owen pallett

It’s 1 am, I’m at a bar with my friends, and a notification pops up on my iPhone. I’ve just received a Snapchat. I have a feeling this sort of thing happens to most people of my generation on a recurring basis. But usually the message is from a friend or an acquaintance, and is of a cute cat or a video of someone doing something stupid.

This time, however, it’s from my favorite musician, someone I’ve never actually met in real life.

Snapchat is one of those weird social media platforms that is just hard to place. Reports now have it raising $60 million in new VC funding, with an $800 million pre-money valuation. The company now reports sending out 200 million snaps per day. Sarah Lacy called this growing usership “something new and something profound.” And it just keeps on getting bigger and bigger.

The real question following all of this hoopla about its mounting popularity is what can people actually do with the platform? Businesses have been trying to understand this for a year now.

Take Taco Bell. In May, the company beseeched its legion of young eaters/Snapchat-users to add them. People did, and they received their own Snapchat from the fastfood chain teasing an upcoming meal item called the Beefy Crunchy Burrito. While I sure as hell am not friends with Taco Bell, the account remains active and has a score of 1,878. (I am not quite sure what that means.)

Others, of course, have acted similarly. Last week, Japanese car maker Acura sent out a Snapchat to 100 lucky followers, giving them a sneak preview of the an Acura NSX hot rod. New York-based frozen yogurt chain 16 Handles gave users coupons if they snapped a pic and sent it to the company’s Snapchat account. Even MTV has sent out promos of the show “Geordie Shore” using the platform. (For the uninitiated, like myself, “Geordie Shore” is the British version of “Jersey Shore.”)

Is this the future? God, I hope not.

That said, there are other, more interesting applications. Let’s look at this from another perspective. That aforementioned message?  I received it from Canadian musician Owen Pallett, a virtuoso violinist and master of the loop pedal. It wasn’t some corporate branding message. It was simply him sending a video of a Russian doll set he had found of what I believe were 90s supermodels.

Pallett has an avid following (myself included), partly because he’s funny and sardonic. You can get a glimpse of this by looking at his Twitter feed, or by listening to his music (try his album, “He Poos Clouds”).

Anyway, through a tweet he posted a while back I acquired his Snapchat screen name, added him, and now we send each other snaps. I’m aware that I am probably one of hundreds of other fans, but Snapchat makes it all seem so personalized.

I’ve received videos of him walking down the street, at parties with friends, looking at weird kitschy items, and even glimpses of him in the studio either playing or mixing music. I’ve sent him back a few snaps — generally of something funny I happened upon on the street. Does he ever look at my snaps? I don’t know, and it really doesn’t matter.

What makes Pallett’s Snapchat account so interesting is that he uses it knowing that he is a somewhat public figure, but maintaining the intimacy of the person-to-person interface of the platform. He’s obviously not using it for branding — or maybe he is, but it doesn’t feel commercial — he’s using it because he can, and, I suspect, probably thinks it’s silly. Also, given the frequency of his snaps, I’m guessing he does it because he’s bored. All of these reasons get at the weird ephemeral nature of the platform, and why no brands have truly mastered it yet.

Whether it’s conscious or not, Pallett, through Snapchat, feigns personalization. Snapchat is beautiful because every snap looks like it was sent just for you, and the more mundane the subject matter the better. That and its ephemeral nature are why it’s so popular. It’s definitely why I use it, and a reason I won’t be adding any companies any time soon.

Pallett has figured out how to take Snapchat a step beyond the “friend to friend” realm. He’s a complete stranger, with music to sell, allowing me glimpses into his life.

I can’t imagine I’d have the same interest in a Taco Bell Doritos Locos taco.

[Image via AmpNet]