Yesterday the queen of pop, Ms. Britney Spears debuted the music video for her latest dub-step-inspired hit “Hold It Against Me”. Perhaps the most electronically-driven single Spears has ever released, HIAM buzzed for a long time before it dropped, thanks to a string of teaser videos and a seemingly endless Twitter campaign. And, while marketing and promotion of this single were one of the more creative moves by Spears’ camp as of late, the video itself has been met with the level of criticism usually reserved for the performer’s past antics.
Mere minutes after HIAM’s release, blogs, media outlets and musical tastemakers around the world slammed Britney for the blatant use of endorsements featured in the video. And sure–there’s no arguing against it–the placements are pretty bold. However it seems to me that everyone is missing the oh-so-obvious point behind HIAM.
In 4:29, Spears plugs a makeup line (Makeup Forever Cosmetics), Sony, her new perfume Radiance, and even an online dating service while viewers follow a making-the-video-style storyline. You see her prepping, (hence the makeup and perfume) and shakin’ it for the cameras, but that’s only half the treatment.
When she isn’t strutting her stuff on the ‘set’, Spears is perched atop a moving platform surrounded by a slew of electronics. Microphones, cameras, computers and televisions create a towering cage around her, and the platform she rest upon raises higher and higher during each chorus. Videos of past smashes like “Baby One More Time” and “Sometimes” play in the background chronicling her raise to super-stardom and she sings happily to the camera all the while. It’s a subtle hint to the media-frenzy that she’s become so well-known for (you can almost make out the infamous head-shaving picture in one shot) and if I had to get analytical, the fact that she’s draped in a white gown suggests her innocence in all the shenanigans.
This isn’t the first time Britney’s chosen a thought provoking video treatment either. In 2009 her single “If You Seek Amy” caused quite a controversy thanks to some clever wordplay, and the music video that accompanied, nodded subtly towards the press’ knack for fabricating a glossy ‘truth’. HIAM has that same media-centric vibe, but it’s a little different.
When the heavy dub-step bridge drops, our virginal Britney-in-white unleashes her artistic side and sprays the media tower around her with various shades of neon paint. Simultaneously you see her fight herself in a good-against-evil style brawl. It’s as if she’s attacking everything the media has built around her over the years, but whether or not she wins is a mystery because the “good” Britney is never clearly identified and the video ends with a big fat question mark in the middle of the screen.
That’s my take. And who knows? Only director Jonas Akerlund could explain everything as it was meant to be interpreted, but the message fans should take away from HIAM is much more than ‘buy this product’. And, it’s also more than a convaluted thumbs down to the press. HIAM is a perfect example of the changes the music industry has been forced to face over the last ten years. It’s no secret record sales are down. Labels are folding left and right, and budgets are basically non-existent…unless you’re oh, say Britney Spears.
The fact of the matter is that even pop stars as bright as Britney feed off the extra cash marketing brings in. And what’s more is they don’t often have final say over business and branding partnerships. Avril Lavigne’s latest music video, “What the Hell” plugs (admittedly much more subtly than most) the latest in Sony Ericson digital cameras, and the GaGa/Beyonce smash, “Telephone” featured products like Virgin Mobile and even Miracle Whip. Music lovers everywhere see useless ads for random products, while music executives everywhere see instant dollar signs.
So, next time something seems out of place in your favorite music video it’s because it probably is. Organically music videos seem like the last sensical outlet for product placement, but in this day and age, anything goes and recouping costs is the bottom line. HIAM was not the first and it certainly won’t be the last video to feature retail products. If you’re opposed to shamless placements maybe you should buy more physical albums, go to more shows, and find other ways to support the label that supports your favortie artist. Otherwise get over it.
Find an interesting article about product placement in music videos here.