Featured: Top of Home Page

Indie Rock in Ads

A quick post, thoughts a bit scattered, so an apology up front. Amanda Marcotte recent wrote a post about advertising, interesting throughout. It touches on indie rock in ads, and whether or not this constitutes a problem. I agree with Marcotte that aesthetic enjoyment and emotional manipulation are not really all that different, and the role of money in the process is nothing new. I would argue that aesthetics and advertising are both about defining class markers, encouraging us to derive pleasure from expressing class in particular ways. Ads enrich our vocabulary for that, as does the cultural capital involved in elaborating a personal taste. When indie rock is used in ads, it exposes the kind of cultural capital now bound up with that music, how effortlessly it evokes a certain class position, and how products want to appropriate that.

I think she misdiagnoses why this bother people though:

The use of rock music in advertising has always been a point of contention, and I think the reason it gets so ugly and people get so bent out of shape about it is that we still believe that advertisers pick these songs because they have some scientifically demonstrable emotional pull that will make us helpless to resist the charms of the product. We want the experience of being emotionally manipulated, but we want it to be free of ulterior motives, which is as close to a definition of “art” as you get in our capitalist society.

I don't think that people get upset about advertisers manipulating them to buy things with irresistible songs. The problem, it seems to me, is that it makes the songs automatically signify something other than what the listener would have associated them with. Their emotions get shut out preemptively, and they fail to be manipulated. For instance, I can't listen to Feist at all anymore, because all I can think about when I hear her voice is iPods. It's annoying. The same is true for the band Phoenix; I sort of like it, but the music makes me think of commercials, and it ends up turning me off.

Pop music generally needs to be open for us to contextualize it in ways we enjoy; for me the associations with specific products impede that. It's not a problem that a song is "commercial" as long as it is only trying to sell itself, making itself available to us to market ourselves in some way of our own.

I don't blame bands for getting money however they can, but they shouldn't be surprised if some people dismiss them as jingle writers. Most listeners don't seem to care about that though. I wonder if the presence of a band's song in an ad doesn't authorize people to listen to the band, make the band seem more legitimate to them. That is the real danger, as far as I am concerned. The whole process reinforces the idea that advertising is a legitimizing force, an arbiter, an authoritative source for culture. For a good portion of the audience now, a marketing context for a song may actually enhance its listenability rather than impede it -- it may be a precondition. What products go with this song?

That's why I think Marcotte is wrong when she claims this about ads: "it’s not a lot different than other distribution methods" for music. It may that ads are actually more effective at making the music seem pre-endorsed, preapproved by society. It makes them more consumable, but in the specific way we enjoy ads as disposable yet flattering attempts to woo us.





'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.