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. With the age of religious patronage of the arts well behind us (there’s no denying that many of the most beautiful artistic pieces in western tradition were, in essence, paid Christian propaganda), and artists being able to sell their art directly to the consumers, there should be no real reason to pollute art with such commercial bullshit.
Well, you’re wrong.
While product placements in movies started a long time ago, in the case of music they first started in the world of hip hop and pop. Music videos by the like of syphilitic imbeciles like 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 shit that is to be expected from that music. I mean nowadays rap, hip hop and, of course, pop, represent the lowest common denominator in terms of music; they are simplistic, repetitive, and intellectually offensive enough to appeal to the largest possible audience. The problem, however, is that this trend is far from being 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 himself even further by selling video games, butter and cellphones, and (together with Justin Bieber) endorsing an appliances’ store, all while making beautiful jokes about his crippling 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 incredibly sad phrase of “in the last couple of years I’ve been getting into footwear that is basically laceless”).
The problem that this type of thing creates is that it blurs (or downright erases) the line between art and marketing, and prays 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 a brand-whore because that’s what he is being told to be; because that is what heavy metal is being portrayed as…and that’s pretty fucking sad.
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 truly shameful. 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.
Art deserves better; we deserve better.