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The Brief, Bumbling Tech Careers of Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, and Will.i.am (backchannel.com) 97

"Four years ago this week, Blackberry named Alicia Keys its global creative officer... Keys was really going to work for Blackberry -- to participate in weekly calls addressing product development; develop ideas and content for the Keep Moving Projects, which targeted artists and athletes; and of course, promote the brand during her upcoming tour... It didn't work." Slashdot reader mirandakatz writes: For a minute in history, it was oh-so-cool for legacy tech companies to hire pop stars... In 2005, HP brought Gwen Stefani on as a creative director. In 2010, Lady Gaga landed the job of creative director at Polaroid. In 2011, Will.i.am was the director of creative innovation at Intel. In 2012, Microsoft brought on Jessica Alba as creative director to promote its Windows Phone 8.

These roles were all touted as far more involved than the mere celebrity pitchman: The artists promised, to varying degrees, to dive into the business. But in all of these cases, the strategy failed. At Backchannel, Jessi Hempel dives into why that is, and how big names in entertainment are now finding other ways to harness the momentum of tech.

Lady Gaga left Polaroid in less than a year after "collaborating" on video camera sunglasses that offered playback through LCD lenses. While they weren't popular, this article argues most of these tech companies "faced structural business issues too significant to be addressed through celebrity branding and artistic energy." One digital ad agency even tells the site that "It's always been a flawed strategy," and calls the hiring of a celebrity "a press cycle hack."
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The Brief, Bumbling Tech Careers of Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, and Will.i.am

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  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @04:23AM (#53810625) Homepage

    ... that these slebs are directing or creating anything. They're there to add some glitz and glamour to a fading or jaded brand, nothing more. They turn up to pre arranged photo opportunities, mouth off some vacuous rubbish pre-prepared by the marketing dept then head off back to their lives with a fat cheque in their back pockets. Its all very very cynical.

    • by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @04:59AM (#53810709) Homepage

      Sorry, I couldn't hear you over the sound of how awesome my 'Beats by Dre' headphones are.

      • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @05:44AM (#53810763) Homepage

        Yeah, and I'm sure Dr Dre was deeply involved in the electronic and acoustic design of them!

        Oh more likely:

        "Yo, I like red init! Dem is a cool colour blood!"

        "Ok, Mr Dre, we'll make some red ones too. Now just sign your name here for our design guys .. yes, heres a crayon, no, you hold it this way around... well done."

        • by Anonymous Coward

          That's actually one of the better examples. Beats by Dr Dre (which I think make shitty headphones) are actually commercially successful before Apple bought them. Android fanbois (if you believe they exist) will say both are successful in a sort of fanboish way and thus the weird synergy (if you think the word means anything).

          As for the other celebs, the companies did it wrong. These Celebs are a product. Most of those mentioned are "created" by their producers plus creative and management team.

          When you see

          • by rickb928 ( 945187 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @09:19AM (#53811375) Homepage Journal

            Ditto. Listening to the radio my 14yo daughter listens to, I hear the same rotation on all but two stations (gangsta rap/sucka noizez there*), with a 'new' song every two weeks and standards hanging on for months, intentionally marketing songs about rape, promiscuity, and random violence to teens too young to drive, a product placement I'm afraid I understand, hoping I'm wrong. I'm old enough to claim rock n roll stations did something similar to this decades ago chasing the Billboard Top 40 like a dog chases butt, though I listened to slightly more edgy rock then** and those stations seemed to hold on to stuff longer but cycled in new music for a trial before Billboard know how to spell the title.

            Feh. The current hip-hop/rap music scene is so manufactured it's industrial.

            * I don't let her listen to those two stations in my presence any more. I know she does when I'm not around, but she knows why I don't want her to hear that in the car with me. I cannot, literally cannot sit in the car with her when those lyrics come out. It's offensive, degrading, and I cannot permit it in my hearing.

            ** I listened to WLOB in Portland, Maine back in the late 60s and discovered metal late at night on my transistor with earphone, wiked decent***. When I moved 2 hours north and asked the local top radio DJ to play some Led Zeppelin, he told me 'Northern Maine isn't ready for that yet'. He was right. I was in hibernation for 3 years until I joined the service and re-entered civilization.

            *** That radio also let me listen to space launches in school. And win arguments over technical details like abort plans, down range safety, and comms with my so-called science teacher. Thanks,Dad. I need to buy and rebuild a red ChannelMaster 6506 with the leather case and earphone pouch (:

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          "Yo, I like red init! Dem is a cool colour blood!"

          LOL, they're Beats by Dre, not Beats by Ali G. Americans don't say "init" (or "innit").

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          I didn't know Dre was British ;-)

          From what I can tell he had a consultation role on the sound of early Beats models. The tech was developed in partnership with Monster, which tells you most of what you need to know. They basically have a built in hip-hop EQ that you can't turn off: heavy bass, pronounced highs that are about 80% distortion anyway, and a shitty soundstage because it's a mixing desk and a sampler, not an actual soundstage.

