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for March 7, 2002

Celebrity Skin Thickener
by Sean Carolan

Let's not kid ourselves that there was a time when all records were created, released, and bought by an adoring public on the merit of the music they contained. Maybe there was such a time, but I'd wager it ended while Edison was alive. As long as record companies have had marketing departments that didn't include the guy that signed the bands or wrote the songs (an image of a twenty-something Ahmet Ertegun selling 45's out of his trunk should appear here) they've tried to sell those records any way they could.

Looks like they've finally hit paydirt, and it's a variation of the formula already popular in Japan, where Pink Lady is noted for their remarkable staying power. Like the Japanese idol-milling industry, hit records are marketed to an audience that buys them not because of any musical value, but because they are artifacts - pieces of the history of the celebrity whose smiling face adorns their cover.

At the risk of courting a sweeping and unfair generalization, people who buy Britney Spears records do so because they like the idea of Britney Spears -- the Britney Spears brand, if you will -- not because they like any of the music her records contain. (For "like", you can use either my five-year-old daughter's definition, "idolize", or the furtive fifty year old at the Wal-Mart's definition, "covet"; both are identical when they're counted up and slapped into a SoundScan chart.) They buy Christina Aguilera's records because it'll last longer than a read through the latest issue of People Magazine, or because it'll save them a seizure trying to accomodate the visage of Mary Hart.

(As an aside, here's a pop quiz: who was wearing less makeup at the Winter Olympics' closing ceremonies this year, Christina Aguilera or Kiss? Hint: from what I saw, it was the act with a combined age over 200. Maybe it was because of the cold...)

Record companies have finally grasped what People and Ms. Hart have known for a long time: Celebrities are not only disposable, they're an infinitely renewable resource. Strike one down and ten will take their place, each as dazzling as that which came before. This comes in handy for a record company when it's contract renegotiation time.

When their number comes up, these young divas' respective adoring publics won't be clinging to their cherished CDs filled with classic pop music; they'll be queueing up to adore someone else. Never fear, however, because there will always be a place for young divas who've passed their freshness dates...Tiffany's keeping their seat warm over at the Mansion.

©2002 Sean Carolan

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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