How ZHU Exposed The Worst In All Of Us
The EDM scene was recently put through a detailed assessment that it failed miserably. The community received an evaluation on its thirst for fame by being dragged through a delicately crafted obstacle course, and it got stuck right in the middle. All the while, it was forced into its most exposed position. This predicament occurred over the last year, almost to the day, when an anonymous artist named ZHU surfaced on the EDM blogosphere. At this time, the enigmatic character released several chart-topping tracks that provided a faint glimmer of originality in a monotonous big room that catered to a “rags to riches” narrative in an industry which relishes in such stories. There was no doubt; he expertly crafted the tracks. The previously mentioned obstacle course would not have been effective had they not been. Despite his success’ seemingly organic approach, the roll out of ZHU’s notoriety was delicately planned, it cut right to the EDM community’s need for celebrities, and it opened a pandora’s box for others to further exploit its vulnerable need for idols.
Let's look at the big picture of ZHU’s cryptic career. The date was February 9th, 2014. A mysterious track was uploaded to Youtube from an unfamiliar account called “Outkast - Moves like Ms Jackson (ZHU Mashup/Remix).” That same day Dancing Astronaut posted an article on the track providing what little information they had. This turnover was an extremely rare occurrence. As the editor of this very publication, I can tell you with certainty that for a completely unknown artist to put out their first track, and for that track to get picked up by a major EDM news media publication without any formal marketing or industry connections in the same day, is nothing short of a miracle. I am confident that the producer community will back me up on this one. Within two days, This Song Is Sick, Do Androids Dance, and Hypetrack all published the Outkast mashup and everyone wanted to know, “who is ZHU?”
The track “Moves Like Ms Jackson” was the perfect catalyst for stirring up curiosity in the EDM community. Outkast had just announced their return from retirement through landing a headlining gig at Coachella, and deep sounds were becoming more popular than a ‘Left Shark’ at a high school pep rally. There were even rumors that the track was the product of a Disclosure and Outkast collaborative effort. A week after Dancing Astronaut published the mashup, they premiered ZHU’s next single, “Superfriends,” from an undisclosed Soundcloud account. The evidence would lead one to believe that these songs did not just pop up on the blogosphere’s radar, but they were strategically placed in its lap. Regardless, of how they got there, the artist’s roll out did its job of creating a need to determine the music’s maker.
As more people asked about him, the unidentifiable act decided to reveal his deliberate plan. “ZHU's anonymity stems from his belief that music is faceless. He believes there is too much emphasis in our society on the creator as opposed to the creation,” explained Jake Udell, ZHU’s manager, to the LA times. Despite the fact that ZHU’s music was extremely well produced, quality has never guaranteed success in the music industry. For this reason, it is the opinion of this writer that ZHU’s anonymity was not for the sake of the music, but to feed the public’s fundamental desire to want what they can’t have.
The previously mentioned sentiment compounded the notion that, “when you grow up, you can be whatever you want to be.” From an early age, the promise was instilled in us, and as youths, many translated the motivating statement into, “you can be somebody. Even you can be the person in the spotlight.” This thought warped their minds into thinking that if they could be the star on the screen, they deserved to be the star on the screen. This became an obsession with their own personal celebrity or lack thereof, and it reflected back on building entertainers into celebrities themselves.
ZHU revealed this obsession when he came onto the scene because the music wasn’t enough for the EDM community. Its desperation to unmask the producer became so widely apparent that Skrillex was able to troll the entire ZHU-nation by appearing on stage during the house producer’s Stereosonic set. At this point, Do Androids Dance had already connected the dots and reported that ZHU was, in fact, an LA producer named Stephen Zhu. Side note: if you want to remain anonymous, don’t make your alias your last name. It didn’t matter that the public already had his name. They needed to know he ate breakfast in the morning. They needed to know he waited in line at the DMV. They needed to know he lived, breathed, and felt emotions like they did. They needed to see him do these things. Otherwise, their obsession with celebrity would have been left unfulfilled and unable to reach the full creeper status that it was accustomed to. It will never “just be about the music” for humans. They have to attribute celebrated talent to some tangible being because it satisfies their insecurity of not knowing if they’ll ever make it to their chosen career’s limelight.
This is why it was so entertaining to watch the scheduled layout of ZHU’s career, which could not have been more effective. One year ago ZHU didn’t exist, and today he is nominated for a Grammy. The team that fabricated his narrative could not have executed their scheme more perfectly and any producer ought to be envious of having such a calculated roll out. On the other hand, its success was our undoing. The cat is out of the bag and now everyone knows our insecurities and obsessions can be played on for their success. This will not be the last time we see an anonymous artist prey on the need to know. One can only hope that when this tactic is applied in the future, it will bring us another progressive and original artist such as ZHU.