Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Pop Music, Advertising, and the Saving Grace of Irony

I don't know what it is that so abrades me about companies repurposing popular music into their advertising. When a commercial with a song I like comes on, I can literally feel my blood pressure rise as I hurl profanities at the TV in dialogue generally reserved for bad umpires. To my chagrin the TV is indefatigably stoic, refusing to even acknowledge, let alone engage me in emotional banter. Let me tell you friend, that Hitachi is one cold blooded mother fucker.

Brown goes Postal in the latest run of UPS ads.

I suppose I feel that, at a minimum, using pop songs—good pop songs—in commercials debases the art. Which is to say that I could give a shit if they use a Carrie Underwood song to sell tampons or rechargeable drills or Crystal Lite drink mix—have at it. That’s not art, it’s Pop Rocks.

But when they use the Ramones or Johnny Cash or Modern English even, well, that there is straight-up aggression on my personal aesthetic sensibilities. Especially when it catches me by surprise.

I was at a somewhat bland party a couple years ago and I earnestly mentioned to the host that the music they had on was good. And when I say good, I mean OK/good—definitely not great or even above average/good—I was expecting Celine Dion and was pretty happy when I didn’t have to throw myself off their balcony at the sounds of her shrill saccharine. Anyway, the host was quite proud that I’d noticed the music and even more proud to let me know that all the songs came from a mix he’d found on iTunes called “Songs from Commercials.” Suffice it to say that I had a new reason to not venture to the second floor for the rest of the night.

I should interject here that I know and acknowledge that there are lots of people out there who actually LIKE hearing their favorite songs in commercials.

Who actually LIKE hearing the soundtrack of their deflowering being played while they contemplate, oh, I dunno, the number of cup holders in that new SUV they’ve been eyeing.

People who actually LIKE being manipulated and having their emotional connection to a time, place, people and song switched and co-opted into objectified consumerist impulses.

All I can say is that these people are very wrong. And disturbed. And wrong.

The only thing that keeps me sane on this whole thing is what I believe to be the unintentional irony of many of these spots. Secretly, I hope there’s some clever subversive working at each ad agency who insures that holier-than-thou music snobs like myself will be able to poke holes in this shit.

I have to say I was fairly sickened by the American Association of Retired Persons' recent misappropriation of the Buzzcocks' “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” for their latest spot. While the commercial tries to convey a hip and happy take on aging and retirement, the song itself is really a sarcastic and quite UNhappy commentary, the fullness of which is evident when you actually listen to the lyrics and best summed up in the line “life’s an illusion, love is a dream.”

Or perhaps it’s not ironic at all. Most old people I know seem preoccupied with healthcare costs and incontinence and memory loss and hearing loss. What? HEARING LOSS! So perhaps the unhappy original intent of “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” is relevant to the real, unglamorized, arthritis-riddled, rank-and-file AARP member, and not so much for the fountain-of-youthers in their commercials.

I saw another commercial last night that was ironic in a different sort of way. UPS has launched a series of spots themed “Whiteboard” that feature a trying-to-hard-to-be-hipster-business-guy doodling all this shit on the wall about shipping logistics. The spot culminates with him connecting the doodles to make the UPS logo (pictured above). So very clever.

The music playing in the background? A song called “Such Great Heights.”

The band? The Postal Service.


Anonymous said...

Right on, Don.

I sometimes wonder if ad agencies are being subversive when they suggest certain tunes to their clients. Some of my favorite examples (aside from the Buzzcocks' track referenced in your post):

Iggy Pop - Lust For Life in Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. The song's basically about getting fucked up "with the liqour and drugs".

Before they hit bit, McDonalds had The Shins' New Slang in a spot. Thankfully for Mickey D's, the line about "the dirt in your fries" was not part of the spot.


Anonymous said...

Mercedes used that Janis Joplin song Mercedes Benz in their commercial years ago. I might have been offended if I could ever stand her music. She was so obviously sarcastic in singing about the car. Though I did hear she drove a Porsche. I hate hippies.

Dongoose said...

I forgot about that 'Lust for Life' commercial...and 'Meredes Benz' for that matter. And the Shins thing is funny!

Are there any real hippies left #2?