The glamour of award show season, the record breaking hits, the timeless songs that form the soundtracks to our lives - whether we like it or not, music and the music industry has always had an impact on society and trickled into our behaviours.

Away from the business of music, we feel there’s something pure about its essence, perhaps it’s man’s closest invention to a time machine; immediately bringing back vivid memories of a time, period or a person. Music creates an everlasting emotional connection whether that be excitement, pain or nostalgia.  No matter what, there’s an artist for every moment in time or mood in life.

For the marketing industry working with an artist can help a brand to reach a broader demographic that may not have otherwise been exposed to it. Their star power and ability to grab the attention is precisely why brands spend millions to align with our favourite music artists.  In 2022, influencer marketing exceeded a total value of $16.4 billion globally according to Influencer Marketing Hub, with music partnerships being a significant portion of that sum.

Artists are also usually naturally very creative, with unique personalities and a tone of voice that if matched with a brand correctly, can create marketing heaven… but if mismatched can leave a brand in expensive purgatory.

Despite the power of artists, perhaps what’s been most shocking to witness, especially in recent years, is the tumultuous fall of music icons; the ethereal nature of these human beings we call celebrities, divas or musicians means their fall from grace is often stark and memorable - for all the wrong reasons.  And when they are brought down to earth through stories breaking on our phones it really breaks the fantasy of who these deity-like beings are and brings them back to our reality.

Some put it down to the ruthless nature of the Hollywood machine, where it feels like musicians and their fans, particularly in the social media era, are very much on a ticking time bomb thrusted into a room filled with attention, volatility and cancel culture. 

Everything is hyper analysed. Every photo, every tweet, every interaction - surely it's a recipe for disaster?  So why do brands risk constantly tapping into music celebrity partnerships for their products in what should be considered a dangerous environment?

Brands do it because of the allure of association.  Music celebrities themselves can be considered as brands in their own right, giving consumer brands clout, credibility and usually the support of cult-like fans who look at these partnerships optimistically when they go well but will be quick to call them out if they don’t.

Take the iconic Rihanna as an example.  Her groundbreaking Fenty Beauty line and clothing brand powered by LVMH came at a perfect time addressing representation of diverse groups in beauty - and arguably she’s changed the entire beauty game.  She recently also released a lingerie capsule for new mothers, which highlights her authenticity with her pregnancy and beautiful showing of her motherhood journey.

We’ve even seen some unexpected musician and brand partnerships in novel entertainment fields such as gaming. Take Call of Duty’s Nicki Minaj voiceover that filled gamers and Hip Hop fans with fascination creating an interesting cross synergy and notable moment in culture.

Another unexpected music-brand collaboration that has now become a staple of our time is the deliciously catchy Just Eat jingle originally performed by rap icon Snoop Dogg, who performed a custom track about all the food options on the delivery platforms. He’s rumoured to have been paid over $5m for his association, which shows music-brand collabs are no cheap exploit but also shows when executed correctly, with the right musician, they can be a worthy investment for brands.

On the other side of the coin, we have Travis Scott, a global icon with a cult following who’s brand partnerships with McDonald’s, Fortnite, and Nike broke boundaries and showed how a versatile a music influencer can be across multiple industries such as food, tech, and retail. 

His Cactus Jack branded McDonald’s Happy meal collaboration had fans rushing to McDonald's chains globally and trending online to be the first to try the new product showing his influence. His 2020 Fortnite virtual concert pushed the game to the mainstream and showed fans a new experience at a time where the pandemic had starved fans of the live experience and his Nike Air Jordan collaboration knows no limit to success with drops of his sneakers constantly selling out within seconds. 

However, when disaster struck at his Astroworld concert, where nine fans unfortunately died in a crush, and where he was accused of not stopping the concert soon enough, we saw just how dangerous it is for a brand to be associated with artists and their unpredictable lifestyles.

A more recent example of this most recent example of Lizzo’s social media controversies highlights the delicacy of the situation.  Literally days ago heralded as the model music influencer for brands: charismatic, larger than life personality, with body positive messaging women could really relate to, she’s now rumoured to have been dropped from the Super Bowl after a spew of negative press stories, around allegations about how she treats her dancers, went viral this month.

This problem can be expensive for brands, Adidas saw over $1 billion of their inventory unsold when they temporarily parted ways with controversial rapper Kanye West after dropping him for making antisemitic comments earlier this year.

This problem is of course not exclusive just to music influencers but affects celebrity partnerships as a whole. When artists go through scandal it hurts because fans feel like they know the artist through their songs and the situations they've gone through.  In reality, there is a paradox of authenticity here.  Most pop music in the charts isn’t actually written by the artist singing them and most of us can’t relate to the exclusive lifestyles of the musicians we obsess over - so why are they best placed to recommend us the right products to use?

Some music celebs embrace the chaos like popular LGBT+ rapper Lil Nas X, who brands can’t get enough of, but is often controversial with his raunchy music videos and carefree approach which would teeter on the edge for most brands.  Others, such as Billie Eilish were inevitably destined for success, if we’re measuring on just talent alone, and have used their voice to speak up on issues young people may be facing, which can be attractive for brands.

The next generation of consumers from Gen Z and Gen Alpha are suspicious of brands, hyper exposed and hold their icons to very high standards. Some of you may remember the trend of Gen Z fans cancelling celebs for their private jet usage and their carbon emission.  Ironically, this is also a generation fuelled by consumerism and obsessed with celebrity endorsement but they can smell inauthenticity from a mile away - murky waters for brands to swim in.  

My Solution

Perhaps a solution for the risks brands take by aligning with musicians, is to help launch the careers of talented emerging artists through their campaigns and helping them define their place in culture with joint goals. That way the brand gets all the upside if it’s a success with very little risk, rather than spending millions on A list musicians.

Emerging artists have less profile, less risk and are cheaper but have more potential for growth and are usually just as talented - they just need an opportunity, and an association with a brand could be just the right break.  Sports brands like Nike do it already so perhaps it’s time to look at this approach for musicians.  

Musicians will always be a part of human existence, brands too… so the question remains how can they co-exist together harmoniously?

We think we may have found the formula.

Rahmon will be writing a column for the MAD//Fest Newsletter regularly throughout the year.