Katy Perry is everywhere these days, and that’s exactly how her publicists want it. That’s because she has a new album out, Prism, which has been billed as her most thoughtful piece of work yet, with one notable reviewer even calling it “ostensibly darker” than her previous albums. I’m a little skeptical of whether an album that has lyrics like, “So let me get you in your birthday suit, it’s time to bring out the big balloons” can really be considered that deep, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
Instead, I wanted to focus on Perry’s ad campaign for the album, which has turned quite a few heads for its blatant corporate ties. The album’s release party was in conjunction with an elaborate promo event for Citi Bank, and its commercials are being put on by Walmart and feature Perry herself wearing a store uniform. Some consider the campaign to be shameless, and they aren’t wrong. But they also shouldn’t be surprised.
Mainstream artists are increasingly counting on large corporations to give their records a big boost in promotion. It’s no secret that musicians have always been involved in sponsorship and advertising; heck, even Elvis appeared in a radio spot for a donut company when he was at his peak. But over the past 10 years, artists role in advertising has begun to tie directly into the release of their music. They began signing exclusive album packaging deals with stores like Target and Walmart and using product company commercials to promote the releases of their albums. No longer were they just endorsing a product; they were connecting their art to it.
But if this started happening a decade ago, then why are people still upset when they see ad campaigns like Katy Perry’s? Well, they shouldn’t be. But if I had to put a reason behind it, it’s probably because it’s becoming increasingly more blatant. Think about some of last summers biggest selling albums: Justin Timberlake‘s The 20/20 Experience, Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail and Robin Thicke‘s Blurred Lines. What do they all have in common? They were all released in conjunction with a corporate ad campaign. Timberlake released his highly anticipated two-part series in conjunction with Budweiser and Target. Thicke’s video for “Blurred Lines,” the chart-topping title track off his sixth studio album, doubled as a commercial for Beats Audio. And, to top them all, Jay Z, who has been using this technique since he announced his 2006 comeback album, Kingdom Come, through a beer commercial, released his newest album through a Samsung application.
Perry is seemingly even more blatant than all those guys because she’s involved with Walmart, which has a huge advertising budget. In reality, she’s just doing what every other artist on a major label is doing; it’s part of what being on a major is all about now. The year 2013 will mark the closest music and commercialism have been connected, which is actually not saying much. It’s been an upward trend for a long time.
Does it still have an affect on how listeners judge the music? Absolutely. For many, it gives albums a far less personal feel, as if the albums were brewed up in a test tube in a sterile laboratory in Nebraska. But the people that think that are probably not a fan of Perry’s sugary brand of pop music anyways. And for her (and artists like JT and Jay), it doesn’t really matter if the integrity of her music takes a hit. She’s not trying to impress you with her artistic ability; instead, she’s reminding you of her mega-star status. That’s it.
As the weeks past, we’ll undoubtedly see her in even more ad campaigns. For those who find the increasing connection between music and commercialism appalling, I feel your pain, but wake up. America is becoming more corporate with each passing day, and so is its art.