I don’t know where I was, but it was somewhere between the 32nd and 33rd iPod commercial on TV when two things finally hit me – “Vertigo” by U2 is perhaps the most annoying, god-awful song since Good Charlotte’s last single (whatever it was). Oh, and Bono is a complete whore. Fresh from a campaign to forgive third world debt, it seems he is intent on piling up the first-world debt, hawking his band’s stylish $349 custom iPod. Now even this could be forgiven if the song in question actually rocked (or in the case of U2, didn’t suck entirely), after all, they would be far from the first group to sellout. But alas, it’s the kind of easy-listening, ready-made pop jingle your four-year-old nephew would love, complete with meaningless lyrics and an attempt at Spanish poorer than a drunken freshman at Safari’s (“uno-dos-tres-catorce?”). It also has the distinction of being the only song to sound overplayed the first time you heard it – possibly since the melody is apparently lifted from a song by Diana Ross and the Supremes.
Of course, maybe I’m being a little too hard on them. After all, corporate executives and advertising firms have struggled for years with the problem of selling their products while finding a suitable classic rock song to desecrate in the process. And many times those classics haven’t easily lent themselves to selling Korean automobiles and household cleaning supplies, so their meanings are by necessity subverted. Consider Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” a powerful Vietnam-era antiwar statement, or so you thought. Since its normal lyrics could potentially hurt redneck – er, red state – business, the folks at Wrangler Jeans edited the song so as to say the quasi-patriotic “some folks are born made to wave the flag, ooh they’re red, white and blue,” deleting the all-important following lines “but it ain’t me, I ain’t no Senator’s son.” Yay America!
So in one sense, U2’s iPod advertisement is a godsend – it at least prevented another Rolling Stones or Clash song from being forever ruined. But in the larger picture, it signifies a growing willingness amongst artists to license their music to companies in hopes of greater exposure. It used to be that most musicians were extremely hesitant to sell their music to a company, not because they were all rabid anti-capitalists, but because it was seen as diminishing the work in question – an emotional song about love lost seems to lose a little something after its been used as bumper music to lead into an NBA halftime report. Of course, things change over time, and nowadays artists can be seen everywhere selling everything from fragrances to something called “crunk juice” without so much as a whimper from their fan base. Bob Dylan once joked that if he ever did allow a company to use his music, it would only be for women’s undergarments, and to his credit he held firm to this. He appeared in a Victoria’s Secret commercial last year.
So is it only a matter of time before the DJ on the radio starts playing that “hot new Home Depot joint” and the Tonight Show features “the Time Warner Cable DSL-Killaz” (“yo we got what ya need, twice the download speed”), or can music be saved? Keep in mind that bad music existed well before commercialization, and with today’s technologies we are no longer slaves to the radio station and record labels. While there will always be plenty of bands content in destroying their music through an orgy of corporate whoring and bland overproduction, there will be no shortage of capable artists willing to forego the sponsorships and MTV for the sake of real, quality music. Then again I could be wrong, in which case, enjoy your new “Safe Driver’s Save More” album, brought to you by Progressive Auto Insurance.