Rebrand U2? Ask Jigga
SOMETIME this month, your favourite pop act will take a break from hectic festive shopping and singing schedules to review the year. While this activity may entail some pensive gazing, it will probably also involve sitting down with a bean-counter and doing the sums.
The financial bottom line doesn’t necessarily tell you everything about the rude health of your favourite pop act. In 2006, it’s as much about the brand as the bank balance, and assessing how your band shapes up in this regard can be quite revealing.
For instance, look at U2. Here’s a band with the financial wherewithal to afford all the stetsons in the world. But the relatively poor chart showing of their U218 cash-in compilation suggests that next year’s new album had better be a vintage one and not another dud like How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Producer Rick Rubin may have his work cut out.
It’s a long time since U2 were beaten in a Top 100 dust-up by a boyband, The Beatles and a Beatles tribute act. Even the duet with Green Day, a brand-extension exercise if ever there was one, was not enough to change public perception about brand U2.
You can see this in the fact that the fans who camped out all night to get their hands on U218 are the same ones who always camp out. They’ve kept the faith since The Joshua Tree, and their reward is to get their mugshots in the papers. The band’s real views on this would be interesting to know. After all, the idea of camping out all night to get your hands on a CD is probably a ludicrous notion to the new, younger fans U2 are keen to court.
For lessons in how to tend the brand, U2 should look to Jay-Z. Indeed, Bono’s gormless video insert screened at Jigga’s Dublin gig in September would show that the Irishman already knows who’s the big cheese in this contest. The recently unretired rapper strolled effortlessly to the No 1 slot in the US with a hefty 680,000 sales for his Kingdom Come album in one week. Now, that’s a lot of pickle.
It has not been a fantastic year for hip-hop. Too much bling and bravado and not enough bangers and brilliance means there’s a growing swell of substance to back up the arguments of the doommongers. Hotly tipped acts like Rhymefest failed to ignite, while one Lupe Fiasco doesn’t make for a revolution. The Game and assorted G-Unit grunts continue to star in their very own soap operas, but that has only limited box office appeal. Dre’s long overdue Detox album? We may see Axl Rose on the cover of Chinese Democracy before that one arrives.
P Diddy’s return to the rap colessium with Press Play may have been well flagged in advance, yet the Diddyman will be relying on sales of Sean John threads to pay his credit card bills this Yule. Money might be able to buy you all the best producers in the world to work on your comeback album, but money won’t buy you love from the masses – or a decent cash flow.
Jay-Z may have fretted on wax before about having 99 problems, but keeping his brand on point was never one of them. The so-called “Flash Gordon of recordin’” actually became a bigger brand when he was off the boards, and that’s in spite of working with Linkin Park and Chris Martin. He probably accumulated more buzz by becoming Def Jam prez and Beyoncé’s beau than by dropping such lines as “I’ve got money stacks bigger than you”.
Of course, it helps that Kingdom Come is a pretty good record. It’s no The Blueprint, sure, but it’s no Collision Course either. The sound of hip-hop’s only thirtysomething superhero measuring up to the new kids on the block, Kingdom Come is proof that you don’t have to pretend you live the hard knock life to score a hip-hop slamdunk. Jay-Z doesn’t have to front that game any more. Other pop acts, please note. firstname.lastname@example.org