George: You don’t think she’d “yada yada” sex…
Elaine: I’ve yada yada’d sex.
Elaine: Yeah. I met this lawyer, we went out to dinner, I had the lobster bisque, we went back to my place, yada yada yada, I never heard from him again.
Jerry: But you yada yada’d over the best part!
Elaine: No, I mentioned the bisque.
—Seinfeld, “The Yada Yada”
A recent New Yorker profile introduces us to Elizabeth Chan, a woman who, we’re told, quit her job as an executive at Condé Nast to “pursue her dream of creating ‘a great Christmas standard’…that would be sung year after year for generations.” Yada yada yada, the article continues, she succeeded.
As Jerry would put it, they yada yada’d over the best part.
Chan clawed her way to the top of the New York media world only to follow her bliss to the top of the holiday jingle charts instead. This move was in no way related to the many waves of layoffs at the company. No, Chan left the prestigious, high-paying gig on her own terms motivated purely by a lifelong desire to write new Christmas classics.
What happened next? Naturally, Chan worked really, really hard. She wrote a song a day for two years, recording 50 of her favorites with professional musicians on her own dime. Money was an object—her family dipped into savings to make this work. (I’d dip into my own savings for a transcript of that conversation: “OK, one more year of Christmas songwriting, then I promise I’ll go back to the day job. Don’t worry about a nest egg. Everyone plans to retire at 75 these days.”)
Sending demos to record companies got Chan nowhere, but then a “colleague”—I thought she’d left her day job—suggested she “put out the songs herself.”
I think you’ll agree this is all very mysterious. Does putting one’s Christmas songs out oneself involve uploading them to Spotify and then making a blood sacrifice to Krampus?
The New Yorker continues its obfuscation: “A ten-thousand-dollar Kickstarter campaign later,” Chan was able to release her album. Yada yada yada, one of the songs hit the Billboard chart above a song by Kelly Clarkson, whose record label had, ironically, rejected Chan’s demo. Today, Chan has seven albums and four Billboard hits under her belt, which I assume is hung with jingle bells and holly.
Stories like this are the poison in your ears, folks. Chan’s true path to success is so heavily, deliberately obscured by the writer (and Chan’s publicity team) that you have to read between the lines between the lines to even guess at whatever actually got her to where she is today.
Was it her astonishing but as-yet-unheralded singing voice? Her voice was “good,” the magazine informs us.
Could she rely on a wide network of key industry insiders and tastemakers she’d met in her position as an executive at Condé Nast? We’re never told.
According to one of the most reputable sources of journalism in the country, Chan’s breakout success appears to have been the result of grit, determination, and talent.
Then you remember that Condé Nast owns The New Yorker and things start to make a little more sense. At least, it answers the question of why the article was written in the first place. Chan and her path to success remain a mystery. To paraphrase Mariah Carey, all I want for Christmas is to know how the hell Chan hit the charts.
There’s always a story, guys. Always. When something achieves outlier-level success, there’s a reason. Usually several. But it’s difficult to find out what those reasons are, let alone replicate them, because of smoke-and-mirrors crap like this. It makes it very hard for aspiring creators outside the winner’s circle to find success themselves. There’s a parallel here to rising income inequality. Not only do we pull the ladder up after climbing it, we use the rungs as weapons to beat off intruders.
We are a society that traffics in illusion. The perfect parable of this can now be seen on Netflix, one of the two new documentaries about the Fyre Festival fiasco. Serial scamtrepreneur Billy McFarland lured a bunch of young people with too much money, too much time, and not enough common sense to an entirely inadequate stretch of beach in the Bahamas for a Coachella-turned-refugee-camp through sheer Instragram influence.
“We’re selling a pipe dream to your average loser,” McFarland explains, on camera, to the supermodels he hired for the promotional shoot.
That’s the cultural moment we’re in. “Pipe dream” refers to the hallucinations people experienced while lounging away in 19th-century opium dens. No coincidence we’re in the middle of an unparalleled opioid epidemic. Did you know that “for every three additional payments that companies made to doctors per 100,000 people in a county, overdose deaths involving prescription opioids there a year later were 18 percent higher“?
Tell the ugly truth today, warts and all. It isn’t easy, but it’s the only way we’re ever going to get out of this.