As Kayne West's epic PR stunt fail earlier this month proves, the days of grand pop star gestures are over. This is not necessarily a bad thing
Readers outside of London may well have missed it, but... OK, scratch that: readers who do live in London, but have a post code beginning with something other than E5 probably didn’t notice either. I’m talking, obviously – or, as it were, not-so-obviously – about Kanye West’s publicity stunt for his and Jay-Z’s ‘Niggas In Paris’ video. This involved him, or rather some people who weren’t him, beaming the not-great live-footage clip onto a beige wall in Shoreditch, in broad daylight, as the track itself got drowned out by the light jazz being played in Pie Minister down the road. The icing on the cake was the cursor moving across the projected image, as whoever it was tried to cue it up again.
The 200-or-so present let him finish, but by the end it was clear: Kanye was responsible for one of the dampest squibs of all time. Disappointing, particularly from a guy whose entire raison d’etre for the last five years has been drawing attention to himself. I was at the launch party for ‘Watch The Throne’ (from which ‘Niggas In Paris’ is taken) at the Planetarium in New York last summer, and let me tell you: THAT, with it’s oceans of free booze, glamorous attendees and ridiculous setting, was a publicity stunt. But then, that was also invite only, behind closed doors. Anyone with a budget can do that. More difficult is what Kanye attempted here, ie a traffic-stopping Beatles-on-the-roof-of-the-Apple-building, Michael-Jackson-statue-down-the-Thames-type affair. Word from some of his people (or his people’s people’s people) was that it was “guerrilla”, that he hadn’t asked anyone’s permission, that he was hoping the police would come and shut it down.
But they didn’t. Like everyone else, they just shrugged and moved on. Why this situation occurred is: once people had gotten wind of the fact that “something” was going to happen at the beginning of the day, Twitter went mental with hoax ideas of what exactly “something” was. And thus when it became apparent that “something” was in fact not anywhere near as good as any of the stuff that people had dreamt up, it seemed like an anti-climax. Really though, even if Kanye had shown up wearing a fake beard and a projector and shone the bloody video himself, that wouldn’t have been as good as most of the suggestions, either. So the fuck-up wasn’t the shiteness of the stunt, but in fact the letting slip too early that there was a stunt happening at all. Because the few column inches that did result from this occasion were mostly discussing what didn’t happen, or rather what was happening online prior to it.
And if Kanye West in 2012 – bar Gaga, probably the most outlandish popstar on the planet – can't do it, you think, will it ever again be possible for anyone to ever pull off an old school, outdoors, grand gesture promo stunt? And should anyone even bother trying in this day and age? Kanye's Twitter account is basically a cost effective 24-7 promo machine anyway, and the constant flow of tweets from and about him and other stars has anesthetized us to occasions such as the one described above, and in fact any pop star antics. Example: can you remember when Rihanna was pictured on the tube at the end of last year? Just about. She was the third major league popstar pictured on London transport that month. Remember who the other two were? No? Exactly!
Think about when Jacko DID float that statue down the Thames way back in 1995. It happened because someone had asked him how he’d like to promote his 'HIStory' album, and he had replied, “Build a statue of me.” Nowadays, minutes after he said it, someone would have told someone, and then there would be rumours all over Twitter, that would then be vastly expanded upon (“It’s gonna moonwalk!’). Then sly cameraphone photos of it being constructed would come. Next, the thing it appears, and people are going, “Is that IT!? It looks like it’s made of fibreglass! It IS made of fibreglass? I heard it was going to be solid gold! What a load of absolute rubbish!” And then the newspaper reports would come: reporting on how it wasn’t as good as Twitter had said it was going to be.
Obviously on the one hand this is good, because it levels the playing field and all that, and means some shitkicker indie band have as much chance of stirring things up as rap's MVP. I’m not one for wallowing in nostalgia, but it does make me a bit sad thinking back to being a kid and everyone rushing to the nearest telly to get a glimpses of a crazy statue of a pop star floating down a river, and having live news commentary on it, and how that’s never going to happen again. Music is fine in digital format. But publicity stunts were much more fun when they were physical.