If you’re a sports fan, you’re probably familiar with sports stars being little more than walking billboards. They are often parties to extremely lucrative deals in exchange of parading around the world featuring the logos or products of whoever is willing to throw enough money at them. While we basically accept these situations as facts of life, I think many like to imagine that art in general, and music in particular, are (or at least should be) free of that sort of corporate influence. But they’re not.
While product placements in movies started a long time ago, in the case of music it first started in the world of hip hop and pop. Music videos by the likes of Avril Lavigne, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Ke$ha, 50 Cent, Drake, Lil’ Wayne and Pitbull are full of them. Sometimes they are done subtly, like a camera “casually” panning over a watch or a phone, and others shamelessly, like when a performer explicitly references the product by name. This continues outside of their music, of course, as they effectively become puppets of the brands they represent, parading around the world branding overpriced Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, or furiously removing lint from their pants, in order to secure more money.
Of course, you’re probably thinking that this is the kind of thing that is to be expected from rap, hip hop, and pop, due to their mainstream appeal. The problem, however, is that this situation is not limited to them and, as rock and heavy metal increase in popularity, more and more products seek the endorsement of heavier artists.
Take the case of Ozzy Osbourne, whose wife first sold out by making that cringe-inducing reality show of The Osbournes, and then humiliated even further by selling video games, butter and cellphones, and (together with Justin Bieber) endorsing an appliances’ store, all while making jokes about his dementia and slurred speech. Kiss is, of course, another clear example, with Gene Simmons‘ shameful reality show also working as a product-placement extravaganza.
It’s not hard to see that this also affecting concerts themselves, with many musicians sporting armbands and t-shirts containing unrelated product endorsements. It’s one thing to see a guitar player being sponsored by a guitar manufacturer, it’s another to see bands like Korn, Epica, Legion of the Damned, Five Finger Death Punch, and many others, being “very excited” about their partnerships with Jägermeister or Monster Energy Drinks, or Larch Ulrich “designing” the most fucking generic shoe in the world “in cooperation” with Vans (while saying the priceless phrase “in the last couple of years I’ve been getting into footwear that is basically laceless”).
The problem that this situation creates is that it blurs (or downright erases) the line between art and marketing, preying on the weakest among us. While you and I might be aware that John 5 is not really excited about Monster Energy Drinks, the 13 year old kid in the front row has no idea. For him Monster and Jägermeister stop being simply products, and actually become part of what heavy metal is supposed to be. He becomes brand-obsessed because that’s what he is being told to be; because that is what heavy metal is being portrayed as. And I don’t think that this is how it should be.
Heavy metal started as a rebellion against the status quo, against the vapidity of society, and seeing those hopes and desires go down the drain, as marketing interests start to infect it beyond redemption, is heartbreaking. While there is certainly a place for marketing interests to participate in the world of music, the way in which it is done, passing products as symbols of an identity (as opposed to just marketing ploys), is definitely not the way to go.