lunes, 11 de enero de 2016

David Bowie is crossing the border; my inspiration to research about brands and music





David Bowie is crossing the border is a phrase I saw written in red neon lights at an exhibition about the artist at the Albert and Victoria Museum in 2013. The sign perfectly defined the career of an artist who has crossed borders in terms of musical styles, fashion, and sexual identity. Passionate about the performing arts, Bowie broke the mould and turned his performances into spectacles that stood out for their artistic values. Frith, Straw and Street defined him as the musician who was best able to transfer the attitudes of the highest realms of art to the lowest depths of commercial pop. According to these authors, Bowie was special for advertising for this reason:
"He was the first musician to appreciate the pop importance of artist as a brand, and he understood early on that brand identity (and brand loyalty) did not mean musical consistency: Bowie’s dramatic changes of musical style became one mark of his ‘Bowiness’ and in career terms one can see that his films/acting roles have been as carefully chosen as his stage personae (he is one of the few rock stars with credible acting credits)". 

Drawn to the fascinating career of this London born musician and driven to decode the connections between music and branding, I attended this exhibition about the first artist who became brand aware within the culture of the music industry. The exhibits showcasing David Bowie’s extravagant wardrobe were one of the major attractions of the event, and Gucci made the most of the opportunity to be linked to the values of the Thin White Duke by sponsoring the exhibition. The museum presented an audiovisual and multimedia proposal to exhibit the David Bowie archive for the first time ever. Upon entering the room, visitors had to don a pair of Sennheiser headphones (the second sponsor of the event), which turned your tour into an individual experience. The exhibition was divided into different areas based on the different periods of the artist’s career, with each spot playing the most characteristic song of that period. As “Space Oddity” started to play on my headphones, I became fascinated by an exhibit of the song lyrics written in Bowie’s very hand on a sheet of lined paper torn out of a spiral notebook. As he sang and I followed his handwritten “This is Ground Control to Major Tom” I realised that I was in the presence of was one of the most innovative symbols in popular culture, a star who has constantly reinvented himself for over five decades of his artistic career. I also became aware that I had been seduced by fetish.


David Bowie was “the master” of the music industry in 2013: he reappeared suddenly, with a good record, without any promotion, and collaborating with Arcade Fire on “Reflecktor”, one of the most eagerly-awaited musical releases of the year. Moreover, David Bowie made a music video for the luxury brand Louis Vuitton in the Christmas 2013 campaign. The chameleon of rock starred alongside the model Arizona Muse in a video that links Paris with a luxurious and outrageous masked ball in Baroque Venice. Louis Vuitton did simply play Bowie’s latest record, “I’d rather be high”, as the soundtrack to the advert; he actually invited the artist to perform in it. So, the musician got to promote his new song and Louis Vuitton became integrated into the audiovisual discourse of the video, absorbing the significances of the sophisticated rock star. This is an example of branded content, in order words, entertainment content produced by a brand for commercial purposes, where the boundary between music and advertising becomes blurred. 


The María Moliner Spanish language dictionary gives the figurative definition of a chameleon as a person with the ability to change attitude, adopting the most advantageous attitude in each case. The metaphor suits David Bowie’s career down to a tee, as it does, I feel, the world of advertising. Brands, like chameleons, adapt to the changes and difficulties of the media ecosystem; they do not wish to be rejected, and so they camouflage themselves into entertainment. To put it another way: Advertising is crossing the border, it has broken out of the boundaries imposed by traditional media and presents itself in the form of branded content: videos, performances, films, series, video games, television programs… The ubiquity of advertising in daily life and the importance people attribute to music together provide the rationale for an in-depth, critical study of the mechanisms of production, consumption and signification of messages that use music for a commercial purpose.

Advertising is crossing the border is the guiding premise behind my research career. David Bowie, I will never forget you. Rest in peace.

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