Sunday, January 30, 2011

The question of music in advertising part 2

Continuing on, is it how the music is used rather than the artist involved. At first flush, it appears DFA 1979 have totally sold out because the only snippet of lyrics in the advert are 'Come on girls, I know what you like' which sounds totally lame out of context of the full song. However, this is how the remix was released in 2005 so we can't really begrudge the use of the lyrics in that way.

However, when you have someone mainstream and corporate like Sheryl Crow in your ad, we should have no expectation on the use of the song other than it will be mainstream and corporate. For example, a couple of years a go a bank used one of her songs where the line "If it makes you happy" was repeated over and over. However, the actual full chorus is:

If it makes you happy
It can't be that bad
If it makes you happy
Then why the hell are you so sad

Obviously, that's a far better representation of our relationship with banks but the music was used in such a way to hide the downtrodden nature of the song. You could say the same for Vodafone's use of the Dandy Warhols Bohemian Like You. Essentially a screed against all the wannabes harassing the Dandy's on tour, this indictment of hipsterism was re-used as an invitation to be a hipster. Sure, the Dandy Warhols made a shit load of money and after Dig!, decided they wanted to be arty like the Brian Jonestown Massacre (they failed), but is the use of the music in this way deceitful, particularly if you were a fan of the song prior to it's use in an ad? Or are you in on the joke?

It's been a bit of a Cure weekend for me as I've been going through a lot of their old albums so yesterday I asked my girlfriend whether she thought it was lame that the Cure sold Pictures of You for an HP Printer ad? Her response, "Well, the Cure haven't released a good album in quite some time so Robert Smith probably just needed the money." Does that make them lame? "No." Have they sold out if you spent your teenage years listening to that song dreaming of having Robert Smith's babies while dressed in black curled up in a foetal position on your bedroom floor at 3am? Probably.

This again is part of the conundrum. I find my level of engagement or disrespect with music in advertising is very much based on what I feel about the music. As is obvious by this blog, music is important to me. That doesn't mean I have any rights to demand anything off the artists who make the music or expect them not to sell it but we all have a personal relationship to the music that fills our lives. Could I care less that Sheryl Crow sold her music to be used in a bank ad? The answer is no because Sheryl Crow makes music that sounds like it is specifically made to be used in a bank ad but I would probably be outraged if PJ Harvey did (although that's probably one bank ad I'd have to see).

Here's another example. Some years ago, Le Tigre's Deceptacon was used in a jewelery store ad. Was that ok because it probably meant Le Tigre could afford to make their next record or is it uncomfortable given Kathleen Hanna's place in riot grrl and the advancement of feminist ideals in music and the music is being used to advertise patriarchal images of female beauty? Pragmatically, I would say it was a poor decision but then watch the above clip (MUST SEE!) where Kathleen Hanna says she had to teach the fundamentals of feminism to some knucklehead hardcore band, only to have them turn up to the strip club she was working at to make money to keep her Bikini Kill tour going. Life, like politics, is coloured in many shades of gray. Who am I to judge as I am just a lamearse fan making judgments anonymously on a blog on the other side of the world?

As you can tell, I have no answer to any of these questions. It's like the old Rage Against the Machine question: are they sell outs because they sing about revolution while signed to Sony or are they totally awesome for bringing revolutionary politics to a mainstream audience? Does it even matter when they rock. so. hard!

Maybe I'm overthinking all this but there are some commercial uses of music that are totally fucked. Whoever it was in Nick Drake's estate who decided to sell Pink Moon to Volkswagon should be hung and then shot and then hung again and then shot again. There is absolutely no reason for this song to be used in that ad apart from making fucking money. Now that is something where I can see a disrespect to the original artist mainly because he had no say in its use.

Anyway, to sum up, it appears that the marriage of commerce and music (if they were ever separable) is never going to be clear cut to me. There are definite moments where I think that the use of music is wrong either by context or my personal relationship to the music but other times I couldn't care less and see it as no problem. When I was 20, I could tell you exactly how fucked it is that bands sell their art to big business. Now I'm 37, the less sure I seem to be - what a sell out. Only Neil has the answer...


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