honesty and consistency. The whole thing is that you have to play to the algorithm, which at the moment is heavily geared towards people who release content consistently. And then the flipside of that is being authentic to yourself and your creativity. For me, it’s been a journey of trying to find where those two things intersect, where I can be honest and also be consistent, and it does feel like a little bit of a song and dance at times. It’s not necessarily something that I want to do a lot but also I’m finding that it’s not exactly such a curse. It’s kind of fun and kind of cool to be able to connect with all these people. Social media is undoubtedly a double-edged sword, I would never say it’s all good or all bad, but it’s definitely changed the landscape of the music industry even since I’ve been making music. Tell me about your single “Company” and why you chose it as the opener for the EP. I think it’s just the most fun song, it’s very dancey and it kind of grabs you. It’s the one that I think I am most satisfied with as far as nailing a unique kind of vibe that I can’t really put my finger on where the influence is. I can look at some of my other songs and I know exactly what I was going for, but “Company” just sort of fell out of me and I don’t really know where it came from. I’m just most excited for people to hear that side of my creative output. I saw that the EP is part of a three-part series. What’s the process like for creating music in that kind of format? This kind of ties back into what we were talking about with the concept albums before. The plan for Bellweather had been to have this sound at the end of the album that was supposed to lead into the next album, so I’m just really a huge fan of coherent works that kind of tie to one another, almost like world-building. I guess this is how film or other mediums play into the way that I make music. I’m always inspired by coherent world-building and consistent character arcs and things like that. The idea here is that these three EPs will be kind of ruminations on three different questions, so this one is just the first in that series. Do you have any favorite or least favorite parts of the creative process, specifically for this EP or just in general? Yeah, I’d definitely say that my favorite part is the actual recording phase and playing shows. Those are the two best because they’re the most pure. One is the actual creation, bringing the song from an idea or emotion and getting it down on paper or having it be a recorded, tangible item is really beautiful. And the live aspect is this kind of spontaneity, an in the moment, unique situation where you get to actually share what came from you to a whole room of people and if you’re lucky people dance or sing along. Those are my two peaks. My least favorite part is probably all the logistics stuff, figuring out how to get it all up and distributed and all that stuff. I’m really bad at filling out forms and things like that, and I’m definitely more of a creative brain than a professional brain but that’s where I get help from friends who are good at that type of thing. Can you expand more on what it’s like to experience the more professional, business side of the industry after working as an artist? It’s pretty terrifying. There’s a lot of pitfalls, and you can get swallowed up really easily just by signing the wrong piece of paper. It’s frankly pretty daunting, but I think as long as you are able to navigate those situations with some level of expertise on your side or you’re able to ask the right people the right questions, it’s not so bad. But I definitely find that it can be quite the minefield. So with “Is This Art?”, what do you hope people will feel or experience when they listen to this and what do you hope people take away? I just want them to be songs that people enjoy. It’s kind of my first impression as an artist and I just want people to listen and feel that it’s something new, something unique that they want to come back to and want to enjoy for a long time. I don’t want it to be just a quick “bubblegum and spit it out” type of thing, I would like it to be something that resonates with people. But we’ll see, time will tell. Listen to “Is This Art?” HERECatch Shane Pi live at an upcoming show: