Everybody is looking for the next big digital idea at SXSW Interactive. They should because it's where some of the biggest ideas we've seen in the last decade were launched. Twitter pretty much launched during the 2007 festival. The next year was Facebook's turn to take the limelight when Mark Zuckerberg took part in that infamous onstage interview. Then in 2009, Foursquare chose SXSW Interactive as the place they'd launch.
But this year didn't belong to a start up.
Though it did belong to a big idea.
It belonged to Jay Z.
A show just for a bunch of Interactive badge holders was announced early in the week. Then for the rest of the week, the big conversation in every seminar room, every bar and every taxi was "Have you got Jay Z tickets? Are you queuing for Jay Z?" Nobody was talking about Highlight. Nobody was talking about Group Me. Nobody was talking about the homeless wifi guys you saw on the news (I didn't see any, by the way). They were just talking about how they were going to get into the Jay Z show.
But Jay Z isn't a digital or social media startup, and that's where he wins.
He (and AMEX who were launching some sort of mobile payment thing none of us will ever use, promoted the show), was the ONLY and perhaps the first big music star to align himself with the digital crowd at SXSW Interactive.
That same digital crowd that EVERY OTHER musical act ignored are the same digital crowd who are paying popular entertainment's bills. Why choose to perform the next week at SXSW Music with hundreds of other bands, hacks and solo artistes when you can have people who run the internet...strike that out and upgrade.... run the zeitgeist.... all to yourself?
I was running with the argument that Jay Z's choice to play SXSW Interactive rather than with everyone else at SXSW Music as the biggest idea we'll see this year in Austin to anyone listening. Then during a taxi ride out of Austin's main drag, a mate told me about this Buzzfeed article which says pretty much the same thing, though beautifully...
Jay-Z is in some ways the validation we've all been searching for at SXSW, a legitimization of the reason we're all here. We didn't create or find the next app that's going to change the world, but Jay-Z — Jay-Z! a real-life mainstream superstar — played a show for us. Not for the SXSW Music crowd or film crowd, but for us, for the nerds. The very importantest of the nerds, even. We made it. We mean something.Not convinced? Look closely at crowd in this footage.
Have you seen a nerdier bunch?
And how bloody happy do they look?
This joy, this performance, will be one of the reasons Jay Z will remain absolutely everywhere online for the next couple of years.
Also you can read about the food I ate during my visit here and here.