Inside the M.I.A. Versus Gaga Battle: Why Artists Need Product Placement for Revenue
By Jason Newman Posted Apr 12th 2010 12:50PM
In a recent interview with UK music magazine NME, British rapper/singer/provocateur M.I.A. went off on Gaga saying, "Are they even interested in making money from music anymore? Lady Gaga plugs 15 things in her new video. Dude, she even plugs a burger!" So is this an overblown media hype war perpetrated by two artists not exactly known from shying away from publicity or genuine concern by the political and outspoken singer?
That's where it gets tricky. In her nine-minute long video for 'Telephone,' companies like Virgin Mobile, Miracle Whip and PlentyofFish.com all make prominent appearances, leading to the dreaded "sellout" accusation against Gaga. But as Advertising Age points out, only some of these companies were actual paid appearances versus Gaga's preferences. (Newser.com has a quick rundown of paid versus unpaid products.)
Still, it's hard to watch 'Telephone,' whether the sponsors are paid for or not, and not feel like you're seeing a string of giant billboards. Product placement may be a necessary evil in certain situations, but when it's at the expense of, and overwhelms, the creative endeavor, there's a level of disingenuousness that can't be combated with all the cigarette sunglasses and lobster hats in the world. When OK Go accepted money from State Farm insurance for their mind-boggling, Rube Goldberg video 'This Too Shall Pass,' they never hid the fact that State Farm was on as a sponsor. More importantly, though, aside from a brief mention in the beginning (via a truck with the company's logo) and the end, the company wisely chose to let the band determine the creative vision of the video. The difference is far from semantical.
But the idea of "selling out" is drastically different than even ten years ago, when indie bands would be derided at the slightest idea of corporate acquiescence. When the Georgia-based indie pop band Of Montreal allowed their song 'Wraith Pinned to the Mist (and Other Games)' to be re-worked for an Outback commercial in 2007, the Internet greeted the news with a collective shrug and laugh rather than the vitriolic anger the band may have received ten or twenty years prior.
As for the M.I.A./Gaga beef itself, it's helpful to know the senders of the message. NME, which combines the music news of Rolling Stone with the celebrity gossip of OK!, revels in hyperbole and stoking the fires between artists (who did you think was responsible for the Oasis vs. Blur feud in the mid-90s?). And while we'll give them the benefit of the doubt that these quotes are accurate, it's easy to see M.I.A. blithely tossing off some of these statements and an (over)eager NME reporter rushing back to their desk with a new "scoop" to drive sales and Web traffic for another week.
Moreover, as Pitchfork astutely pointed out, Gaga and M.I.A. are both signed to Interscope Records. In 2007, Kanye West's 'Graduation' and 50 Cent's 'Curtis' were released on the same day by Universal Music Group subsidiaries Roc-A-Fella/Island Def Jam and Interscope, respectively, leading to an escalating friendly competition between the two rappers. (The winner? Kanye. The real winner? Universal Music Group.)
Both M.I.A. and Gaga have never been ones to back down from a fight, so it's doubtful we've heard the last of this story.
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