We can be heroes: Agencies and Brands in the age of Trump

Purpose is a an overused word in the field of Advertising, PR, Marketing and all other forms of corporate creative communications. It is not only overused, be it in the industry press, unimaginative briefs or conferences where overpaid trust-fund gurus and tech evangelists bandy the term around freely, it is deliberately evasive, almost cowardly. By pontificating about ‘purpose’ industry leaders can pay lip service to the fleeting ‘good causes’ that come around in cycles via your social media feeds without any long term commitment to real social and economic change. A nice write-up in Campaign or The Drum will follow shortly, your business director will see it and ask you to pull together some examples of brands doing ‘purposeful’ things for a power-point deck that your client won’t ever read.

The stakes are high at the time of writing. The free world is lead by an individual who believes that complex and multifaceted issues can be resolved through the blunt instruments of forceful rhetoric and wall-building. In order to do this he had surrounded himself with a ghoulish line-up of arch conservatives and proto-fascists, cherry-picking the most reactionary individuals from the upper ranks of military and industrial institutions as well as politicians with proven records of racism, misogyny, homophobia and climate change denial. As with Brexit and other reactionary populist movements sweeping the western world and beyond, the recent developments have lent legitimacy for a range of views that have been largely confined to the fringes for decades.

Agencies are predominantly places where the political spectrum ranges from centrist liberal to social democrat. Sure, your boss complains about the 40% tax rate that he pays and there’s that young copywriter who joined the Labour Party to vote for Corbyn and occasionally retweets articles from the Daily Mash mocking Theresa May , but essentially everyone is happy to turn up to work and make something cool that a corporation can use to sell household products and we’re all cool with immigration, women’s rights and gay marriage. It should strike us as ironic, or perhaps tragic, that most ad agencies are dominated by middle and upper-middle class white people and that women are traditionally kept out of the creative department at senior management level. It has gotten to the point where clients are telling us to be more diverse which is embarrassing because we are meant to be the cool kids and they are meant to be ‘the man.’ It is common for petitions to be passed around work email accounts and social media feeds among right-on colleagues but it is extremely rare to hear any of us consider that we might be where we are at least partly due to circumstances relating to the advantages of our birth and upbringings and that real change can only happen through decisive structural adjustments. Many agencies are trying, this has to be noted however it is not enough to mandate light-touch Diversity and Inclusion seminars which seem to be constructed to cause the least amount of discomfort possible to privileged people.

Structural change, like the brilliant initiative employed by Saatchi & Saatchi where entry level salaries have been raised to enable new starters from more disadvantaged backgrounds to feel economically stable enough to pursue a career in the industry are needed now more than ever. Another fantastic example is the recent initiative at Ogilvy & Mather whether planners are dispatched to areas around the country to immerse themselves in communities that are often radically different in terms of lived experience, perceptions and economic reality to what we know in London. Despite this, we need to be going further. We are in a position to influence culture and the broader social consensus so we need to be influencing the beliefs and behavior of our clients at the same time as working on ourselves because we make brands much more famous more than we make ourselves.

There are two levels to which we can push brands to take moral leadership in the communications that we make for them (we can’t unfortunately make them pay the level of tax that they’re meant to but that’s a debate for another day). Firstly, let’s insist that a certain percentage of our creative output actually commits to a long term project that does something worthwhile for society’s most vulnerable (wherever they may be in the world). The  client’s short term business, marketing and campaign objectives obviously have to be met and/or exceeded but real rigorous strategy and groundbreaking creative work can and will do that whilst also being able to produce something that serves a more noble purpose. An obvious example would be Grey London’s Volvo Life Paint work from 2015 which saw a multinational automotive giant tackle the issue of safety head-on. This campaign demonstrated how agencies and brands can work together to break advertising orthodoxy and carve out exemplary models of behavior for brands. We can also point to how traditionally female-targeted brand Rimmel has followed L’Oreal and CoverGirl in embracing a more inclusive attitude to gender with the help of BETC or J Walter Thompson has created the 10th Month campaign for Bayer which includes a website ran in partnership with motherhood journalists which is packed with useful articles for first time mums and their partners.

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Bepanthen 10th Month by J Walter Thompson London

 

The second level to pushing our clients to become moral leaders in an age of ugly political rhetoric and even uglier policy proposals that threaten to divide us even further is through leveraging pop culture in order to connect with the public. We are currently seeing a phase of heightened political activism among pop culture figures. Beyonce might be the obvious example but we should also consider how Kendrick Lamar has been able to balance commercial success and artistic integrity creating art that brings a nuanced and story-based approach to stark socio-economic realities. The younger activists who make up a huge chunk of those you might see out on the street protesting against Trump or the rise in xenophobia after Brexit often express their sentiments via popular culture motifs. Popular youth trends such as the re-emergence of the Grime scene are strongly anti-establishment without the complications of ideology and mirror the grim realities currently facing racial minorities and the working class. The recent collaboration between artists such as Skepta and Wretch 32 and Levi’s (The Levi’s Music Project) is a scheme which aims to deliver greater access to music in the famously underprivileged yet creatively dynamic area of Tottenham. The reason why this scheme is so important is that it demonstrates how brands need to be beneficial to society in order for consumers to allow them to exist and grow in the long term.

Brands, and the companies of which they are the face and intangible essence, are not the answer to society’s problems. They do however find themselves in the critical position of being the one of the things that individuals in a free society use to define themselves. As our new and disorientating reality takes hold and the social, political and economic impacts become apparent in people’s every day lives, brands will have to prove that they are worthy of the public’s attention, their tolerance and their money. If agencies cannot lead their clients to act and lead in the interest of decency, tolerance and fairness then they are not doing their jobs.

 

 

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The best and worst things that happened in advertising and popular culture this year

2015 has been many things to many people. Kanye-less, Frank Ocean sophomore-lacking, ‘disruptor brands,’ gentrification, #Blacklivesmatter, Jeremy Corbyn, The Weeknd as off-beat popstar, Pig-gate, terrorism, refugees, Kendrick Lamar, Caitlin Jenner, John Lewis Christmas ads, Ed Sheeran, Hotline Bling, Adele returns- I’ll stop before this becomes a Sgt. Pepper’s cover. If there was a sentiment to encapsulate the spirit of the year it would be that people seem to generally give a fuck about stuff and high and low culture has merged into one- just ‘culture.’ The access that the Internet allows us to all forms of culture for free which has been facilitated and broadcast by popular news and ‘content’ outlets on social media has created a general public who are both more culturally rounded and aware and simultaneously more clueless than ever thanks to the overload of information which is neither fully verifiable nor fully disprovable.  It’s BLM activists who listen to Taylor Swift, English lit students you thought were cool sharing thinkpieces about the Hunger Games gender body politics, Starbucks cups being held by anti-capitalists at anti austerity marches, Where are U now?House Every Weekend, fashionistas in Reebok Classics- it’s confusing and inconsistent, maybe even hypocritical- but it’s now.:

THE BEST

Creativity fights back

The discourse around advertising in 2014 was dominated by crap pieces in The Drum about the advent of data, ‘Big Data’ and ‘Math Men.’ It was interesting for about five minutes before becoming, like Oasis’ output since Be There Now , repetitive, uninteresting and culpable for inspiring many talentless dickheads.

2015 saw creativity become cool again. It turned out that the medium of TV in fact wasn’t dead and that you couldn’t just throw a few numbers at a Creative team and expect them to paint something pretty over them. There was a resurgence of first class creative work that didn’t look like it had been graphed, charted and infographic’d to death. Nils Leonard crashed into Adland’s collective consciousness as the Kanye of advertising with Grey London returning to the fore as a culturally switched-on, innovative and iconoclastic creative power house. Adam & Eve DDB continued to produce the kind of distinctive work that could take its place alongside actual entertainment content such as TV shows, films and music videos. Danny Brooke Taylor’s creative stewardship ensured that Lucky Generals went from the plucky youngster to an irreverent yet maturing agency really hitting its stride with excellent work produced for Pot Noodle, Paddy Power and Hostelworld whilst Caroline Pay and Nick Gill can be proud of the stunning work they have done for Audi.

