Music turning into advertising

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    When the Rolling Stones accepted a $500,000 offer from Jovan Perfume in 1981, they became the first major rock group to tour under the flag of a major corporation.Five years later Kurtis Blow became the first hip-hop artist to appear in a commercial when he rapped for Sprite.

    Twenty years later, the line between sponsorship and advertising has grown even blurrier.

    According to the British Broadcasting Corp., McDonald’s has teamed with marketing firm Maven Strategies to encourage rappers to write “Big Mac” into their songs. The rapper can expect to earn up to $5 for each time said song is played on the radio.

    Eminem rapping about the great taste of a cheeseburger seems ridiculous, but it’s now entirely possible.

    At what point will musicians decide enough is enough? At what point does a musician decide the meaning of his or her song is more important than a check for $2 million and a marketing deal?

    Music is a huge part of any culture and people often hold strong emotional investments in particular songs. Songs remind us of ideals or beliefs. They can be a rally call for change.

    The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” a song about revolution and disillusionment in the 1960s, sells Nissan cars.

    I can’t listen to Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” without thinking of a Cadillac sports utility vehicle.

    Using a song to promote a product dilutes the original message and cheapens the song itself.

    Furthermore, the decision to lend their names to products cheapens the musicians. The fan can no longer regard the rock star as a beacon of hope, strictly adhering to what he believes in. Now he’s a sellout.

    While rock ‘n’ roll has always established itself as the voice of the counterculture, rap thrives on being a reflection of popular culture.

    Snoop Dogg has appeared in Chrysler commercials. R. Kelly rapped about the expensive wheels on his Bentley. Jay-Z let listeners know how great Hennessy tastes.

    Endorsements like these reduce rap to the equivalent of a one-page magazine ad: easy to produce, given a passing glance and quickly thrown away.

    According to Agenda Inc., a San Francisco-based consulting group that monitors the presence of brand names in the lyrics of songs on the Billboard Top 20 singles, 50 Cent mentioned 19 brands by name in 2005. Mercedes found its namesake mentioned 100 times that year, the most by any brand.

    In recent years, rappers have increasingly dropped their own product lines into songs, such as Pharrell and his Ice Cream shoes.

    Listen to any rap radio station today and you’re likely to hear just how fashionable it is to put jewelry on your teeth.

    Popular rap music has become an endless stream of advertisements toward an impressionable youth yearning to have the latest and greatest.

    With the help of MTV and huge radio-conglomerates, rap has become a celebration of a life of consumption.

    Some might argue there’s no harm in persuading a listener to buy a product.

    So what then if the AK-47 assault rifle was mentioned 33 times in 2005, according to Agenda Inc.?

    The times have changed immensely between “My Adidas” and “Pass the Courvoisier.”

    It would seem some rap artists no longer see their listeners as fans, but rather as a marketing demographic.

    I don’t consider popular rap to be music anymore; it’s materialism set to a beat. It’s a cheap vehicle for product placement: Buy these shoes, wear this shirt, drink this vodka and drive this car.

    Next time you listen to the radio, ask yourself: Does Nelly really love his Nike shoes, or is he just paid to say so?

    John-Laurent Tronche is a senior news-editorial major from Fort Worth.