Jack White’s Contentious History With the Internet

Photo: Michael Kovac/WireImage and Stephen Lovekin/WireImage

We’re starting to think Jack White doesn’t fully grasp the internet. It’s not that he doesn’t know how to use it to communicate with fans, bring them high-end streaming music with Tidal, sell albums and tickets through various outlets, etc. It’s just that things like Third Man Records’ lengthy rant against it, “JACK WHITE CLICK BAIT BINGO EXHAUSTION,” seems to show a lack of understanding that when a famous person says something interesting or borderline controversial, fans are going to react and writers are going to post about it, sometimes fairly and sometimes not. His high standards for internet discourse and journalism are admirable, but still unrealistic. And call us skeptical, but with Jack’s penchant for toying with people pretty evident at this point, we have to wonder how often he loves steering into the skid and saying something sarcastic or, at least, scowling his way through a Cubs game so people will take pictures of him. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of White’s many run-ins with the internet, whether he’s hating on Twitter, getting his private divorce emails and tour-rider guacamole recipe leaked, or penning open letters clarifying offhand comments he made to fans and journalists. It’s almost like a little history of how we all had to learn to deal with the rise of online journalism and social media, and all the pitfalls that come with it.

2001–2002: His Sibling/Marital Relationship With Meg White
The White Stripes fooled plenty of journalists and fans with a running gag in which they pretended to be siblings, not spouses. Clearly Jack enjoyed the ruse, because when Entertainment Weekly dug up their marriage certificate and it started making the rounds online, he denied it was real in an interview with Spin, saying, “If we had wanted to fool people, we would have come up with a story a lot crazier than this.” From the get-go, he was certainly loath to reveal much of his personal life to the media, using small fibs and sarcasm as masks. 

2003: No Digital Press Copies of Elephant
When the Stripes were prepping the release of their fourth album, White declined to send critics MP3 versions of the album, showing his disdain for the internet’s effects on music and what he saw as the death of vinyl. “Everything is becoming MP3s,” he told Australia’s The Age. “In the next 10 years it’s gonna be all downloads onto an iPod or whatever it is and there’s not gonna be anything you can hold in your hands anymore.” In hindsight, it’s a funny comment, given his efforts to bring back vinyl records and also launch Tidal. 

2009: Increasing Frustrations With the Web
In an interview with Canada’s National Post, as the Dead Weather were releasing their debut album, White showed his growing neo-Luddism with regard to the music business. “Do I really need a MySpace page for this fucking music? Do I really need to do that? There’s a part of me, that just out of spite, says I don’t want to do it because it’s so antithetical to what I do,” he said, before asking, “If a million people see your Webpage, how many people actually buy something, buy a record or a song?” 

2010: “The Web Is a Nuisance”
Speaking to NME, White said, in many more words, that his new philosophy was “don’t read the comments.” “The Internet is a beautiful tool for many, many things, but it is in direct opposition to the art of music being treated with respect,” he said. “Of course, after reading about three words of someone’s comment at the bottom of an article I turn off.”

2010: The eBay of Pigs
A few months after giving up on comments sections, White and Third Man faced a huge backlash when they announced they were going to sell their vinyl exclusives via eBay as a way to combat people who bought the records just to flip them online for a huge markup. “Seriously, stop all of the whining, because what you communicate to us is that all of the trouble we go to isn’t worth it because nothing we do will make you happy,” he wrote on the Third Man site, though he later apologized for coming on too strong. The experiment was eventually abandoned. 

2012: Not a Twitter Fan
Shocker: “Twitter is the most perfect example of modern living,” he told Esquire U.K. “I think the only people who should have [Twitter accounts] are comedians. Because it’s all about one-liners. I would love it if Conan O’Brien or Reggie Watts or Stephen Colbert were to walk into a room and tell me one joke and leave. But you don’t want Gore Vidal telling you ‘I’m doing my dishes right now.’” He also used it as an example of the “artifice” of Lady Gaga, for which he caught shit and subsequently apologized

2013: The Leaked Divorce Emails
Though White and fellow singer/former model Karen Elson seemed to have an amicable split — they even had a divorce party in 2011 — the legal portion of the proceedings, which involved their two children, turned sourer than a bag of Warheads. White was hit with a restraining order over his alleged violent temper, and emails leaked by TMZ during the proceedings showed his fury over the situation and anger towards Black Keys front man Dan Auerbach. When White found out that Elson might put her kids in the same Nashville school as Auerbach’s, he wrote, “You aren’t thinking ahead. That’s a possible twelve fucking years I’m going to have to be sitting in kids chairs next to that asshole with other people trying to lump us in together.” 