With the strategic and cultural midwifery of high calibrate planners such as Saatchi & Saatchi’s Richard Huntington, Grey’s Leo Rayman and Craig Mawdsley & Bridget Angear at AMV BBDO and top level suits such as Wieden & Kennedy’s highly cultured Neil Christie, the brilliant provocateur Magnus Djaba of Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon fame, James Murphy of A&E with his stellar levels of commitment to his slippery Volkswagen client and Sarah Golding leading a resurgent CHI & Partners, we can also be thankful for the business leadership, strong analytical practice and talent fostering that drives agencies t do their best work. The ‘Math Men‘ were largely pushed to the side this year despite some loud posturing by David Jones with his new ‘Brand Tech’ group You & Mr Jones and the odd creativity vs data think piece in Campaign, and were largely drawn into the debate alongside media agencies about Ad Blocking.

Oh and it’s also won mentioning Ian Leslie’s fantastic piece about creativity and the centrality of brilliant TV ads to the marketing mix in the FT called How the Mad Men Lost the Plot.

Rap gets weird/Pop gets cool/Dance gets broader

2015 has been a fascinating year in music. The Weeeknd now plays shows where fans will be hearing Siouxsie and the Banshees samples one minute and be singing get along to an Ed Sheeran collaboration the next, Justin Bieber is now more likely to be played at a gathering of twenty something grime and house aficionados as they roll zoots and bosh MDMA than at a 12 year old’s birthday part, feminist veterans debate Taylor Swift, Young Thug has been donning tutus one minute and apparently plotting to assassinate Lil Wayne the next, Kendrick Lamar dominated critical discourse with his alt-jazz infused social commentary on To Pimp a Butterfly and Drake captured everyone’s attention by dancing like someone’s uncle in what became one of the biggest music videos of the year.

One of the most exciting things was Grime’s resurgence which saw Skepta rub shoulders with everyone from Drake and Kanye to Earl Sweatshirt, Jamie XX and ASAP Mob, Stormzy began to look like the next up for crossover success, JME’s Integrity album was a solid effort with the excellent ‘Man Don’t Care’ as Giggs- assisted lead single, Novelist kept it Avant Garde with the Mumdance produced bangers ‘Take Time’ and ‘One Sec’, Wiley was honoured at his old school in Bow with a commemorative plaque and Chip reminded us why he’s worth taking seriously with his Fire in the Booth, Believe and Achieve EP and strong responses to Tinie Tempah and Bugzy Malone.

Dance music also saw some interesting developments as PC Music continued to confuse, excite, irritate and amaze whilst entering in to partnership with Colombia Records. SOPHIE released the high octane Product EP which mixed hyper-pop and experimental in a novel way whilst Danny L Harle’s Broken Flowers received a luxury refix on the new EP of the same name. Whilst some view Dance music as one of the last remaining bastions of music snobbery there were some important figures in the scene who have been subverting  the purist status quo and challenging perceptions of taste . Hudson Mohawke’s Lantern was a roaring success in allowing the artist to reconnect with his roots whilst simultaneously exploring new territory. The explosive ‘Very First Breath’ makes whiny power-pop sound triumphant and melancholy at the same time whilst ‘Scud Books’ digs into the artist’s signature stadium-trap aesthetic but adds in a kitsch pop-friendly synth riff. Rustie, another Scottish power-trap auter managed to repurpose his Trance and Happy Hardcore influences into something very relevant with his EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE album. Jamie XX had a brilliant year seeing his long-awaited solo project In Colour which repackaged 20 years of UK club culture for the Instagram generation and scored a summer hit with the Young Thug and Popcaan assisted Good Times. Diplo continued to act as the bridge between club music’s innovative underground and the pop mainstream dabbling in everything from the seminal Bieber-assisted Where are U now? to the summer smash Lean on with Major Lazer and MØ whilst working alongside outliers such as SOPHIE and A.G. Cook. Elsewhere we saw electronic experimentalist and Kanye-collaborator Evian Christ take Trance to the ICA with his much lauded Trance War exhibition and Skrillex finally managed to gain some critical acclaim for his work with Justin Bieber and spectacular live events.

Mad Men’s swansong

Although it definitely did not satiate everyone, I found that the Mad Men ending was everything that I could have asked for. It was neither crowd-pleasingly conclusive nor ironic and cold; it was open-ended but you got some idea of where the narrative was headed once the characters ceased to exist on our screens. True to form Matt Weiner and his excellent team of writers made sure to produce something that didn’t exist in a historical vacuum. Don Draper’s closing hilltop meditation scene which may or may not have led him to go on to create the subsequently shown iconic I’d like to teach the world to sing Coca Cola ad- arguably the creative genesis of brand-based advertising- signals the beginning of the cultural shift from a more collectivist and ordered understanding of society to the dawn of individualist neo-liberalism where brands and products begin to exist as components of the individual’s unique identity and self-expression. As noted in a previous piece, Adam Curtis does a great job in identifying the hippy and New Age movements as an expression of individualism that birthed the small-government, supply side and self-sufficient economic culture promoted by Reagan and Thatcher that still predominates today in his documentary The Century of the self. Wiener’s use of a spiritual retreat as the narrative endpoint for the protagonist seems like a nod to this understanding of the late 20th and early 21st century.

 

The reason why these discourses seem so relevant has been seen across pop culture and (more downstream) society, politics, conflict and economics all year. Identity and self definition has seemingly been at the centre of everything; one can cite phenomena as diverse as Caitlin Jenner, Rachel Dolezal, Donald Trump’s jingoistic understanding of what it is to be American, the Black Lives Matter movement, the continued rise of the far-right in Europe and the Islamic State in the Levant, the conspicuous presence of selfies facilitated by ever-growing social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, changing attitudes to gender and sexuality- the list could be an essay in itself. These are a wide array of positive, negative and necessary happenings but what they all have in common is their rooting in today’s existential grey areas- the desire to craft one’s own unique identity whilst wanting to be a part of something in a world that is more connected than ever whilst paradoxically increasingly isolated. In placing Don Draper, the brilliant manipulator of human anxiety, on top of a cliff edge with a bunch of mentally conflicted and exasperated ‘modern’ individuals before cutting to that infamous Coca Cola ad, Weiner gave us an ending which emphasized the cultural vitalness of the whole Mad Men series.

Craig David and Kurupt FM

I’m usually weary of anything resembling starry-eyed nostalgia but Craig David’s return this year seemed like the righting of a cultural wrong. Like many black and asian artists in the UK Craig’s career was subjected to immature ridicule, miscategorization and ill-informed interference by record companies. When the brilliant Kurupt FM crew from the BBC Three/iPlayer cult hit People Just Do Nothing brought him into their Mistajam #Sixtyminuteslive session to perform his early noughties smash ‘Fill Me In’ over Jack U’s Where are U Now it began to seem like the stage was set for his return. Following the critical re-appraisal of R&B over the last few years and the resurgence of Garage, UK Funky, Deep House and Jungle into UK club culture, it appears that as this piece in Noisey suggests is the perfect time for the R n’ G veteran to reclaim his place in the UK’s homegrown dance music scene.

THE WORST

Adland’s diversity lack

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Despite some positive noises being made about the need for women to be better represented at all levels in the advertising industry, mostly thanks to the tireless work of top female ad people like Cindy Gallop with the 3% Conference and the WACL (Women in Advertising and Communications in London), there has been little improvement in making the Ad industry more diverse as a whole. Barely anyone is talking about the obvious domination of the industry by white middle class types both male and female- ethnicity and socioeconomic background features very little in any discussion that does take place.

