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Every musician tries to put their brand on the music map – and often uses unfortunate music PR to do it. | Photo: Evgeniy Smersh (Unsplash)
Every musician tries to put their brand on the music map – and often uses unfortunate music PR to do it. | Photo: Evgeniy Smersh (Unsplash)
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TOP 5 Music PR Blunders

The music business is first and foremost the show business – a wonderful place where everything can happen to draw attention to the artist. Bad publicity is better than no publicity. This is especially true in pop music, where it's impossible not to see breathtaking and often shameless advertising strategies as an integral part of the creative process. But the work doesn't always succeed, and the saying that the end justifies the means may not bring the intended result. Today, let's take a look at the top 5 attempts at grandiose PR attempts that didn't quite work.

1. Hell jaunt with Rihanna

It all started with an epic idea in 2012 when one hundred and fifty journalists (plus thirty-five fans) were invited to accompany Rihanna and her band on board a 777 plane. They were to attend seven club concerts in seven countries over seven days. A million-dollar idea, right? As expected, there was a massive interest in the tour, but the huge publicity eventually turned to the journalists who became the sad heroes of this failed marketing experiment.

Getting on a plane was the dream of every music journalist of the time, but very soon the dream became a quick fall into a bizarre reality. Nothing was working as it should have. Everything was absurdly delayed, Rihanna was unavailable for most of the time and the flight participants soon began to feel more like hostages. One journalist described the absurdity of the experience as Flight 666, where drunkenness and sleep deprivation reigned, and the whole situation gradually devolved into a demonic, nerve-racking frenzy, with the flight participants going through a series of gruelling physical and mental tests. From the perspective of the chosen journalists, it seemed that the last one to finally wake up would get a world-exclusive interview with Rihanna as a reward.

2. U2 in every receiver

Sometimes artists get so far removed from the reality of the world that they start to think they are gods inhabiting the mythical Olympus. Something similar happened to the otherwise likeable band U2, when they succumbed to a sense of their grandiosity to such an extent that they came up with the idea of pushing their 2014 album Songs of Innocence to nearly 500 million iTunes users on Apple's platform via automatic download. 

Bono and co. have always tried to do something extraordinary in the publicity field, perhaps taking a cue from the Beatles by staging a concert on the roof of a liquor store in Los Angeles. However, the compulsory downloading of their songs from iTunes was completely outside this horizon of rather cute ways of self-promotion. They pissed off just about everyone, including Iggy Pop, who commented on it, "The people who don't want the free U2 download are trying to say, don't try to force me. And they've got a point. Part of the process when you buy something from an artist. It’s a kind of anointing, you are giving people love." (source: BBC)

3. K Foundation burned a million pounds

Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty of the hugely successful English pop group KLF originally set up the K Foundation in part to support artists who were struggling financially. However, their artistic instinct and desire to express an absurd glorification of money overcame any pragmatism. They figured that artists who were struggling were actually supposed to be struggling, because that's the point. It's supposed to be their inspirational stimulus. Consequently, they devised an art installation called Money: A Major Body of Cash, which involved nailing £1 million worth of banknotes to a pine frame. But even this madness didn't satisfy them, so they came up with the even bolder and more cynical idea of burning the money – which they did on 23 August 1994 in front of a camera in a shipyard on the Scottish island of Jura.

The money burned for more than an hour, with Drummond and Cauty putting fifty-pound notes into the fire one by one. Drummond later said that only about £900,000 actually burned – the rest went straight up the chimney. Their film "Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid" then toured the UK, with a question and answer session at the end of each screening where audience members asked Drummond and Cauty why they had burned the money. We already know the rest, the real reason was an insurance problem with the exhibition (the exhibits consisted of money nailed to frames), so they blithely opted for the art act of burning it in the end. A million in ashes, but it's still talked about to date.

4. Imperial Stars stopped traffic

On a fairly ordinary Tuesday in 2010, at 10:30 in the morning, the band Imperial Stars blocked traffic with a large van bearing their logo. It was parked across four of the five lanes of US 101 near Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. As a precaution, the van driver took the keys and drove off. The band then partied on the van roof to their song Traffic Jam 101, for which they filmed a video. This "rockstar" moment lasted less than two hours when all three band members were arrested by police and the van was towed from the road.

After the angry drivers had to endure and suffer through this "artistic" traffic jam, the band's guitarist Keith Yackey rather unconvincingly defended their action with a higher purpose: "We were thinking we needed to do something big to grab the attention of the American people to this cause of the 1.5 million homeless children." To confirm the band's charitable intentions, fifty per cent of the single's sales went to a foundation that cares for homeless children. However, even this symbolic gesture didn't soften California officials at the DMV, and the stunt cost Imperial Stars nearly forty thousand dollars. By the way, watch the video below and judge for yourself if rightfully so.

5. False sex video by Yacht

In 2016, the band Yacht came up with a rather strange story about the theft of their private sex video, saying that they decided to sell it to fans for just five dollars themselves instead. Their argument was that doing so would "be taking ownership of the incident". Of course, this was a ploy to promote the music video for their song poetically titled "I Wanna Fuck You Til I'm Dead". The hoax was discovered through a published email conversation between Claire L. Evans, the lead singer of Yacht and also the life partner of the other band member, Jon Bechtolt.

Fooled fans who attempted to pay the five dollars and download the video ended up on a website reporting an error. But their credit card didn't get hurt; the band just wanted to draw attention to their single in a creative way, while highlighting the toxicity of so-called revenge porn records. This initiative came directly from the band, their PR agency had no idea about it, and in a subsequent official apology, both Clair and Jon admitted that people have a right to be angry at them – after all, they were angry at themselves for this not-so-good idea with the fake sex video too. (source: Buzzfeed)

Tagy TOP 5 rihanna U2 k foundation imperial stars yacht

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Marek Bero
Bass Gym 101 books, touring & session bass player, football tactics aficionado.