God Bless former students
I was having drinks with a former student of mine and he said something really interesting to me: "Every 27 years the fashion cycle repeats itself."
I asked him, "Where did you get that from?"
"The readings you assigned us in Brand Management."
2011 and the 1980s.
If you were around 27 years ago (the mid 1980s), you probably remember it as a very upbeat era. The economy was great and both personal and financial optimism were high (See Theodore Caplow, Howard M. Bahr, John Modell). Upbeat pop and spirited glam rock (e.g. Madonna, Bon Jovi, Starship, Michael Jackson, Journey, Def Leppard, Poison etc.) dominated the music scene. The era's optimistic mood was reflected by the period's music. I remember reading the liner note of the Nelson's After the Rain at the time. They argued that it was music that made the change to a better world. I suspect they are right too. Ultimately, optimism fuels upbeat art. Upbeat art drives optimism.
So what is 2011 like? The 80s style glasses are cool again, women's tight black stirrups and boots are in vogue (and have been for a while), and upbeat pop music is again dominating the charts. A lot of the bands that dominated Billboard's charts in the mid 1980s are mixed in with the best selling artists of today on iTunes. Journey, Heart, Iron Maiden, Pat Benetar, and David Bowie all have best selling iTunes songs. Sometimes both the original 80s and the 2011 remake are selling side-by-side. (e.g. Heart Alone and Alyssa Reid Alone Again) In addition, many of today's artists(especially the ladies) are throwbacks to the 80s. Lady Gaga seems to be Madonna reincarnated. Kesha is Cindy Lauperesque. Katy Perry's melodies are classic, catchy, commercial 80s with a Snoop Dog twist.
So what follows the upbeat, optimism of today's music? If the research proves to be correct, in 4 or 5 years we will be feeling the grays of the dark, anti-establishment, gloomy grunge era. But, for the time being, commercial is cool.
It's (not) About the Music
True artists like to be pure to their art. Watch interviews with new musicians and and you will likely hear something like, "For us its about the music. We don't want to sell out to the corporate pressure." Very few artists, however, don't 'sell out' when they realize that the music business is "80% business, 20% music" (Metallica) and that "the listener is more important than the song" (e.g.Rob Thomas, Def Leppard). Even artists like Avril Lavigne who started off with an 'independent brand value' eventually accept corporate sponsorships. How much has Avril gone corporate? Check out the product placements in her music video "What the Hell". I counted 4 distinct still shots with product placements, including her own fragrance line. I am a little bit bewildered how much Sony product placement there is in the video given her ongoing sponsorship deal with Canon. (Check out her product placement music video here). By the way, if a 90 minute motion picture served up product placements at the rate that Avril is doing here, there would be more than 100 in the film. I'm sure audiences would say "what the hell?!!" to that.