It would be easy to pick out events and scrutinize happenings such as the incredibly classist ‘Benefits’ flyer that circulated at Iris Worldwide in London (above), this hilariously misjudged Robert Dyas spot or the Advertising Week panel called ‘Here are all the black people in advertising’ which was seemingly chaired by a bunch of white people (although as the link points out it’s more complicated than appears) but the real root of the problem is the lack of interest amongst the majority of the decision makers in the industry in reaching out to communities outside of their own. Our ‘creative industries’ which some might assume are very liberal and open to people of all backgrounds are in fact closed off to most people outside of the ABC1 bubble. One only has to look at the lack of outreach programmes aimed at youngsters from less privileged backgrounds, the extortionate subscription fees for industry publications and events and the way in which most agencies hide their job postings from any commonly accessible outlets. The whole things stinks of elitism and for all of the talk of attracting great young talent the system appears to be built to keep a certain types of people out. The whole ad industry is a lot poorer for it as powerful, evocative and effective campaigns that connect to a wider audience require a range of different inputs be they White, Black, Asian, Male, Female, Gay or Straight.

Guitar Music

The famously regressive online community in the UK was most upset about Kanye West performing at Glastonbury this year. How dare this uppity Black bloke be the Saturday night headliner at Glastonbury, proclaiming himself to be the ‘Greatest Living Rockstar’ without there being a guitar in sight!? Someone started a petition, Brian McFadden and Louise Thompson got involved, your smelly 15 year old cousin from Dudley posted a video of Dave Grohl performing with a broken leg along or a meme of him laughing or something, you know how these things tend to go…

The real issue and inconvenient truth here however is the simple fact that England and the world as a whole seriously lacks in any compelling guitar bands. I’m not yet ready to deem guitar music/rock n’ roll as completely redundant but it’s hard to see who else could have convincingly filled the headline slot or in fact be deemed as a ‘rockstar’ in this day and age. I mean who really is Dave Grohl? the former drummer in a seminal band whose importance hinged on the songwriting and general character of the now deceased frontman? A cuddly mascot for a bygone era of music? What about Matt Bellamy? Well even die-hard Muse fans couldn’t stomach their latest release. Do we really have to dig up another leather clad metal outfit from the eighties or some poorly aged wig-rocker? The Libertines can provide a cheery fifty minutes of throwback singalong fun but it’s hard to claim that Pete and Carl’s druggy Edwardian/Victorian lit-expired poncing-about would be an ideal show of rock n’ roll’s relevance today.Foals had some approving nods from critics and old indie heads this year but like the more interesting Everything Everything who emerged this year with the impressive Get to Heaven, they don’t quite hold enough weight for the number one slot.  You also shouldn’t listen to those ex-NME types who seem like they’ve managed to TUPE (Google it!) over to Noisey when they tell you that Sleaford Mods are worth your time.

Tyler, the Creator banned from UK

There are plenty of reasoned debates to be had about how we should receive and interpret Tyler, the Creator’s lyrics. Concerns that some of the lyrics in his earlier material might be harmful to women in the long term by normalizing and trivializing rape seem perfectly reasonable and should be discussed at length. There do however seem to be other forces at play in this case of kneejerk censorship exercised by Home Secretary Theresa May as Joe Muggs stated in his piece for The Guardian on the subject.

Whether the move to bar Tyler, the Creator was meant as a subtle nod to Middle England or a concession to our active feminist movement (which has done great work this year- see the newly formed Women’s Equality Party) is unclear but there’s a nasty racial undercurrent that we can see when we hold these judgments up to the light. Artists such as Tyler, Chris Brown and Snoop ‘Kick this evil bastard out’ Dogg/Lion have faced a much higher bar when touring across venues in countries like the UK, Australia and Canada than artists such as Ozzy Osbourne, Cannibal Corpse and even The Decemberists all of whom have participated in either lyrical of real life misogyny and abuse of women.

There is also a point to be made about the context of Tyler, the Creator’s lyrical content. The lyrics in question which mainly feature in his early releases Bastard and Goblin are often uttered by a conflicted and disturbed alter-ego and are clearly not a reflection of the artist’s own views. Whilst these incidents of censorship are often presented as being a progressive must by responsible authorities more often than not they are at best a flimsy band-aid for the problem of systematic injustice and at worst a manifestation of a more sinister agenda.

Airbnb ‘is mankind?’

Oh man this one was bad! Despite simultaneously pricking people’s conscience and making their lives easier- a very lucrative brand position to occupy in the information age- the folks at Air B n’ B apparently see themselves as the champions of human connectivity, empathy and social justice. TBWA are a great agency with a strong legacy but they certainly misfired here in an overblown and highly pretentious campaign which wasn’t helped by a smarmy poster campaign in San Francisco addressing the recent ruling that the company had to pay hotel tax. For some reason they assumed that residents of America’s most left-leaning city would want to join in with their libertarian circle-jerk. Whilst I have no way of knowing how the company’s communications fuck ups have affected sales and growth this year- I do know that the health of the brand is vital to a startup that is starting to move into maturity.

 

 

Brand of the Year 2015: Drake

To quote the oft-overlooked mid-noughties white rapper Paul Wall, Drake has ‘got the internet going nuts.’ The Canadian multi-platinum seller has picked up where Kanye left off with 808s and Heartbreak and mixed-in the multisyllabic delivery typical of aspiring rappers eager to prove their technical chops and has, together with main producer and wingman Noah ’40’ Shebib brought R&B tinged sad-boy-meets-braggadocio to the forefront of Hip Hop’s mainstream. Now we’re a week or so into the ‘Hotline Bling’ dancing phenomenon which has seen a tidal wave of memes inspired by the music video hit our social media timelines it seems like it’s high time that we named Drake as ‘Brand of the Year’ for 2015 and take a detailed look into how the Toronto rappa-turnt-sanga-turnt-rappa-again has put his contemporaries in Hip Hop and pop culture as a whole to shame.

Creating Shareable Content

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The above sub-title looks like something you’d see in a Powerpoint presentation given by some dead-eyed social media ‘content’ manager’ (or some equally grating title), however this is exactly what Drizzy has done. From HYFR to YOLO to ‘Started From the Bottom’ to ‘Motherfuckers never loved us’ (Worst Behaviour) to  ‘Running through the six with my woes’ to ‘just hold on we’re going home,’ Drake has crafted intensely meme-able ideas and phrases which are applicable to an infinite amount of situations that you don’t have to be a millionaire rapper to have experienced. There could be an endless chicken and egg discussion of whether the Internet has turned Drake’s lyrics into memes or whether Drake has engineered his content to create instantly recognizable and widely relatable concepts. Either way it’s hard to argue that Drake hasn’t capitalized on this phenomenon.

In a similar vein Drake has used his music videos to put across imagery that will doubtless get people talking. From the awkward photo of him goofing around on the ‘No New Friends’ video shoot, to the Drake snr assisted Congolese Sapeur reminiscent ‘Worst Behaviour‘ video, to the intentionally OTT posturing, Mum-including and comedy-skit incorporating visuals for ‘Started From the Bottom,‘ Drake has always got people talking with his music videos and given the meme-curator class of the internet months of source material to work with. It comes as no surprise then that Drake would readily embrace Director X’s vision for his ‘Hotline Bling‘ video which seems him dance around like someone’s Dad (Uncle, granddad, weird cousin etc.) alongside ironically attractive sexline workers.