          Don't get me wrong, I like hip hop, just not Beats.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Cool racism bro.

        • Dr. Dre isn't a real Doctor.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          Yeah, and I'm sure Dr Dre was deeply involved in the electronic and acoustic design of them!

          TBH, you cannot expect a surgeon to be an expert at acoustic design as well.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            You can expect a producer like Dre however to know a thing or two about it. If Dre just rapped or wrote lyrics you would have a point. He spent a whole lot of years mixing and producing works by a whole lot of artists you've most definitely heard of. While I wouldn't call him a genius I don't think he is anywhere near as dim as people make him out to be here.

        • Given how they sound I'm sure that he did in fact design them himself with his only input from a 2 year old on how good the acoustics are.

      • Sorry, I couldn't hear you over the sound of how awesome my 'Beats by Dre' headphones are.

        The absolute gold standard for listening to autotuned lyrics.

      • When Beats first was released, there was a DJ booth in Best Buy promoting them, so the customers could hear for themselves how awesome they were. However, when I went to check it out, there was NOBODY standing around the booth, and the DJ was looking kinda lonely. I wanted to say to him, "What's the matter Mr. DJ? Doesn't anyone like your music?"
    • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @06:29AM (#53810841) Journal
      That was my thought as well. And even if they actually do have something creative or insightful to contribute, hire them as a consultant to take part in focus groups or steering committees. Naming them director of anything is an insult to any of the other employees who do make a meaningful contribution. And to the other directors.
      • by rikkards ( 98006 )

        Said employees and directors get compensated through pay and other methods for their contributions.
        When they have as many followers as the celebrities do that may result in the company some more sales , they can be called anything they want as well. Until then they can shut up and get back to work

        • That makes sense if you consider pay and benefits to be the only rewards for work. But for many people recognition is part of those "other methods" of compensation. It's not something you're entitled to, but it can be a valuable reward which comes more or less at no cost to the employer. Hiring someone as director purely on the strength of their celebrity status can be as detrimental to morale and motivation as promoting some dimwit to management purely because he is a cousin of the founder.
  • by grungeman ( 590547 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @04:33AM (#53810647)
    their end is near, because it is done out of sheer desperation. This was true in the past and will be in the future. Keep that in mind, my young friends.
    • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @05:44AM (#53810765)

      their end is near, because it is done out of sheer desperation...

      That depends on the company.

      Speaking of weird stuff, we've seen more than our fair share of corporations literally piss money away on Superbowl advertising time to not do a damn thing with it other than gain a sizeable tax write-off.

      There are many reasons to make decisions about revenue that may not make sense on the surface. Some mega-corps today hold a metric fuckton of cash reserves. When $30 million is considered a rounding error, you can certainly afford to take on the oddball venture or two, and would hardly be ringing the doomsday bell.

  • by ctrl-alt-canc ( 977108 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @05:19AM (#53810737)
    Just imagine Clint Eastwood as system manager.
  • by Blythe Bowman ( 4372095 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @06:01AM (#53810787)
    It's the jobs they have in the BSF department (bullshut fluff)
  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @06:08AM (#53810797) Journal

    ...is that you know at every one of those companies, people got the "I'm sorry, I know you work hard and do a good job, you really do, but we simply can't afford to give you that $3000/year raise you're asking for" while they paid these celebrity "employees" hundreds of thousands.

    I get it, it's more like a marketing cost than a salary, but that's bullshit.

    • It's when that marketing cost pays off that there is money for bonuses and raises. The only reason you think it's bullshit in this case is that it didn't pay off.

  • I am Will, and Will I am.
  • Seems like you handily forgot Trent Reznor. Who still works at Apple music although he seems to be a whiny little b**** now instead of giving away his music for free he wants to complain about streaming on YouTube
  • No one needs singing idiots in the IT industry. Their vocal talents are indisputable however it's what not people are seeking for when they're choosing new tech toys to buy.

    Another confirmation of my statement is the fact that no one has offered a similar position to Brian May, who's a rare scientist in the pop sphere.

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @06:38AM (#53810863)

    What I find surprising is that these positions (no matter how vacuous their actual roles really were) are being given to celebrities who probably aren't even all that responsible for their own celebrity.

    They themselves are quite often the products of PR agents, media handlers, producers, song writing "collaborators", and marketing campaigns. Giving them a job to provide visionary leadership assumes they are themselves responsible for their own successes and are wholly self-made.

    I'd also wonder if these celebrities, especially the pop music stars, go in for these jobs on the downward arc of their careers, taking them to keep their own PR buzz going when their principal popularity is fading.

    Now none of this is to say that these people are wholly talentless hacks, either, but in the realm of long-duration talent the list of people mentioned seem like pop music footnotes, not long-duration artists known for the depth of their creativity.

