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The Weezer Brand: Sold Out and Selling Up?

October 8, 2010

No matter what you say about Weezer, you can’t deny they’re a pretty interesting musical talking point in this new media age. Only last month they released their first record since splitting with Interscope. The name of the album…. Hurley. Blazoned with the face of Hurley, the rotund chap from TV series Lost.  It’s since transpired that the album isn’t in fact titled after this character after all, rather it’s a thank-you to sports brand ‘Hurley International’ which specialises in skate and surf gear, is owned by Nike and which helped co-fund some of the production of the record.

Hmmmm? What to make of this? A lot gets said prior to record releases and any kind of talk about your band, let alone a band that have now been going the best part of two decades has got to be good talk. But this in itself is what makes Weezer such an attractive proposition in music these days. They may be older than your average band of similar power-pop ilk, but I haven’t listened to them since the days of the Blue Album and now, due to all this ‘chat’, they’re back on my radar. Only the other day I found my self sauntering down to the green grocers, cheerily mimicking the motion of stick on snare as the band’s 1996 album Pinkerton blared deep into my head. I forgot how good they were at what they do.

A lot of tumult has come out of the fact that a brand has helped fund this rock album. This isn’t just a case of ‘a commercial used our song to sell toothpaste’, this is a brand tuning the guitars and paying for the studio time. Rock and Roll has never sat well with the notion of ‘selling out’; it’s a fundamental antithesis. But I think there is still something to be said in Brand Weezer’s defence.

It might leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths, but then I’m sure they still buy toothpaste at the end of the day. Let us not forget, this is still a Weezer record, even if it did have help in some small way from Mr Nike. You could say the same of 2008 film Somers Town – a brilliantly realised Shane Meadows film that was unashamedly part-financed by EuroStar.

Lady Gaga showed in her seminal video for Telephone that there is much scope for artists to play with brands in a way that hasn’t been done before.  Particularly artists who are already stars and already established. Weezer have earned their place and have tilled the industry field for years whilst signed to a major label. Why shouldn’t they be able to dick around with the emotional assets of big companies if it means being able to hear new music?

In parallel, it is funny to see the contrast with the European festival-scene that has grown so rapidly in the last 10years. At the beginning of the noughties, Naomi Klein made a good case for caution when in came to rock’s elite and aspiring neophytes basking in the stage lights of commercially minded, mass-branded festivals. Now we can point to the likes of the Vfesitval and even say ‘look, that’s where The Liberational Front for Independence and Artistic Credibility in Music’ (or Radiohead as you may otherwise know them) played in 2006.  Where’s the outcry now? Now it suddenly seems ok for brands to get in on this act. Simialrly, a lot of us have had to swallow our earlier vitriol and admit that “Yes, I do own several iPods, and yes, I do find it easier buying most of my music from that huge business synergy, Apple”.  Think about how you consume music now. What would your 2000-self think of your modern behaviour?

Reported in the guardian yesterday was an article about a guy in the States who is aiming to raise $10m to convince Weezer to pack it in and stop “disappointing” fans. So far, a pitiful amount has been banked for this campaign, but this in itself strikes me as another interesting angle on the Weezer brand strategy machine. Given their mischievous histroy with the web, I’d be surprised if this campaign wasn’t started by the band themselves.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/oct/07/weezer-offered-10m-split-up

Weezer are old in rock n roll terms, but they’re still interesting in 2010. They play simple catchy pop, but they play it well. Similarly, they’re entertaining personalities. Only last month they took over Youtube and partnered with the platforms bedroom celebrities who have become over night viral sensations. Given the music they make, this makes them interesting to me. Call it it Hurley, call it Post-Modern, it’s still a story, and I’m once again reaching for my iPod to hear Pinkerton one more time.

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