Managing Controversy

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Drake has never been one to dive head-first into a controversial issue, he’s seemingly ambivalent on politics and only seems to enter rap beefs when he’s been provoked. He does however, by his very being, his success, his artistry, his circumstances spark a wide range of conversations between fans and detractors. He has been drawn into debates about ghostwriting, his lack of ‘hood credentials, his apparent lack of respect for ‘real Hip Hop’ in naming a downtempo R&B-tinged song ‘Wu Tang Forever,’ his embrace of up and coming buzzworthy artists and his penchant for airing his vulnerability in a genre so obsessed with projecting a hypermasculine image. Drake has handled these difficult points quite masterfully neither protesting too much nor completely ignoring every criticism aimed at him, sometimes a diss song is required, sometimes silence, sometimes you can let your friends and collaborators do the talking.

Owning his contradictions

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Drake is many things. A rapper, a former soap star, a brand ambassador, an Art appreciator, a sports fan, a Ford Maddox Ford/Ezra Pound- style champion of up-and-coming artists, an Aaliyah obsessive, an enthusiast for everyone from UGK and Lil Wayne to Andre 3000 and Phonte (from Little Brother), a grime fan, black, jewish, privately educated, Canadian with roots in Memphis (on his father’s side), sensitive, boastful, self-deprecating- the list goes on. In a different world he might be seen as an unmarketable mess, however in 2015, an era of culture jamming and widespread access to an endless pool of influences, he might be seen as a fairly typical male in his late 20s.

Despite being largely apolitical in his content, Drake is a product of the post-war progressive tide, social mobility, the internet’s democratization of culture, the rise of easily-shareable content and the ongoing conversations about race and gender. Drake skillful draws upon these facets of his identity when and where it is required to make a certain point, portray a certain image or address a certain issue. The recent retort to Meek Mill, a former crony of whom Drizzy has fallen foul, ‘you getting bodied by a singin’ nigga’ on ‘Charged Up’ tells us a lot more than that Drake can still deliver a bruising ‘diss’ despite his penchant for singing. It tells us that he won’t allow himself to be solely defined by only one part of his identity.

Aligning himself with tomorrow’s innovators

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The Weeknd, Chief Keef, Future, James Blake, A$AP Rocky, Party Next Door, Dej Loaf, ILOVEMAKONNEN, Fetty Wap, Skepta and BBK, Kodak Black- all of these artists and more have been given Drake’s mighty cosign whether through remixing their songs, tweeting their lyrics and videos, inviting them to perform at OVO Fest or just mentioning them in interviews, Drizzy has been either a cultural connoisseur or ‘vulture’ depending on how you look at it. Aside from doing wonders for the careers of those he has supported it also makes Drake look both influential and in tune with the innovators of tomorrow.

No Sir Martin, Alex Da Kid is not a good choice for your music venture. Here are some alternatives…

Despite what you may think of him Sir Martin Sorrell is a very clever man, he wouldn’t be the global emperor of Adland if he wasn’t. It is for this reason that I am surprised at his choice of partner for WPP’s new music venture KidinaKorner. If you don’t know who Alex ‘Da Kid’ Grant is, he’s the pop mastermind behind providing the production to compliment the former provocateur and enfant terrible of pop-culture Eminem’s transformation into ex-junkie motivational speaker and MOR purveyor (i.e. ‘Love you the way you lie’ and ‘I need a Doctor’). He’s also produced some low impact chart-filler for high tier popstars such as Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, B.O.B. and Imagine Dragons (yeah those guys who Kendrick Lamar shat all over his current credibility in collaborating with).

Speaking about the venture Da Kid has stated “Music is extremely powerful and plays a very important role in people’s lives, connecting them to a moment that is uniquely personal. Unfortunately, it can often be the last thing to get attention when programs are being planned. KidinaKORNERCreate offers a new model, bringing music to the forefront of every level of the creative process; planning, strategy and execution. This approach will create more substantial and meaningful engagement with the audience.” This in itself is a fantastic, profound observation which some parts of the industry have started to pick up on.The question is whether Alex Da Kid is the right person to do this. SMS has called the producer ‘ a genuine innovator’ which, in the age of Kanyes, FKAs, James Murphys, Beyonces, Jamie XXs, James Blakes, Diplos, Tylers, ASAPs, Skeptas, Arcas, Bjorks is pretty laughable. Creative Directors, Planners and Account Handlers shouldn’t be rushing to soundtrack beautiful ads with crossover tunes which sound like they’ve been thrown together from existing loops at the last minute. I am not arguing that an established producer should be sidelined for some obscure soundcloud based minimal tech producer or ‘proper’ indie band. I am arguing that more thought should be given to selecting a partner with a real in-depth understanding  of popular music, culture and trends- and most importantly what constitutes ‘cool.’ Far be it from me to shit all over an idea without suggesting an alternative so here are my pics for a better partner in this venture:

A.G. Cook

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Kicking things off with the wild-card here, AG Cook- PC Music’s benevolent leader has a history of working with brands such as Illamasqua form whom he provided Art Direction for the company website and complied a tailored playlist and the Red Bull Music Academy who have been heavily involved in the label’s live shows. Despite making his name as a pop and dance producer, Cook’s tastes (past and present) have been wide-ranging citing Hudson Mohawke, David Guetta, Scritti Politti, Captain Beefheart, UK Garage, Girls Aloud, K-Pop, Frank Zappa and Cassie. Cook is also a good fit due to the nature of his music, unlike the broader consensus among artist, he seems open to working with brands and engaging more with the capitalist music machine. With a production style that apes commercial pop and a growing portfolio of high-level collaborations including Charlie XCX, Cook interrogates our commercial reality and is fascinated by the concept of artifice.

Pros: A history of working with brands, embraces commercial realities of music industry and has a seemingly wide understanding of popular music and culture.

Cons: Resides over sometimes controversial and divisive roster of artists and might lack music and advertising industry leverage being somewhat marginal at this stage.

Dev Hynes

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As the darling of the now R&B-friendly blogosphere and indie critic circle, the eclectic Dev Hynes has been through several musical incarnations. Starting as an indie and folk artist under the name Lightspeed Champion before moving on to post-hardcore and Dance Punk with the short-lived Test Icicles, Dev Hynes has since plateaued with his creative re-imagining of 80s New Wave and alternative R&B as Blood Orange. Despite these varied alt credentials Hynes remains a go-to songwriter and producer for everyone from Britney Spears, Diane Vickers and The Sugababes to more critically acclaimed artists such as Theophilus London, FKA Twigs, Solange and Heems. Hynes clearly has a broad knowledge of various types of music posting videos or everyone from Michael Jackson to Ice Cube to Oasis to Talking Heads to John Cage on his Facebook page. He is also something of a style icon with his interpretation of 80s normcore style making him something of an icon.

Pros: Connected to a wide range of artists across genres, proven and varied track record of creativity and deep knowledge of different types of music.

Cons: No significant experience of working with brands aside from appearing in a GAP Advert alongside Evian Christ and Kelela.

Emily Haynie

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New York’s Emile Haynie cut his teeth on the obscure Hip Hop releases of C-Rayz Walz, Cormega and Obie Trice before falling in with bigger names such as Raekwon, Ghsotface Killah, The Roots and Kid Cudi. Since then he has expanded his production credits across genres to work with Lana Del Rey, Fun, Linkin Park, Rufus Wainwright, and Lykke Li with many of the aforementioned appearing on his solo debut We Fall. This eclectic mix of collaborators from Brian Wilson to FKA Twigs to ASAP Rocky plus the fact that he has a history of brand ownership after launching the now defunct label DreamOn with Kid Cudi and Plain Pat makes Haynie and ideal candidate.

Pros: Well connected and with a proven track record of producing records across genres.

Cons: Probably working on various projects as we speak, likely to be unavailable for the foreseeable future.

