The absorption of private life into public consumption is one of the most startling and significant developments in pop music so far this Millennium. The line between the two, already blurred by the celeb press’s paramilitary tactics, the social media confessional, and a raft of professional sex tapes, is now regarded as a privilege few can afford. Consider how many of the past year’s commercial triumphs debuted alongside one bombshell or another. Marketing these real time soap operas has been a major boon to the record industry. Even with top-notch production and cameos at their back, today’s creators without personalities seem fated for commercial disaster. As Michael Hirschorn observed last month in New York Magazine, pop stars have become the entertainment industry’s most full-time and engaging actors.
But it’s not as if every C-lister caught sucking face in the club can get a record deal (even though it sometimes feels like they do). No, the career celebrity’s ability to rack up tabloid headlines and record sales is predicated on an image of untouchable wealth and power. Just ask Kim Kardashian how riches can transform otherwise tawdry affairs into larger-than-life melodramas, and then into some more riches.
However, the evaporation of revenue in the record industry means it’s going to be difficult for newcomers to erect that facade of invulnerability in the first place. Without magnificent riches, what will distinguish the next generation of pop stars from the hordes of Joe Schmo narcissists abusing Instagram? More importantly, what will become of our beloved ode to ego, cornerstone of the contemporary pop experience, when the ‘rarris start getting repossessed? One shudders to imagine what Yeezus might have come out like if Kanye didn’t have the stupid money to put where his stupid mouth was.
Fortunately, if pop musicians aren’t necessarily the most inventive artists, they’re certainly the most desperate. Many of the genre’s most recognizable names are retaining their fortunes – and jobs – by crafting lucrative corporate sponsorship deals with pretty much anyone who will have them. Hip hop, an artform that doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase belt tightening, has been particularly receptive to overtures from the business community. In exchange for their celebrity endorsement, these artists get the cash they need to keep their increasingly indistinguishable life-careers looking fabulous.
As recently as a decade ago, the accusation of having sold out could still strike a serious, if not quite mortal, blow to a musician’s credibility. Fast-forward to present day and many would kill for the kind of financial security an endorsement from a well-established brand offers. As corporate sponsorship begins to look like the way forward for the superstar, now seems an appropriate time to evaluate the impact this partnership is having on consumers. Our upcoming “Brought To You By…” series will examine a number of recent arts marketing campaigns to determine whether they’ve actually added any value to the artist’s work.