Tag Archives: Music

Just an illusion – a marketing lesson from pop.

Bloggers are always writing about Lady Gaga and when I see the headline “Why Gaga is a marketing genius” or “How to  use social media like Gaga” I put my hands over my ears to block out the sound of  bandwagons rolling by.

But look – I confess – I have written about Gaga – it was a couple of years ago now, but I wrote the post because I was and still am a huge fan and am in awe of her genius. So with apologies all done I am going to do it again!

Gaga did a show at the Radio 1 festival in Carlisle at the weekend and I watched it go out live on BBC3. It was terrific of course, but quite self-indulgent in parts – with the big hits knocked off in a breathless medley at the start to make time for a much slower section in which she played jazz and latin and bashed about on the piano.

How do you sell that?

You sell it by calling on the relationship you have with your audience. Sat at the piano she was unapologetic – “my record company didn’t want me to play this” she says “but I’m going to anyway.”

Oh Gaga really? Just for us? Because you want us to hear it and you know best and you want to share this moment with us?

That’s right. She drew the audience into her confidence and allowed everyone to play hooky from the record company together. In an interview with her later, I read that she likes to mix things up a little at festivals and go with the vibe.

Do you know what? I don’t believe a single word of it – I think every note was planned in advance – she’d been there since 9 in the morning to make sure that it was all perfect but I was still charmed by the illusion that we were all in it together, just making it up as we went along.

So there you have it – the genius of Gaga – making her audience feel involved. It was like we were getting the good stuff, the stuff she keeps at the back of the cupboard for especially good friends – the best deal in the show room – the diamond studded real thing and not the plastic version.

To fall for it is human nature. As someone said on the radio this morning, we like to think we are rational beings but we are actually governed by our need for human relationships.

Take a lesson and apply.

Waterloo,one mad Abba song.

Waterloo by Abba, what a totally preposterous song ! Has it ever struck you how bizarre the lyrics are ?

We’re doing it in three-part harmony at Rock Choir which is tragic  I know, but cheaper than therapy. As a result the song’s lyrics are going round and round in my head.

Don’t get me wrong. I love it and always have done ever since it won the Eurovision Song Contest in April 1974. I felt personally responsible for Abba’s success as I come from near Brighton where the contest was held and when you are 7 that is enough.

When I hear the intro it still makes me reach for the nearest tennis racket/microphone substitute. But the lyrics? They are a touch barking.

‘My my at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender’.

Well yes and no really. If you’re going to write a pop songs about historical battles you might be allowed a little artistic licence but for the pedants even now typing into Wikipedia, Napoleon did not surrender until he got to Rochefort on the French Atlantic Coast four weeks after the battle of Waterloo.

‘Oh yeh and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way.’

Quite similar ? Not that similar at all really unless you count the loss of 30,000 French troops as in some way similar to deciding to go out with someone.

It goes on to talk about The history book on the shelf, which according to one young lady writing on the internet, is in fact The Bible. I think I may have to let her know that Waterloo is no more a Christian song than it is a Marxist one. ‘The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself, first as tragedy, second as farce’ as Karl Marx so very nearly said.

They persist with the Waterloo analogy throughout the song, ending up i to love the eponymous battle site for ever more. Or is it the guy they are promising to love. Either way it didn’t work out too well for the lovely blonde Swedes in that department did it ?

For the record, Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus continued to write bonkers lyrics to the end of their glittering career. The final studio album in 1981 included the song ‘When All is Said and Done’ which has the lines:-

‘In our lives we have walked some strange and lonely treks

Slightly worn but dignified and not too old for sex’.

Thanks guys, lovely as you are, I really didn’t need to know that.

This was one in an occasional series on Music, What Lies Behind the Songs. See also; The Don’t Stop Believin’ Story http://wp.me/pHqcg-2m


Don’t Stop Believin’. The backstory.

When I am not blogging about social media, journalism and PR I am obsessing about music.

Never more so than this week when the same song hit the UK top ten not once but twice.  ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ is at number 5 and 6 on the chart sung by the cast of teen show Glee and the MOR band Journey who released the original in 1981. Think blokes with a big song and big hair.

The question is why ?

I have been around long enough to know that the Zeitgeist is rarely as mystical as we think. Co-incidences usually have an explanation, the Freakonmics guys have taught me that. So rather than let it eat away at me I have been doing some digging and this I what I found.

Don’t Stop Believin’ is not an obscure song. We may not know it well in the UK but in the States it has been a karaoke staple for years. In fact it has become something of a show-closer with many a dance or prom ending with  Journey as the big home-time finale. Here, we are more likely to revive quirky oldies like ‘Show me the way to Amarillo’ but in the States this Journey song is nostalgia on a plate.

So with this in mind we move to the next step on our ‘Journey’ (sorry.) The song was used in the final scene of the Sopranos (2007), a show that takes  irony  seriously.* Tony Soprano was always an ordinary Joe with family worries as well as a mafia boss. As we see him for the last time, eating in a restaurant with his family, we are reminded again of the clash  between the dark nihilistic world of mafia hits and the hopeful positive world of Journey where we must never stop believing (that it’s going to be ok). A suspicious guy glances at Tony and goes in back to the bathroom. The slam to black at the end says it all.

Now our road splits in two as Glee and American Idol come on the scene. One is a high school spoof, the song is at the centre of its pilot episode. The other is a TV singing contest. The cast sing Don’t Stop Believin’ as the finale of their live show.

Enter Simon Cowell, American  Idol judge and man behind the UK’s massive X Factor. He took the song with him to X Factor and gave it (via Cheryl Cole) to Joe McElderry, who incidentally, went on to win the show. Simon Cowell said at the time that the song was little known. What he meant was little known in this country.

Kids here with unprecedented access to music via computer then began downloading  the original having enjoyed Geordie Joe’s version and it was a hit before Christmas. I heard that  Joe’s people wanted to release his version but weren’t allowed. something to do with Glee ?

This January Glee premiered in the UK amid a huge amount of hype and the High School version of Don’t Stop joined the original in the top ten. (Presumably bought by kids for whom big hair on a man is still a step too far.)

And there you have it. The anatomy of a phenomenon.  If you have any more insights I don’t claim this as the definitive version and would love to hear from you .

* Journey’s keyboard player, Jonathan Cain, doesn’t credit “Sopranos” creator David Chase with the revival. He credits Adam Sandler who has a brush with the song in 1998’s “The Wedding Singer.”