Lantern, Hudson Mohawke reclaims his brand


When news of Hudson Mohawke’s Lantern tracklist first broke, many of us were surprised that there appeared to be no rappers featuring. Existing for the last couple of years as a sought-after beat-smith for A-list rappers such as Kanye, Drake, Pusha T and Rick Ross, it seemed logical that he would put out a release affirming his position as chief purveyor of Trap. Fresh from these huge Hip Hop releases and the short lived TNGHT project with Canadian fellow Trap avant-gardist Lunice, the Scottish wonder-kid has turned his back on Hip Hop-based releases in favour of electronic Power-R&B.
Throughout the record Mohawke riffs on popular EDM, pop, Hip Hop and R&B to create a kind of kitsch interpretation of contemporary dance music. The big drums from his Trap releases such as last year’s Chimes EP remain but they are matched with stadium synths and pop riffs. Mohawke makes it clear that this is the music that he wants to be associated with for now and seems keenly aware of  the potential for his brand to pigeon-holed into Trap producer to the stars and takes a radical left turn. This is not to say that he has a foolhardy approach to brand consistency, his trademark electronic sonic maximalism remains but the absence of the expected rap gods in favour of the subdued Jhene Aiko, Antony of Anthony and the Johnsons and Irfane tells us that he is more interested in building his own sound.

‘Scud Books’ and ‘Kettles’ both nod towards his signature maximalist approach whilst embracing epic stadium-level triumphantism, with ‘Very First Breath’ we get an RnB-tinged electro-pop effort with powerful evocative synth work and HudMo’s signature experimentalism is indulged on ‘Little Djembe.’ The Hudson Mohawke brand is demonstrated to be as fluid as Kanye West’s or David Bowie’s and like the aforementioned he retains his core creative values of immaculate execution, disregard of genre confinement and unabridged risk-taking.

The album isn’t perfect, I’d score it a strong 7/10 in terms of the final product, some of the clunky songwriting on ‘Warriorz’ and the underwhelming Jhene Aiko assisted ‘Resistance’ falls a little flat. From a ‘brand’ point of view however, the record proves to be a clever move by the producer to create something that clearly belongs to his own artistic ambitions, defies pigeon-holing and lays the foundations of a varied and exciting career.

Cool Shit Round Up 12.06.2015

The Ad

Apple Music- History of Sound by TBWA Media Arts Lab

The Art

Federico Babina Inkonic Faces

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See full collection here.

The Music

I’m a bit late to Washington DC’s Goldlink but I started checking out his stuff this week and it’s fantastic. Offering insightful yet casually free flowing raps over a Soul and House infused sound- this is definitely worth a listen. Stream his mixtape The God Complex on Spotify.

The Article

‘The Revolution Will Not Be Digitized’ Amir Kassaei, CCO of DDB Worldwide in Campaign US

Miscellaneous

Music Round Up May 2015 over at Mook Life. I can’t praise this guy enough for the diversity of releases here, make sure you check it out if you’re stuck for something new to listen to.

What The Labour Party can learn from Hip Hop

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So the dust has settled following Labour’s crushing GE2015 defeat. Ed Miliband has faded into Memedom, four hats remain in the ring after Chuka ‘strictly vinyl’ Umunna bowed out gracefully from the Leadership race and Labour’s Left-Flank are battling it out with the more pragmatic centrists over the soul of the party. This isn’t a politics blog so please do not expect any deep analysis of the results or persuasive rhetoric, it is simply a few thoughts on what the Labour Party can learn from Hip Hop culture when considering the root of its brand.

Left Wing politics doesn’t always have an easy relationship with the world of art despite the popular perception of artists, writers and musicians as a gaggle of Marxists and Various shades of socialist. Art, in all of its forms has a distinctly individualistic streak which requires freedom, autonomy, innovation- and quite frankly- selfishness. This of course doesn’t include phenomena such as Social Realsim, the didactic poetry of the 60s American counterculture and the stringent leftism of musicians such as Rage Against the Machine and Public Enemy. Neither does it mean that art cannot or should not be political, this is a debate for theorists which will likely rage on for as long as humans continue to create.

Despite humanity’s long history of protest-art there are numerous examples of how the conflict between the individual and the collective within th artistic community has seen many artist favour the former. One only has to think of the Italian Futurists who embraced a kind of dynamic right wing political undercurrent to their innovations, the notable fascist Ezra ‘make it new’ Pound, the CIA’s covert sponsorship of Abstract Expression and Cool Jazz, Jack Kerouac’s hatred of Communism, the fierce individualism of Punk/post-Punk bands such as the Sex Pistols and Joy Division (although the former would never admit to sharing common ground with the right), Iggy Pop’s Reaganism, Gilbert and Geroge’s adoration of Margaret Thatcher, Vincent Gallo’s ‘Conservatie radicalism’ and Tracy Emin’s heaping of praise upon David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

One of the few artistic movements which has effectively managed to keep a foot in the capitalist individualist camp whilst also maintaining a sense of duty to the wider community is Hip Hop. You might argue that Hip Hop in its current form is probably the least Left Wing genre around (bar Country & Western and Skinhead Nazi Punk).  The emphasis on acquiring money, expensive champagne, luxury cars and designer clothing remains prevalent to this day and parties only seem worth attending if one has the freedom to throw copious amounts of their income at strippers. Consumerism is alive and well in Hip Hop as the top commercial tier of artists lend their names to various brands in the form of endorsements and rappers continue to personify the raison d’être of brand-based advertising (whether they’re being paid for it or not!).

That being said, Hip Hop has never lost its social consciousness. This isn’t an analysis of your standard lefty outliers like the militant socialist Immortal Technique or Dead Prez or your Afro- hippy cliques such as Arrested Development, De La Soul and early-A Tribe Called Quest or social justice campaigners such as Common, Talib Kweli and The Roots.  The focus of this piece is how mainstream artists within Hip Hop, many of whom may be considered to be betraying the genres ‘conscious’ roots, demonstrate an ideological framework that should be at the core of the the Labour Party’s centre-left politics. It is worth mentioning some of the negative aspects of mainstream (and often underground) Hip Hop that any party of government would rightly denounce such as the sexism, violence and homophobia. These issues are topical battlegrounds for Hip Hop commentators and despite significant progressive strides being made, there are clearly cultural changes that need to happen however for the sake of this argument I’m going to set these aside.

Artists like Jay Z, Kanye West, Nas, Young Jeezy and the late-greats Tupac and Biggie all laced their heavily materialistic lyrics with social commentary when and where they can/could. Take Jay Z, Labour leadership candidate Liz Kendall’s favourite rapper, aka ‘ Che Guevara with bling on’ who raps ‘ how can I help the poor if I’m one of them?/I got rich and gave back that’s the win win’ on the Eminem-produced Black Album cut ‘Moment of Clarity.’ Jay Z embodies the bootstrap rags-to-riches story that defines the conservative narrative and often emphasises his ascent from the Bed Stuy projects to the upper echelons of wealth and status. In an interview with Zadie Smith, Jay expressed a mixture of sympathy and skepticism on the subject of the Occupy Wall Street movement speaking against both the practices of the rapacious business elite or ‘1 percent’ and the enterprenure-bashing of the far left stating ‘ this is free enterprise. This is what America was built on.’ If that doesn’t sound like it’s come straight out of the Labour centre’s (or right spending on how you measure it) playbook then I don’t know what does. Despite the smears of his GOP opponents Barack Obama is no socialist, at least not compared to the domestic policies of FDR (or even Nixon for that matter) or his counterparts on the mainstream European Left however it is worth considering that Jay Z would have a lot more to gain tax-wise from a Republican administration. Nevertheless Jay and Beyoncé continue to rub shoulders with the Obamas as well as speaking out on social issues and quietly paying bail for anti-police brutality demonstrators.

