When we were boys in the 90s, we liked Shabba Ranks. You don’t know Shabba Ranks? Okay wait. His dancehall was beautiful but Shabba himself was ugly. And I say that with all due respect.
In the creative business, we’d say a person like Shaba Ranks has a face for radio—compared to Shaggy (if you’re Gen Z, please google Shaggy). Shaggy obviously has a face for TV.
So how come nobody cared about putting Shabba Ranks on MTV and any other TVs, even though he had a face that might turn people off? Here’s the answer: his face was strange. And strange is great.
Last week, everybody’s favourite crazy businessman, Elon Musk—CEO of Tesla Motors, previewed what by far was the ugliest vehicle ever paraded any time in modern history. I’m sure Steve Jobs rolled in his grave and threw up in his own mouth when he heard about the design of Elon’s Cybertruck.
To make matters worse, when Elon tried to demo the shatterproof glass windows, he told an assistant to throw a steel ball at the windows and lo and behold, the shatterproof windows… shattered.
“Well, that’s no so bad,” Mr Musk joked.
Yet. Despite the obvious blunder, great people of the Internet have been raving about the Cybertruck since it premiered. They’ve described it as intriguing, surprising, and… different– more than 250K units have now been preordered. As of today, the Cybertruck is the Shabba Ranks of the automobile industry.
And its weirdness suits the personality of Mr Musk. He’s an eccentric billionaire who is expected to do a hard zag when everyone else in the world is doing a soft zig. This particular kind of behaviour is what makes some people stand out in a crowd.
According to Brooke Siem, founder of Prohibition Bakery (the first bakery in the world to add alcohol to cake on a massive scale), the best way to disrupt an industry is to create your own conversation.
Don’t try to play an old game better by tweaking the rules; burst out and change the freaking game altogether. Flip the card table upside down. Force all the other players to sit up and pay attention to you.
However, what happens after the initial disruption will depend on how long you can remain crazy. Can you actually hold their attention for more than a few seconds? The reason you probably don’t know Shabba Ranks is because he faded out too soon—he was on fire for just about three years. In this attention economy: if you snooze, you lose.
Which brings us to Teni the Entertainer aka Teni Makanaki.
So far, the chirpy pop star is proving that her act is not a fluke. She’s an authentic artist with the rare skill to sculpt the attention of the public to suit her desires. It’s why you love her.
But there’s someone I know who really “hates” Teni because “why the hell will this chick not lose some weight?” This guy is in the minority. Real fans love the weight or just don’t care about it. I don’t care. The girl is awesome. She can write, she can sing, she can perform, she can carry herself, she’s hilarious.
Teni’s weight separates her from the multitude and calls attention to that bounty of talent that she is. If her size distracts you from her art, you’re not her audience.
The other day, I saw a clip of Teni on stage at the Interswitch One Africa Music Fest in New York. She’s playing her hits live.
At one point, she looks into the crowd and summons a white guy to the stage. David, the guy’s name is. Then Teni, discovering that this foreigner is a super fan who can sing her songs, decides to give the guy a special performance.
She turns to the guy and holds the guy close to her chest. Then she says to the guy, “Hold my yansh.” The guy holds the yansh. And as you know, there’s a lot of yansh to be held.
The crowd goes crazy.
I lost it. I fell off my chair, cackling.
Here’s the truth: The substance of the product may not be so wildly different from what’s already on the market, but the wrapping may as well be the reason you win.
Sometimes, to really stand out, choose the wrapping that definitely defies the expected standards of attractiveness. And then watch people go crazy talking about you.