    • by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @08:02AM (#53811059) Homepage Journal

      Quite a few of them so. Lady Gaga, though, interestingly, is a curious exception. Supposedly - from accounts of quite a few people - she's intelligent, educated, with sharp wit and good critical sense, a very no-nonsense person. The 'crazy diva' is all an act, something that is expected from a top pop star, required to stay in the spotlight, in focus of the 'brand' press, keep idiot fans interested and rake mountains of money.

      I'd find it extremely amusing if they hired her as a publicity stunt for show off, and then she proceeded to stay out of spotlight and be a very competent manager instead.

      • Will.i.am also seems to be a fairly self-made man. He's got his fingers in everything. I thought the Intel thing was a bit hilarious, though. I mean, srsly.

        • Jessica Alba also runs her own business(es), which, as far as I care to research, is the biggest portion of her income these days. Many celebs are just a face from a screen with loads of money that they throw around. Others have actually made something of themselves and are quite successful in other ways.

          Hell, Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) has an advanced degree in Physics, as does Dolph Lundgren. Don't judge a book by its cover.
        • hes a fuckin scam artist. a hustler.
      • by thomst ( 1640045 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @10:02AM (#53811667) Homepage

        SharpFang noted:

        Lady Gaga, though, interestingly, is a curious exception. Supposedly - from accounts of quite a few people - she's intelligent, educated, with sharp wit and good critical sense, a very no-nonsense person. The 'crazy diva' is all an act, something that is expected from a top pop star, required to stay in the spotlight, in focus of the 'brand' press, keep idiot fans interested and rake mountains of money.

        I'd find it extremely amusing if they hired her as a publicity stunt for show off, and then she proceeded to stay out of spotlight and be a very competent manager instead.

        Mod parent up.

        Stepanie "Lady Gaga" Germanotta is pretty much entirely a self-made artist. She's been single-mindedly aiming at pop stardom since she was a pre-teen, with voice lessons, dancing lessons, and the piano lessons that made her an in-demand session player in the New York recording scene well before she achieved fame on her own. I'm not much of a fan of dance music, but I watched the documentary about her Little Monsters tour, and I was very impressed by how completely she's in charge of every artistic aspect of her performances, from lighting to choreography, to sound. At the end of the movie, there's a candid scene of her practicing acapella with her backup singers, and it's VERY clear from that that Gaga has a powerful set of pipes and an excellent ear. And, unlike pretty much every other dance-pop diva, she does NOT lip-synch her live vocals. Given how energetic her dancing is throughout her performances, that's pretty damned impressive. (I've been a performing musician for decades, and I know from experience how quickly you run out of breath if you jump around the stage a lot.)

        And yes, I know that her recording career was only launched when rapper Akon made her his protege - but before he took her under his wing, she was already a contract songwriter with Sony, and a well-known presence on the NYC avant-garde art scene, as well as working as a professional pianist.

        And, hey, her halftime show at the Stupid Bowl kicked ass ...

  • So being a janitor in a car factory would count, too, I presume? I mean, that's about as far from an engineering role as a "creative director", whatever that is.
    • by thomst ( 1640045 )

      K. S. Kyosuke opined:

      So being a janitor in a car factory would count, too, I presume? I mean, that's about as far from an engineering role as a "creative director", whatever that is.

      Uh ... Steve Jobs?

      He had essentially zero technical chops. He DID have a superb grasp of design, but his major talent - you know, the one that killed him - was marketing. He was so successful at it that he sold himself on the notion that he could rid himself of his cancer by willpower alone.

      You can have a successful career in tech without ANY engineering talent - because the tech industry is based as much on marketing and product design as it is on hardware and software development. Bui

      • Well it seems that the two of us have very different notions of what "tech career" is. However, I never questioned the fact that there are not-technical people as well in industrial companies.
  • and tidal wave

    HAHA!

  • I hope this served as a lesson to the industry at the very least... and for people who are constantly looking for all sorts of advices to follow from their favorite celebrities.

    Wanna borrow a celebrity name to sell stuff, ok, no problem.
    But pop stars and celebrities will always be worried more about selling their own name and face.
    Even if there was some hidden genious out there, their priority will always be their own brand.

    But the uglier fact is that most of them are not even responsible for most of their

  • Doing meaningful stuff is actually really hard. A streak of luck isn't the same as understanding business, marketing and product development.

    (Sure, positive vibes and enthusiasm are all good. But at the end of the day you need deliverables.)

  • Fuck these people, and fuck the moron children of rich men who hire them
  • Just think about this:

    ...this article argues most of these tech companies "faced structural business issues too significant to be addressed through celebrity branding and artistic energy."

    Do you know what doesn't address structural business issues? At all? Hiring a celebrity.

    That's a roughly parallel statement to "the patient became more sick because they faced medical issues too significant to be addressed through Cheetos."

  • Or in Trumpet English, "Who?, Who the fuck?, and Who Dat?"

Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it.

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