Kanye West is another example of a Hip Hop artist that reaches out on social issues whilst continuing to embody excessive materialism through his fashion endeavours, corporate deals and flashy lifestyle. Mr West has spoken on a range of social issues throughout his career such as the Bush Administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Reagan-era CIA corruption, violence and deprivation in his native Chicago, theconflictedness of wealthy African Americans and classism. Lecturing at places as diverse as the Oxford University Natural History Museum, inner-city schools in Chicago, Technical Colleges and at student unions for Black and Ethnic Minority undergraduates, Kanye is all about ‘Education, education, education.’ Kanye is known to be a conflicted character on record, frequently flirting between considering buying ’50 gold chains’ to rubbing shoulders with the head of the CIA to calling out racial profiling at airports- it has become something of a USP for him and it is something that the Labour Party can learn from. There are downsides to being all things to all men but being tiring mono-focussed is the greater risk.

Another character to consider would be Nas whose subject matter is often caught between ‘the hoes and the ice, 4-4s or Black Christ.’ You might see him walikng down the Road to Zion with Damien Marley  confessing being ‘guilty of materialism’ or you might see him next to Diddy with a gold chain as cars explode behind him. One minute he’s discussing the Prison Industrial Complex with Civil Rights veteran Angela Davies next he’s joining grassroots movements such as the African American Anti-Defamation group ‘Color of Change’  all whilst holding it down as an entrepreneur backing various start ups and investing in Mass Appeal magazine.

Regardless of how wealthy rappers become there remains a sense of duty to their respective communities that sits beside their own individual advancement. Whether it’s Young Jeezy’s critiquing both the actions of the police in Ferguson and the ineffectiveness of rioting whilst simultaneously being the ‘Snowman’ poster boy for the illicit capitalism of the drug market or Tupac’s Versace-clad proclamations that ‘everyone needs a little help on their way to be self reliant‘ (equality of opportunity anyone?)Hip Hop artists always seem to veer to the centre-left once they reach a certain level of financial comfort. As Labour now looks to redefine its brand the word ‘aspiration’ is being thrown around by almost all of the Leadership contenders, this seems like a sensible idea to consider as the the individualist ideas of the 80s do seem to persist within the national consciousness. There is still room for a sense of societal belonging as Miliband’s ‘Mansion Tax’ policy and his highlighting of inequality seemed to resonate with the general public, however the British voters proved to still be largely concerned with self-interest, something that New Labour-for all it’s faults-seemed to understand. Despite the tendency towards ostentatiously flaunting wealth and status, Hip Hop has never seemed to lose its sense of responsibility to the community- this kind of balance should be at the centre of The Labour Party’s rebranding regardless of who is elected leader this autumn.

Recent music videos that Adland can learn from

It’s a well known fact that the use of music is a central component of successful advertising campaigns as Marketers continue to stress the importance of leveraging culture in order to give brands a relevant voice. BETC Paris have launched their music-focussed micro-agency BETC Pop this week, Droga5 are known for their highly successful Jay Z/Bing collaboration, Grey London harnessed the power of the then-relevant genre Dubstep by helping DJ Fresh get a UK #1 with ‘Louder’ as part of their campaign for Lucozade and BBH has its Black Sheep Music/The Most Radica-list outlet. However, sometimes it seems that agency creatives and planners as well as client-side Brand managers don’t fully consider how they can take inspiration from music videos, which essentially are tools used by artists and record labels to communicate the message of the song and character of the artist. Below are some examples of current music videos which advertising industry creatives could learn a thing or two from.
Caribou– Can’t do without you

Dan Snaith’s 2014 melancholic House/RnB/Pop ballad Can’t do without you expresses tenderness, desperation and joy simultaneously. It is, in essence, a pure love song. The music video takes a clever approach to the song’s subject matter by eschewing the expected couple narrative to that of a young boy’s brief infatuation with Chinese dragon/kite- style floating object before he falls and loses control of it. It works because the director has taken an unexpected approach without losing the message of the song. 

 

Earl Sweathsirt- Grief

Earl Sweatshirt’s sludge-core beat and dexterious yet somber lyricism is matched perfectly by Japanese director Hiro Murai who uses a thermal imaging camera in grayscale to depict the artist in the midst of a seemingly common social situation whilst feeling isolated and claustraphobic. Activities which would be considered typical of a rapper in his early 20s such as smoking, playing video games and being around attractive women are given a more sinister and unsettling edge as warm and cold surfaces reflect contrasted areas of light and darkness.

Skepta- Shutdown

Skepta has had something of a rebirth in the past 18 months and has emerged as the current figurehead of the rebooted Grime scene. His track ‘Shutdown’ references his recent high points such his MOBO Award-winning That’s Not Me, his link-up with A$AP Mob and his fashion-week appearance and confidently asserts the irreverent spirit of the scens that he leads. The video combines the common Grime tropes of the mandem on the estate with signifiers of the new chic image of the genre such as his kind of roadman normcore clothing and shots of models clad in higher-end sportswear- a nod to the trendiness that he has acquired perhaps. Like Wiley’s On a Level video it’s a bold statement of Grime’s powerful return to prominence.

U.S. Girls- Damn that Valley

I’ve only just got to know about U.S. Girls and apparently she has been around for a while. Now signed to dance/electronic label 4AD with whom she will be releasing her next album her brand of DIY Pop with traces of Indie, Punk, Ska and Americana is set to make a much bigger splash. Her video for Damn that Valley shows her referencing the song’s socio-political undertones which are slightly obscured by the stylistics of its production and subtle lyricism with imagery that includes the singer gesturing aggressively at the White House, seemingly crying out to the Washington Monument and being superimposed singing in a self-consciously retro shot across rows of American flags. The video perfectly complements the song’s DIY aesthetics and retro styling whilst reflecting the subtle overlap of the political and the personal.

Tyler, the Innovator: How the Odd Future brand was built

So tomorrow we get Tyler, the Creator’s third studio album Cherry Bomb. For followers of the trailblazing OFWGKTA, it has so far been an interesting journey in which we’ve seen the various different characters unravel artistically in a variety of ways. In the interest of the under-rock dwelling population I’ll include a vague recap below:

Odd Future came out or nowhere and became a weather-making force in Hip Hop and wider youth culture. This irreverent collective of Rappers, Producers, Singers, Skateboarders and visual Artists emerged from the Ladera Heights suburbs of Los Angeles with an explosive new take on alternative hip hop. With the new sound they brought their own visual aesthetic, culture and brand persona. The IDGAFness was infectious and many youngsters wanted to be a part of what felt like a radically new cultural movement. Groups of teenagers were titillated by the brash expressiveness, reckless abandon of common decency and refusal to adhere to any preconceived notion of what a group of black kids from LA should be like.

Odd Future, or OFWGKTA were a unique proposition that could have potentially been difficult to market. Existing somewhere in between your mainstream mainstays Drake, Nicki Minaj, DJ Khaled etc and the alternative sphere consisting of everything from your socially conscious Talib Kwelis and hyper-verbally-dexterous Aesop Rocks to your abstract texturalists Shabazz Palaces, Odd Future didn’t identify with either side of the binary. Equally contemptuous of ’40 year old rappers rapping about Gucci’ and ‘the Immortal Tech-of-the-nique…and all that real Hip Hop that’s full of the sheet [shit],’ the collective liberated listeners from the established norms of Hip Hop fandom. Head honcho Tyler, the Creator’s reverence of mainstream acts such as Pharrell, Eminem, Justin Timberlake and even Justin Bieber as well as obscure Jazz, indie surf-rockers, ‘chillwave’, post-punk legends and neo-soul icons such as Erykah Badu and D’Angelo helped establish the idea that both top-40 indoctrination and the dictates of ‘credible’ music tastemakers are largely false idols. From the intelligent use of merchandising to the organic approach to collaboration and partnerships, Odd Future have become a massive movement influencing mainstream culture whilst continuing to be a subculture and maintaining a strong core fan base.

