Forever (8/28/08)

Folks, there is a problem with popular music these days. And no, I’m not referring to The Jonas Brothers, Katy Perry (“I Kissed a Girl”), American Idol, or whether the Pussycat Dolls are saying “groupies” or “boobies.” No, I’m talking about something far more sinister at hand (in fact, I kinda think American Idol is good for music). I am (as you may have guessed from the title of the piece) referring to Chris Brown’s song “Forever.”

When I first heard the song, I immediately thought of the old Doublemint Gum commercials (“Double your pleasure, double your fun”), but I brushed it aside as mere coincidence. Once I got over that association, I will admit, I kinda liked the song. It’s danceable, it has a nice beat (thanks to Polow da Don, who also produced several other recent hits), it’s sung ably, and, well, it’s catchy. I could say a lot worse about most other popular songs of the modern era.

So what’s the problem? The problem is what I saw today:

It turns out that Wrigley (the makers of Doublemint Gum) paid Chris Brown and Polow da Don to put together the song. Now, people will associate the hit song with their product. To put it another way: the song is an extended version of their commercial.

In their defense, I do realize that commercialism drives American capitalism. There is product placement on a massive scale in TV shows and movies. Furthermore, I also realize that the music industry is looking for new ways to make money, given slumping album sales and rampant file sharing. I’m sure Chris Brown is thinking that maybe song-sponsorship is the answer to this.

It’s not. Crass commercialism is never the answer. Songs should be personal, poetic, and reach out to people. The lyrics should connect to people on some sort of level (at least that’s what they did in the 60s and 70s). Great music does just that. Click on someone’s facebook profile and odds are you’ll read an excerpt from a song; that song had meaning to them. I don’t want songs written about Doritos, Underarmour or Geico. Yes, “Forever” isn’t written about gum, but the fact that Wrigley paid for the song says enough.

But here’s the worst part about it: this sets an awful precedent. Other artists will see the deal that Chris Brown made and make similar deals. Other companies will see the association of a hit song with a product and make similar offers to other artists. Struggling musicians will now be more tempted than ever to shell out their services to corporate stooges instead of making personal songs that connect with people. Hey, if they get paid, who can blame them?

But there is something we can do. We can say enough. We can tell the world that we will not put up with such crass commercialism. If we can send the message to Wrigley that their campaign didn’t work, it will stop other companies from doing so. How do we do that? Stop buying Wrigley products. Boycott Wrigley. It’s the only way to tell the world that we will not put up with this. We can draw a line in the sand in the face of commercialism. It ends now. Boycott Wrigley.