There was a time when a 90’s kid would steal a few moments everyday to tune into Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s composition- Afreen Afreen. This was a time before YouTube streaming and before the term viral became viral. When a composition by any artist had a very limited outreach and the tune eventually was eroded and buried by the sands of time.
Cut to 2016. Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan renders a reinvented version of his Uncle’s scintillating masterpiece and overnight creates a record-breaking sensation.
The lyrics are the same, the tune overlaps but yet the reinvention has already garnered around 12 million views. One might credit the success to enhanced acoustics, the additional impact created by Momina Mustehsan or the legacy of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. All inputs considered, I do not deny the contribution made by any of them. But the sole reason the song became a hit overnight with a multitude of downloads, reposts and shares was its piggybacking on Coke Studio’s brand power.
Individually, if the song had been launched by the artist him/herself it would not have been able to break ceilings, especially if the artist wasn’t a brand in him/herself.
Here the question arises of artistic integrity and brand values and the fine line that they share with the concept of ‘selling out’. Selling out is a heavy accusation.
An artist who sells his/her artistic integrity for pure commercial gains will be engaged in an act of Selling Out. But honestly, come to think of it, why would an artist not hitch a ride on the brand wagon, if the result is beneficial and provides the audience-starved artist, a resonance. Taking the example of Coke Studio itself, the artists that hitherto were relatively unknown and were featured by the immensely popular initiative by Coke, have earned a name for themselves. Coke as a brand maintains its image of an innovator and the artist does the same.
Well on the brand’s side, it is quite a simple point of view. In a country like India, only brands can establish a fan base. To understand it better, consider the analogy of Bollywood and a singer. While a singer might have a triple digit fan base on social media platforms, an association with a blockbuster film doesn’t only put the artist on the map but also makes him/her a favorite destination. A very recent example would be the recent sponsorship to Adidas by American musician and entrepreneur, Kanye West. This example overtly explains how Kanye West or for example Beyonce, are not just individual artists anymore; they are brands and empires in themselves. When Kanye collaborated with Adidas for the first season launch of the Yeezy designs, the Adidas’ market escalated to 30% from a mere 1%. To put it in a more succinct way, Kanye West accounted to almost 5% growth in North America region of the total sneaker sales for Adidas. This isn't a partnership between a brand and an artist, but ‘brand collusion’. The power is clashing, equal, magnetic and increasing. The game is fascinating, isn’t it?
The demography is undergoing a spectacular structural shift right now. The power to create and change the lives of the masses. Hence the brands that tendentiously cater to the masses are evolving as well. More and more brands are looking to create their own properties that reflect their own personalities or brand values.
Now comes the second part. With an increasing amount of content being generated or backed by brands, some might say that art is becoming overly commercialized. But how is it a bad thing? I believe it matters as to how you look at it. If a brand provided a much wider and deeper penetration of not only its idea but also the artist that it takes on board, then why would either party object? The fundamental goal for any artist, may it be a brand or a singer, is simply to grow an audience and there is absolutely no harm in using any sort of innovative means to achieve the objective.
Whereas the question of artistic integrity is concerned, good art finds its own audience, whilst any means may be used. Plagiarism, imitation or simply put ‘inspirations’ hardly go a long way. The audience is gullible but not unwarily forgiving. Further the extremely limited attention span (courtesy Buzz Feed) in today’s digital age ensures that only what clicks stays. The diversity of content and the hunger for more, in itself serves a check on the artistic integrity of an artist. The concept isn’t unrealistic, it is highly plausible actually and immensely necessary as well. The game is on till then and so is the power play.