Below are some ways in which Tyler, the Creator has turned what started as a hobby then mutated into a career into an established and growing brand:

1. Establishing a brand template

 

Odd Future were wrongly cast, when they first burst on to the scene, as a horrorcore or shock-rap group. However, that reception was quickly put to bed once the initial wave of press hit the internet. We soon learned that behind the obscenity, murder fantasies, gross lyrical indecency and casual use of offensive slurs such as ‘faggot’ and ‘bitch’ there was a delicate balance of juvenile rebelliousness and actual sincere complexity. This potentially confusing public image was channelled into the aesthetic template that the collective built for itself. Sonically many Odd Future releases were juxtaposing dark minimalism with intervals of soul-infused Neptunes-esque vibes which were evocative of West Coast weather and summers spent outside Skateboarding, socialising with friends and having awkward exchanges with members of the opposite sex. The OF clothing and merchandise being sold was defined by a kind of absurdly blunt sense of humour with hoodies adorned with badly-drawn pictures of the (at that point) absent Earl Sweatshirt or a photograph of the frankly un-epic looking group associate Lucas. Kittens adorned tie-dye t-shirts and knee-length socks from which Tyler claims to have made ‘a quarter million’ from became a fashion staple of countless mesmerised teens. Tyler appeared on the cover of NME in a wedding dress whilst having an album out which derides ‘faggots’ and details the fantasy of ‘rape[ing] a pregnant bitch’, a year later he was declaring himself the representative of kids marginalised by slurs such as ‘weird, fag, bitch, nerd‘  whilst constantly fluctuating between anger, depression, goofiness, absurdity and extreme focus on his personal goals. Tyler, as the captain of this disparate collective took all of these complex different elements and assigned them to specific signifiers of the Odd Future brand thus being able to communicate the anti-authoritarian, passionately creative and utterly irreverent character of the group.

2. Being able to diversify comfortably

When the notorious ‘EARL’ video crashed onto the internet back in 2009 the average viewer had no clue that this group of reckless teens and young adults were anything but pranksters looking to illicit cheap shocks from the viral community. However, right from the outset OFWGKTA was a diverse group of talented individuals. On the music arm you had the foul-mother and charismatic Tyler, the mysteriously absent (rumours ranged from his being serving life in prison to him not actually existing at all) master-wordsmith Earl Sweatshirt, the aggressively hardcore Hodgy Beats and his MellowHype counterpart producer and occasional rapper Left Brain who is by contrast very mellow (as the sub-group name suggests), the stoner-rap aficionado Domo Genesis, neo-soul gurus Syd the Kid and Matt Martians, the swag-King Mike G and the melancholy alt-RnB crooner Frank Ocean.

Odd Future’s often wild antics quickly captured the imagination of youths across the Western World which opened the door for the groups to explore other creative outlets. The ranks were soon padded out by existing friends and associates such as Travis ‘Taco’ Bennett (brother of Syd), Jasper the Fucking Dolphin and L-Boy who were the architects of the Loiter Squad venture on Adult Swim. Whilst Tyler has been pulling fans towards the group from the get-go by filling the collective with all sorts of diverse talents, there is no indication that the doors are closed to partnering with new talent. From signing the Hardcore punk group Trash Talk to Odd Future Records and doing production work for the up-and-coming vintage soulstress Kali Uchis to directing a dreamy music video for ex-Chester French member D.A. Wallach’s ‘Glowing’ to making a re-imagined West Coast crip anthem for Schoolboy Q’s Oxymoron album, Tyler has kept his fingers in many creative pies. This organic approach to brand building through pursuing various different creative channels has allowed Tyler, the Creator to maximise OF’s exposure whilst retaining the core values and aesthetic.

3. Responding to failure in the right way

When Tyler’s second 60″ Mountain Dew ad which featured the ‘Felicia the Goat’ character alongside a group of black men (all OF members) was pulled for being racist and misogynistic, it was clearly a source of disappointment for the budding director. His official response stated that the ad was ‘never meant to spark a controversy about race’ and was intentionally ‘absurd’ and ‘not meant to be taken seriously.’ Whilst I let the internet intersectionalists argue this one out with the libertarians with regard to the rights and wrongs but in terms of Tyler’s brand, the minor controversy only helped. Tyler’s position as a charismatic and free thinking creative unjustly bound by the contemporary concept of poor taste was only cemented as he continued to offend the sensibilities of both left and right. The self-directed video for the raucous ‘Tamale‘ off 2013’s Wolf,  was a fitting address towards these issues as the artist continued to prick the consensus of what constitutes acceptability.

Another instance of (at least partial) failure was the critical reception towards Tyler’s first studio album Goblin. Whilst an exciting enough project for existing fans, for others Goblin was a disappointment in that it did little to really bring across the artist’s full musical potential. I enjoyed the album at the time but with some time plus critical distance I can see that the artists had perhaps become trapped within the impression that fans and critics alike had made of his. The root of this failure, I believe is in Tyler’s becoming too comfortable with the media caricature and lacking adherence to the creative irreverence that is core to the OF brand that he created. However, Tyler has since been vocal about his own disappointment in the end-product and has learned from the experience with subsequent releases. The sophomoric Wolf did a much better job of channel the diverse range of influences, and whilst not being by any means perfect, helped give a truer impression of the artist. Tyler, in essence took ownership of this failure and built his learning a into his subsequent creative approaches.

4. Trying new things

The recently-launched Golf Media paid app for which Tyler has partnered with media tech company Whalerock Industries has been created in order to allow him to share content such as his own new music, film & music video work and interviews as well as other licensed content such as music, art and film that has inspired him directly with his fans. Whether or not this will prove to be a profitable venture I don’t know, OF do have a large and extremely dedicated core fan base who would likely not blink twice at paying a £4.99 subscription but there are always concerns about making people pay for stuff that they can get for free online. Regardless of the outcome, the move is not likely to damage Tyler and the brand that he has built in the long term. The core values of ‘Fuck the rules’ and  ‘Find your wings’ that Tyler built the Odd Future brand around are being reasserted here with confidence.

Ranking the ‘Icons’: How well do Tidal’s celebrity owners fit the market? 

I’m still on the fence about Jay Z’s newly re-launched artist-owned streaming service Tidal. On the one hand it is refreshing to see artists discuss what rightful compensation for their product entails, yet there seems to be an air of Luddism (however justified) involved as creatives rebel against the ‘tech’ elite and ignore the realities of the market. My feeling at this juncture is that this is going to be a costly, but perhaps necessary learning curve for Jay Z, his business associates and the artists who have come forward as owners. One of the main concerns for onlookers is the fact that main rival Spotify prices it’s premium service at £9.99 per month which is significantly less than Tidal’s £19.99 price point. To address the disparity and present added value, subscribers to the top rate version are allowed exclusive early access to releases by participating artists as well as extra content such as podcast-like mini-docs and interviews. Also included in the higher tier is the promise of ‘lossless’ sound quality, something which I think respective  individuals care about to varying degrees.  I’m slightly apprehensive about the assumption that consumers care enough to fork out an extra ten or so quid but what I’m really concerned about is the target market or apparent lack there-of. In lieu of doing any more boring research I’m going to guess that there are (or should be) two main audiences who Carter and co. are trying to reach.

The first audience I think are 25-30 year olds, most-likely employed  (therefore not too hesitant about paying for streaming) , culturally engaged and socially well-orientated. This crowd is increasingly upwardly-mobile, accustomed to a reasonable work/life balance and non-resistant to the idea of organised fun. They enjoy discovering new artists through websites and blogs that they follow such as Noisey and Pigeons and Planes and will support artists through buying their records and attending their concerts at least more than they did 5-10 years ago.

