Farewell, MySpace: why I’ll never forget the site we all forgot about
The website has accidentally wiped 12 years of content, leaving many fond reflections on a teenage friend
In sentences nobody expected to write in 2019: there’s trouble on MySpace, which announced on Monday that it had lost 12 years’ worth of music and content in a botched server migration project.
After a year of promising fixes, the veteran social network you had forgotten existed was forced to confirm that most of it now ... doesn’t.
From 2005 to 2008, MySpace was the largest social network in the world. At its peak, in July 2006, it even overtook Google as the most visited website in the US. People were more interested in searching for their new favourite band than, well, anything else at all. And yet it’s difficult now to explain just how important MySpace was to a generation.
Its legacy, like all those first camera phone selfies, is fuzzy. As one of the very first sites to offer legal (for the most part) music streaming, MySpace was a vital resource both to fledgling acts, who could upload tracks from their bedrooms, and to fledgling fans, who could enjoy them for free. Not since the days of sending off a blank cassette to an address in the back of Melody Maker had music felt so egalitarian. And it propelled some to mainstream stardom. Notable MySpace alumni include Arctic Monkeys, Adele, Calvin Harris, Kate Nash, MGMT, Vampire Weekend and, perhaps most notably, Lily Allen, who was still updating her page in 2015. I still remember hearing Smile for the first time, with the palpable glee of knowing about the Next Big Thing before the radio did.
The site’s initial premise was “a place for friends” – just like Friends Reunited before it, and Facebook after – but for its predominantly teen and young adult user base, MySpace quickly became a scene. It was a place to develop your tastes and cultivate a persona you could never quite pull off at school. Popular misconception says the youth of today is even more narcissistic, but my 17-year-old self would tell you this is rubbish. Or she would if she weren’t pouting so hard. MySpace had customisation features to make today’s Instagrammers salivate. Users could choose any song on the site to stream from their profile, prompting a weekly taste exam as stressful as being handed an iPhone at a party and told to “just put some music on”. Those with artistic inclinations (read, insatiable pretensions) learnt HTML coding to change their profile. One of my favourites from the era was a printout on which I’d stuck song lyrics in retro Dymo label tape, then scanned back into the computer. In a world before filters, resourceful trumped #flawless every time.
Like so many teen phenomena, the star only burned bright for a short time. Facebook’s arrival sounded a death knell. We streamed music on YouTube, and latterly Spotify. But MySpace quietly limped on. Sold to News Corp for $580m in 2005, it shortly after launched its own record label, MySpace Records, in a failed effort to capitalise on its pool of talent. Founder Tom Anderson, every user’s first friend, stepped down as president in 2009. The site tried expanding, haemorrhaging money as it went, and even made a failed bid to buy Spotify. In 2011, Rupert Murdoch cut his losses, called the venture a “huge mistake” and sold MySpace for $35m to Specific Media, with equity investors including Justin Timberlake.
But even he couldn’t re-energise the tired brand. “Who even knew MySpace still existed?” scoffed more than one tweeter, as news of the data loss broke. Well, er, I did. I knew, because from time to time I would type myspace.com/laurielala into my browser the way others might go back and reread their teenage diaries. I could still see old photos, old friends, and an elaborate essay recounting the time I met Kings of Leon in 2005. I wasn’t the only one.
In 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported that the site still attracted 50 million users a month, particularly on Thursdays when nostalgics would plunder it for #TBT snaps to share on Instagram. This is how we live now; memories scattered across crumbling corners of the internet rather than bundled into shoeboxes under the bed.
MySpace’s data hiccup prompts questions about the security of these online storage units, which we seem to trust implicitly. Could the same thing happen with YouTube? Medium? Should we be saving our most hilarious tweets now, in case one day they’re lost forever? Probably.
How will fandoms of the future be remembered? For so much music of the mid-Noughties, MySpace was the scrapbook, the fan club and the bootleg tape collection. It was more than just a launchpad for a handful of big stars; we’ve lost a whole treasury of under-the-radar talent that could have been preserved in digital amber. Let’s hope they backed up the files.
– © The Daily Telegraph