Helen Purves All you need to know about Helen Purves. And, indeed, much more.


Jay-Z has 99 problems – but what are they?

Recently, I've been thinking about Jay-Z. Or, more accurately, his many problems.  I don't know why, but I just have.  If you're wondering what I'm talking about (i.e. are not Down With The Kids) here's his delightful tune accurately named "99 Problems" which begins to outline his difficulties.

Jay-Z: 99 Problems

In case you can't be bothered to listen to what amounts to the pinnacle of human musical achievement, Jay-Z repeatedly states that if you're having girl problems, he feels dreadfully awful about it - but not one of his 99 problems is caused by "bitches". Having consulted Urban Dictionary I have concluded that he's talking about women, not female dogs.

This upset me greatly. What are all these problems? I set out to find out. I guessed that Jay-Z himself is very busy, so I have instead written a letter to his UK agent. Here it is.

Jay-Z letter - page one of two (see blog entry for transcript)Jay-Z letter - page two of two (see blog entry for transcript)

Dear Sirs,

I write in regard to the well-known song "99 Problems" by your client Jay-Z. This track has deeply troubled me for some time, and I very much hope you might be able to clear things up (or forward my letter on, in the event that you are unable to do so).

In the song, Mr. Z quite clearly states that he has 99 problems, none of which are related to bitches. I cannot help but feel that this is a very large number of problems for anyone to bear, even someone so talented and adept at multitasking as Jay-Z.

In his song, Mr. Z lists several of these problems, including issues with local law enforcement agencies, his impoverished upbringing and the extortionate rate he was requested to pay in bail after an altercation with a contemporary. However, he makes no mention of the other problems he faces, leaving his audience to guess at the others.

My younger brother has suggested that Jay-Z might be referring to smaller, more everyday problems such as mosquito bites, paper cuts or possibly a slight headache, but I can hardly conceive that these would constitute problems significant enough to warrant the authorship of a song so successful that Rolling Stone Magazine conferred upon it the honour of the #2 spot in their list of the top 100 songs of the previous decade. The same applies to my initial thought that perhaps the song relates to some algebra homework: besides, I believe Mr. Z was around the age of 34 at the time, and would therefore have left formal education some time previously.

This leads me to conclude that Jay has a great many problems, and I would very much appreciate some clarification as to whether or not these have been resolved. It is possible that you have some kind of list of these which you can send me, hopefully in electronic form: my email address is [email address]. In addition to this I would be more than happy to try and alleviate some of his problems if I am able.

Yours sincerely,

Helen Nina Elizabeth Purves

I'll let you know when I hear back, dear readers. In the mean time, if you can think of what any of his many problems might be, do let me know. It really does concern me that one man can have so very many problems.


The importance of Ray William Johnson

For me, Ray William Johnson is the most interesting person on YouTube. This is a daring statement, not least because, aside from the odd comedy song video, the man spends his time pumping out two extremely light videos a week which to all intents and purposes follow a very strict and very childish format. He's almost always in a corner of his house, with his Watchmen wallpaper behind him; he greets his followers, gives a lively commentary on between three and five popular videos, introduces the "comment question of the day" from one of his followers, then displays the answers from the week before. The video then finishes with an advert for t-shirts and a very quick clip of either out-takes or a highlight from one of the videos he's featured.

There are several key points to Ray, though, which everyone seeking to become immensely popular on YouTube could learn from.

1. Format. People watching one of Ray's videos know exactly what to expect. Ray has picked an achievable format, and then expanded on it over a considerable period of time. To showcase this I have embedded a video from July 2010 above - at the end of this article I'll embed another, more recent example. Having a format like this means that his users know what to expect from him: it also no doubt means that he gets maximum effect with minimum effort. His tools have been developed over a period of time - if he's having an off week, he can just use the graphics, sounds and general formula he already has set in place, but if he's having a good week he can try adding something new into the mix.

2. Regularity and topicality. By having a set format, Ray is able to keep on trend: he can react quickly to new memes and because he summarises them fairly and accurately his audience feels like he helps them effortlessly stay on top of the internet. He does his research, too: he tells his viewers how popular something is, how quickly it's taking off and tries to give an assessment of what the source of its popularity might be. He does the work so they don't have to. What's more, he's now so popular that he himself is a meme-maker - he can feature videos which really aren't that popular, but because he provides links in the video description he can help videos go viral. At the time he made the video above, the "Double Rainbow" video was new on the market - now it's massive, and there are t-shirts. Ray might not have been the driving force behind this phenomenon, but at around five million views per video he must have helped.

3. User engagement. By cleverly featuring his followers at the end of each video and giving them an opportunity to essentially ride off his fame by doing something relatively easy - video a few seconds of them asking an unusual question, or showing their answer (given via YouTube's comment section, or more recently, Facebook or Twitter) Ray is offering to share his popularity at a price he can easily afford. Choosing what to feature can't be a difficult or time-consuming thing to do, and users have nothing to lose by sending in comments and responses via systems they already necessarily have access to.

4. Personality. Whether or not Ray's YouTube persona is the same as his offline one is irrelevant: it's believable. To his core audience he comes across as likeable and yet cynical, and someone that users can identify with. He champions them over anyone else: and notably, he acknowledges trolling but doesn't pass judgement on it. This shows great audience awareness: he knows who his audience is, what they like, and how they might be reacting to the videos he's showing them. He keeps the tone light and interesting, and best of all succinct - and although his videos are well-planned, I very much doubt that they are scripted.

I salute you, Ray William Johnson. Controversial as you might be, you know how to be successful: and in that, we can all learn from you.

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