The secondary audience, I would venture to guess, are predominantly male music fans who are past the 45 year mark. These guys spend a lot on Vinyl records and decent Hi-Fi equipment, they probably will care more about the interviews and mini-docs offered at the higher tier rate and they have no really idea about downloading music illegally unless they can convince their teenage son to do it for them. For this crowd Tidal will be like a version of the BBC’s 6Music platform where they get to pick the songs (neatly filtering out that grating Lana Del Rey tune that the morning guys insist on playing) and can dip into the odd Paul Weller interview.

It is with these two audiences in mind that I present you my list of the launch event declaration signees next to a ranking of how they fit the market ….

Alicia Keys- 7.5 

Alicia Keys seems to have an air credibility that hasn’t really shifted in the past 14 years that she’s been about. Sure she’s got a ton of best-selling pop hits under her belt but she also wins points for being largely inoffensive, seemingly humble and actually really good at the piano. Do I think that her audience are going to part with their £19.99 to hear ‘Girl on Fire’ in ‘lossless’ sound? Probably not. What about interviews, early releases, documentaries and any other more intimate artist experiences? I wouldn’t count on it, as talented and accomplished as she is you’re probably bit going to get a Yeezy-esque stream-of-consciousness or a piece-by-piece dissection of her processes. She does however lend the image of the respectable pop artist to the event and all of the sensible seriousness that age naturally conveys.

Arcade Fire- 8/10

From glancing at the desktop screens of the 40-45 year old white male contingent at work (the ones who buy a vinyl a week, still love guitar music, hate Dance Music and think Jimi Hendrix was the last Black musician worth listening to) , it’s abundantly clear that Arcade Fire is one of the few bands that have emerged in the last 10 years that they believe are worth listening to. They also appeal to the 25-30 market as the band that reminds them of their teenage/early-twenties obsession with authenticity.

Beyoncé- 8/10

Beyoncé has managed to expand her audience year-on-year, indie and alternative crowds have largely stopped turning their nose up at her since guitar music starting having its very drawn-out identity crisis/death and it became cool to suddenly find an intense love of 90s RnB, her loyal fans have followed her from good Southern Christian girl through to sexually-liberated pop-feminism icon and the Buzzfeed-reading masses continue to annoy me by regurgitating Queen Be(y?)-related memes and ‘listcicles.’ Essentially, there are few people with any kind of strong opposition to Beyoncé (my iPad keyboard is even adding the accent to the ‘e’ automatically) and her legions of loyal fans will likely follow her wherever she goes. Plus she’s Jay’s wife so yeah.

Calvin Harris- 4/10

Does the average person who listens to EDM-superstar DJ and producer Calvin Harris care enough about sound quality to spend £19.99 a month or have any sincere desire to hear his album a week prior to it’s release? Nope, they will hear it at Oceana (that still around?), on the radio in the car or via Facebook when one of their friends shares the video and proclaims it to be the ‘tune of the summer’ or whatever.

Chris Martin of Coldplay- 6/10

It’s too easy to poke fun at ‘plain white bread with a glass of water on the side for dipping’ musical-equivalent Coldplay. Jay Z thinks they’re amazing and they make more money that you and I because the general population also loves them. No they’re not particularly inspiring and they seem to be even less so when they try to be but they do appeal to a lot of people with their faux-sincerity and traditional line up and general sound. It’s not too hard to visualise someone wanting to hear their album early or in an enhanced-quality format but they do lose points for doing so darned boring at an event about innovation and risk-taking.

Daft Punk 8.5/10

The interesting thing about Daft Punk is their ability to maintain a strong foothold in both commercial and mainstream markets. You’d have to have been deaf not to have heard ‘Get Lucky’ at least 123 times a couple of summers ago yet they still have the ear of more committed dance music heads. Their credentials are well established and it’s not much of a stretch to imagine consumers shelling out extra dough to hear their music in higher quality, enjoy an extensive interview and be amongst the first to hear their new album.

Deadmau5 4/10

C’mon son! Really? Is any Deadmau5 fan really that concerned about sound quality? Yes they might buy noise-cancelling headphones but £19.99 can go towards club night entry, MDMA ( Do EDM bros do MD?), drinks etc. Plus they’re not gonna be too bummed about waiting an extra week for the latest release if they’re likely to hear all the worthy hits at the Euro-dance festival they’re headed to in Croatia are they?

Jack White 8.5/10

Attracting the same kind of ‘real music’ crowd as the Arcade Fire listeners (probably more so), Jack White is a strong fit. These Dad-lads love a bit of Blues rock and will probably enjoy hearing Jack’s revivalism in high quality.

Jason Aldean ?

Idk who that is

J Cole 7.5/10

Ok probably. His fans are more interested in lyrics than his Kanye circa-College Dropout production but they’ll likely want the exclusive release and will be interested in hearing him break down his thought processes at length.

Jay Z- 9/10

Widely respected and  hella revered in most circles (barring the uber-crusties from Oasis), Jay Z fits the market very well. Granted a lot of people managed to illegally download Magna Carta Holy Grail when it was ‘exclusively released’ to Samsung early but I’m confident that loyal fans and general well-wishers will get a kick out of early releases and documentaries. This is sure to resonate with the 25-30 market who don’t generally have time to pursue illegal downloading as much anymore and who have relinquished previous music-snobbery in favour of mainstream glasto-headliners and cautious poptimism.

Kanye West- 8/10

There are certain risks with Yeezy due to his divisive nature as both an artist and an individual. However, his association with the mighty Kardashian dynasty has allowed him to become a household name even as his music becomes more and more left-field and irreverent. I don’t doubt for a second that people will be excited to hear his new material prior to official release and his interviews have become infamous for descending into rants or visionary proclamations depending on your stance (definitely the latter for me). Fans should also be eager to hear new releases in the ‘lossless’ format considering the fact that production is Mr West’s strong suite and he is likely to also call-in the services of a range of exciting supporting producers to assist.

Madonna 6/10

Bit of guesswork here, I don’t actually know anyone who listens to Madonna (not necessarily denigrating old Madge- just not my circles). All I can think of is people who know her early work from generally being a young adult in the 80s and I don’t think they’ll be too fussed about sound quality or exclusives. Nevertheless she remains a big name by virtue of having been the ‘Queen of Pop’ and adjusting to each generation’s cultural whims enough to remain vaguely relevant and that should count for something I imagine.

Nicki Minaj 6.5

It’s quite possible that this could interest 25-30 year olds and she has shed some of the pop-centric attributes in her latest release. You also get the feeling that she means business, so whilst I’m not sure that people will flock to the service for the £19.99 package in order to hear her mystic and anything else on offer, she does seem to have fit the tone of the event.

Rihanna 6.5

Another beneficiary of the growing respectability of pop music, Rihanna’s audience seems to be widening. With loyal fans and loyal detractors (fine lines people!) seemingly eager to discuss her music when and where possible  it’s certainly plausible that consumers might be tempted by early releases but I’m skeptical about them caring about the sound quality enough to invest.

Usher- 6

This one really depends on which direction he takes on his next release. If it’s something more innovative and relatively different like ‘Climax’ or something vibesy and incredibly well-produced like the ‘Confessions’ album then this could go up to a 7. If however we get something that panders to popular EDM-type dance floors then it seems that there’s little argument to be had in favour of including Usher in an event promoting high-quality streaming  through an artist-friendly platform that also throws in stuff like in-depth interviews and ‘making-of’ content.

Time will tell how well Tidal fares in this competitive yet also sinking market. I can’t seem to shake the sense that this is best understood as an experiment rather than an enterprise that is certain to reap significant rewards although part of me is glad that the surrounding debate has manifested itself in some form of positive action. Also  why no Kendrick Lamar? I reckon he would have fit perfectly.