PR Campaigns Kill Art. Period.

Let me explain a bit.  A few months ago one of my favorite fashion magazines ran a fashion story with Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman on the cover which was a thinly veiled advertisement for the Hemmingway and Gellhorn movie that was about to come out.  Ok, maybe not so thinly veiled.  I was a bit turned off by the lack of subtlety, but considering the movie, and the actors, I was okay with it.  Kidman has done fashion before, she’s got a great look, blah blah.  Owen is one of those guys you want to hang out with because you think he’s cool and he bucks that whole pretty-guy thing.  Ok, W, you pushed me away but now you’re pulling me back.

Until Tom Cruise shows up on the cover a couple months later.  But not really Tom Cruise, (it gets worse) no, it’s his fucking character from his new MUSICAL ABOUT A ROCK STAR.  If we ignore the heavy makeup and airbrush work, the drastically horrible tattoos, and the fact that Tom Cruise hasn’t been relevant in 10 years, we are still left with a glorified advertisement for Glee.

This is not new, really.  Magazines are often (mostly) just advertisements for things.  That’s cool.  I make some of my money from that industry and I’m not saying that it’s wholly wrong.  The bigger problem is that that now, for whatever reason, no one is curating the process.  Furthermore, W has had a dedicated movie issue in the past, such as the cover Rooney Mara graced last year.  So is every issue a movie issue now?  Print real estate to the highest bidder?  Are we to see Kevin James in a tuxedo ushering in his soon-to-be blockbuster Here Comes The Boom followed by a ten page photo essay of him and 4 waifish 17yr old models?

The thing is, the photos in the Cruise issue were just shy of great.  Moody and dark, good casting, good styling–totally something I could get behind.  They would have been amazing had it been pretty much anyone else other than Tom Cruise.

So the other day I’m watching Lana Del Rey video for National Anthem.  I know, I know.  She’s a guilty pleasure.  She got shredded in a previous blog and I stand by all of that, but I do enjoy her music from time to time.  In the video she plays a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy.  The video and the song can’t entirely agree on what it wants to be as the song is about having a sugar daddy while the video beats you senseless with Kennedy references while trying to be shocking by putting Del Rey with an African American husband.  At the end there’s a voiceover professing her love for this amazing man who bought her diamonds and took her to the Hamptons in his Bugatti.  It’s a damn mess, really, now that I’m describing it.  REGARDLESS, I liked the video despite all that and I thought her part as a tarted up Jackie, dripping sexuality and confidence in high waisted pants, was perfectly mirrored by her darker, more intense need to be loved.  I love the idea of a mixed couple, although it’s hardly shocking.  (This won’t prevent people from being “shocked” I know, but it’s truly not.)  It’s filmed in lush fake cross-processing which I’m usually against, but it works well here with the whole theme.


Despite some questionable motives, I can suspend my disbelief for a seven minute video until this guy shows up:

This is ASAP Rocky.  Despite having nearly the same name as another well-established rapper, he’s not bad.  He writes decent songs and I listen to his music quite a bit.  His videos are pretty cool…lots of Harlem, white chicks with grills, etc.  He’s not breaking any real rap ground…it’s mostly guns and weed and cars and bravado, but he’s playing that role well.  (Better than most.)  Personally, I’d love it if he got a little more radio time…which brings us to the real problem.

When the PR company representing an artist gets the say-so in the human product-placement, something potentially cool is completely fucking ruined.  Del Rey has bought her own sales pitch and believes herself to be the genius-wounded-lovesick-sex-goddess-gold-digger.  She plays the role perfectly and believably.  Rocky, however, is as thin and one-dimensional as they come.  They have zero chemistry together as he plays her other half. He’s just a rapper who is gaining popularity and can French inhale.

Were there no other hot black guys available on the day they shot the video?  Really?  Madonna was able to find them for her videos.  Lady Gaga doesn’t have that problem.  Does the Del Rey Creative Team not know how to use the Google?  Or know where WeHo is?  Jesus, there’s a hot black guy that lives two doors down from me.  My point is this: a billion other people could have played this role better, but some jackass thought that getting ASAP some screen time would ultimately push his CD sales.  All of that is wrapped inside an advertising mechanism meant to push Del Rey’s CD sales.  Holy fuck!  It’s like Inception!  An ad within an ad!  My mind has officially been turned to squish.

The cult of celebrity is dangerous.  James Franco is shooting fashion campaigns.  Drew Barrymore is following close behind. (Not a joke.) Lenny Kravitz plays a role in The Hunger Games.  Jay-Z designs ill-conceived Occupy T-shirts. Iggy Pop is a painter.  There is a very small sphere of recognized talent in a world full of talented people.  Sourcing that sphere with already famous people is lazy, sloppy, and destroys the potential for really fantastic art to get recognized.  And here’s the clincher:

TALENT IS NOT ALWAYS TRANSFERABLE.

But can you imagine it?  If you were good at singing you’d be an awesome chef?  Or if you could play the hell out of a guitar you’d be a fantastic sculptor and makeup artist.  It’s just not that simple.  And thank god, art would fucking boring if it were.

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5 thoughts on “PR Campaigns Kill Art. Period.

  1. Fantastic write up hitting the nail on the head. Even my 12 year old doesn’t understand why a pop star is in a movie doing a piss poor job acting. It’s not inspiring and points to the sad, scary truth of an ‘in’ and branded art elite. Artists should not have to worry about being a celebrity or not and art collectors/patrons should get some taste and drop the need for owning a bit of celebrity product. This has got to top out at some point and transform into a new era for art…let’s hope!

    • Thank you, Stephanie! I hope you’re right about it topping out. If the next 5 years of movies are going to have one pop star or another (or The Kardashians, or Honey BooBoo!) making appearances, I don’t know what I’m going to do.

  2. RIGHT ON. That’s the eternal problem with a popular music artist, isn’t it? They gotta eat, I guess, and if someone offered me the money/opportunity, would I hold up any better? But if I ever see Regina Spektor in a Pepsi commercial, I’ll cry.

    • The first time I heard a Modest Mouse song on a mini-van commercial, I was heartbroken. The truth is, though, sometimes bands don’t own their music. And if I’d been struggling for years and years, I don’t know that I’d do it any differently. It’s a tough call, no doubt.

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