Thursday, June 07, 2007

How Come U Don't Call Me.

I was watching So You Think You Can Dance last night on the television, because I am always looking for (yet failing to find) a new You Got Served experience.

During the break, something caught my attention.

"Is this a commercial?" I said, as Prince performed with those seizuretastic twins he's been sporting lately.

I hoped that I was wrong. I hoped that maybe the channel had been changed when I wasn't looking, or that Fox had broken in on SYTYCD to deliver an important update ahead of Prince's 49th birthday, which is today.

But I wasn't wrong. It was a commercial. For Verizon Wireless.

I sat there dumbfounded. "Do you want to talk about it?" said my couch-/life-mate.

"I don't think I can," I said.

"Let's unpack this," he said, turning to me. "You know you're upset. But the question is, why are you upset?"

I thought about this. "Because Prince doesn't do things like this. He doesn't do commercial stuff," I said.

In the skeptical silence that followed, I thought about the Super Bowl, American Idol, etc.

"Okay," I said, "Let me rephrase. He does do commercial stuff. It's just that, he's never..." I had trouble finding the right word.

He's never pandered.

There, I said it. The commercial seemed like pandering. I mean, Verizon Wireless? I'm too uncool and technologically unsavvy these days to even understand what this means. I'm supposed to try to get a new single via my phone? I can hardly get phone calls via my phone.

While I always believed him to be a magic man of mystery, Prince has always been a canny businessman. Getting me to buy that mystery blindly and lovingly when I was 13 years old was one of his first big sales.

This is not the first time his business practices have rubbed me the wrong way. When he released the three-CD set Crystal Ball, claiming it would only be available through his Web site, I dutifully signed up for the pre-sale. Then it came out with better packaging, liner notes (which were absent from the first release) and a lower price in stores not long afterward.

But for the most part, I've admired Prince's ability to walk the line between commercial and independent. He has challenged record labels on their own turf and performed largely on his own terms. So when it comes to the association with phones and perfume, something don't compute.

This reminds me of the time Prince decided to rap. Because he is a badass musician, he has been able change genres like he changes clothes: disco, funk, blues, jazz, rock, pop, you name it. So when rap came along, Prince did that, too. And with the exception of the raps on Lovesexy and The Black Album by that wacky dancer Cat Glover, it was... kind of lame. He has kept it up, with varying degrees of lameness over the years, sometimes handing the mike to Chuck D. or Eve or some lame unknown, and sometimes rapping himself. He's dabbling, and it's fine, but I don't think anyone would say rapping his is forte.

Now maybe Prince has decided that he can J-Lo, too, and be a brand as well as a musician. He's got to make a dollar, I'm not going to be a hater. But I will probably steer clear of 3121-brand high-heeled boots, or whatever is next.

Is this what happens when you get old, baby boomers? Will our children have to face Linkin Park brand energy bars or White Stripes limited-edition hybrids? Can anyone else think of some fun marketing opportunities for today's bands to consider in their dotage?

4 comments :

Anonymous said...

It ALWAYS happens, the only interesting thing is, 'at what age?' Is it immediate? is it just when the fame is falling? or is it really quite late (like Iggy Pop?) or part of a nostalgic resurgence?

However, something about The Who and Iggy Pop doing it so late and so lamely is kind of endearing, it's like 'fuck it, we're done, let us make a last few extra bucks' and their real old-time fans can just sit back and chuckle.

With Prince though, it felt too slick, to clearly corporate, and frankly, a bit too soon... I mean, it just wasn't necessary.

Anonymous said...

"Is this what happens when you get old, baby boomers? Will our children have to face Linkin Park brand energy bars or White Stripes limited-edition hybrids?"

Yes.

Courtney Love and Dave Grohl will do it also, so will Beck and Radiohead.

Bet any amount of money on this outcome.

Anonymous said...

"OneTouch changes every-thang..."

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