Friday, February 20, 2004

You woke up my neighbourhood. Things are pretty quiet round here now.

In the words of the late, and very very great Bill Hicks:

"Here's the deal, folks. You do a commercial, you're off the artistic roll call. For ever. End of story. You're another fuckin' corporate shill... Everything you say is suspect, everything that comes out of your mouth is like a turd falling into my drink."

I was prompted to Google-search for that quote after seeing the latest Pepsi advert in which we see Britney, Pink and Beyonce becoming amphitheatre gladiators in the name of advertising. What I wanted to actually discuss was why celebrities do adverts.

Surely, however huge the sums of money involved, there must be non-financial reasons for doing these adverts? If you don't think so, then why did Madonna do the Gap advert? Surely her status, and bank balance are such that she's beholden to no one. Surely she has what Frank Sinatra used to call "fuck you" money. She doesn't have to say yes to anyone she doesn't want to.

In addition, in Madonna's case longevity has somehow meant that over the years she has gained in credibility. Surely this kind of credibility can only be harmed by appearing in an advert.

So why does she do it?

Well I guess she gets to appear with Missy Elliott and that provides a certain level of credibility in itself. See how the kids are impressed with Madge hanging with home girl Missy. Then there's the undoubted exposure that big-brand advertising gets. Then I guess there's the column inches too.

So is this really it - are pop stars appearing in adverts because people now think that celebrity endorsement is cool? What's next Robbie Williams doing infomercials for abdominisers?

What kind of a celebrity obsessed culture do we live in where flogging pop, of the fizzy variety, is seen as cool? Maybe this is how it works. Chris Martin from Coldplay rattles on about Fair Trade. Bono wants Governments to drop the debt and Britney, Christina and all get to sell their services to the highest (and coolest) corporate bidder.

It's all about credibility. Chris and Bono get to look like radicals while paying lip service to semi-political organisations and the pop crowd get to wear nice outfits and flash the flesh in commercials. These are off-the-peg, ready-to-wear personas. Coldplay and U2 get to be darlings of the chattering glasses while the likes of Timberlake, with his McDonalds contract, get to impress the young teens who know no better.

Talking of Fair Trade and Drop the Debt, while both are extremely admirable in their pursuit, have you ever met anyone who doesn't believe in either of these causes? Surely these have to be the safest rock stair choices for the politically inclined. It's not exactly sitting on picket lines or backing Palestinians against Israelis, is it?

The trouble is this cult of celebrity endorsement is getting out of hand. In the last couple of weeks I have heard the music of two of my most favourite bands the Cure and the Stone Roses as background music on adverts. I don't know, maybe they are both getting short of money in their old ages. I can't believe either have exactly been raking in the cash, but it does some how sour their memory for me, not to mention the allure of their entire back catalogue.

I remember discovering Ryan Adams for the first time. I loved his Gold album. It sounded real. Gritty but with beautiful tunes. In his interviews he came across as a tortured soul - just like all artistes should.

Then he went and did a Gap advert.

I haven't bought another one of his albums. I'm not sure his output has lived up to Gold, but either way I can't view his music and his personna as I did before.

It seems to be happening again and again. I've loved Counting Crows for 10 years now and was gutted to find on their website the facility to download their appearance in a soft drink commercial.

Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm the shallow one. Why should what they endorse make their records sound any different? But then again, I can't see Timberlake jeopardizing the possibility of more McDonald's adverts by putting out a new CD of angry anti-government punk songs.

So what they record, is in many ways, limited by the demands of commercial businesses. Maybe even as much as their desire to keep their fan base and to keep selling the records.

What it does do is make you look again at the people who don't do ads. I wasn't sure about Eminem at the beginning but, correct me if I'm wrong, I don't think I have seen him flogging anything. You can say what you like about the laddishness of the Gallaghers but I don't recall any of their tunes being used to market nippy hatchbacks.

And don't get fooled by this whole event sponsorship thing either. When a tour has a sponsor it doesn't, as is claimed, keep tickets prices down. It just ensures maximum profits, that's all.

So is all of this a fad? Will advertising sugary water eventually become so unfashionable that the Christinas and Britneys of this world decide to give it a body swerve? Or will the big businesses of corporate America, and elsewhere, continue to have these stars under their thumbs ensuring that their image, their records, their public utterances and the like remain well and truly regulated.

Ladies and gentlemen you decide. But for me, as Bill said, the every word of Christina, Pink, Britney, Madonna, Justin and Missy, from here on in, is like a turd falling into my drink.

Waiter, I think I need a fresh glass.

Love, light and peace,


I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.