2014: The Black Keys Feud Lives On
The battle between White and the Keys bled over into the following year, when, in a Rolling Stone cover story, White said, “I’ll hear TV commercials where the music’s ripping off sounds of mine, to the point I think it’s me. Half the time, it’s the Black Keys.” He also made comments about Adele, Amy Winehouse, Lana Del Rey, and Meg White that made headlines, forcing him to issue an apology that also denounced the magazine and all the outlets that picked up the stories. “We live in a sound bite, sensationalized age,” he said. In a later interview with Rolling Stone, Keys drummer Patrick Carney said White “sounds like an asshole” but added that he feels bad for his rival because “we’ve all said fucked-up shit in private, and divorce is hard.” He and Auerbach then shifted the blame to TMZ for publishing the divorce documents and starting this fight. 

2014: Baseball Game Bitchface
Photos of White looking serious at baseball games also made the rounds.

2014: Rant
At a show at Fenway Park, White felt it was the right time to take on the digital faces of major magazines, particularly White criticized their listicles and coverage of the likes of Kim Kardashian. Of course, someone recorded the rant and everyone wrote about it. Also, during the rant, he made a few jokes about the Foo Fighters having extra guitars to pad their sound. He eventually had to clear the air with Dave Grohl and Co., and his publicists, who represent both acts, sent out a press release to all the “dream-makers of the media …” 

2015: The Guacamole Incident
Though it should have been taken in good fun, a student journalist for the University of Oklahoma’s newspaper leaked White’s concert rider, and his tour manager’s guacamole recipe went viral, as well as White’s perceived hatred of bananas. Many fans and detractors used it as more evidence that he’s a demanding prima donna, while others reported that White and the other acts repped by his booking agent would never play the school again. In yet another open letter, this one titled “For God Sakes!” White lashed out at all the sites covering this story, pointing out that the rider exists to take care of his crew, venue workers, and guests. “What you’re looking for is someone throwing a tantrum because they didn’t get their brown m and m’s, sorry to disappoint,” he wrote.  He signed off with, “Can I go back to making music now? No? OK. Crochet it is.”

2015: Tidal Tiffs
White is one of the celebrity partners who helped found Tidal, the hi-fi streaming service that also boasts backers Jay Z, Beyoncé, Kanye, Arcade Fire, Daft Punk, and Madonna, among many others. With its “for the artist” ethos and $20-per-month price tag, many fans balked, especially ones who are already paying the same for access to the Third Man Vault. He posted an FAQ on the Third Man site defending the service, saying, “What is elitist about it? Who’s speaking for the little guy?” and pointing out that he “used to buy three records a month at 18 bucks a piece when I was a teenager bussing tables. I also went to the movies three times a month. What did that cost? Same as today with inflation? hmmm …” But, like many of his attempts at communicating with fans online, it came off as a bit tone-deaf and aggressively sarcastic instead of showcasing his love for music and artists. So then he did a private chat with Third Man members, which a fan copied and uploaded to Tumblr. Based on White’s remarks, some of them very tongue-in-cheek, people thought he was feuding with Meg, retiring from touring, or having some suicidal thoughts by remarking, “I don’t belong here and most of the time [it’s] torture trying to find reasons to stay.” He meant he didn’t belong in the chat room, just as a joke.  

Again, Third Man sent out an open letter clarifying his remarks, which calmed the nerves of most fans and fanned the flames of others. Right now, we’d bet that he’s either having a great laugh about all of it or he’s dumping every web-enabled gadget he owns into a puddle of leaded gasoline and tossing a vintage stick of TNT into it. We hope it’s not the latter because that sounds pretty dangerous, but if he does, hopefully there’s at least some video of it. It’d be great for clicks.

Jack White’s History With the Internet