FEMINISM & FEMALE ARTIST BRANDING
Entertainment is no longer just about pleasure or mindless amusement; it is, instead, perhaps one of the most powerful social commentaries that exists in our society, something that has maneuvered its way into advertising, reading, news, and even social issues. In an article for The Guardian, an interviewed party said: “I’ll tell you why people are so obsessed with celebrities – it’s because celebrities try to stand for something, don’t they?” (“The Six Tribes of Pop: Why the music you listen to defines who you are”) In today’s society, celebrities are not just standing for something; they are saying everything, and furthermore, they are saying it in their own words via performances, interviews, and social media. Celebrity pull is more significant than ever, so what does it mean to a star’s career when she lends her microphone to a cause? By tackling social issues—such as feminism—female artists further establish their authenticity by engaging with problems that affect their audience, and shed light on those issues that could be affecting them personally and professionally. It is no coincidence that Swift, Beyonce, and Adele have all been quoted as identifying as feminists, and as musical leaders, their feminism is a central part of their branding. While Beyonce has long laid claim to the feminist name as part her public image, Adele and Swift have taken on subtler approaches to equality and girl power.
Upon the release of her new album, Adele told Rolling Stone “I’m a feminist. I believe that everyone should be treated the same. She recalls not being taken seriously in business meetings full of men, of encountering an attitude of “what do you know?” (“Adele: I’m A Feminist). Swift’s newfound ownership of feminism was as publicized as her country-pop crossover, with her noting to Maxim: “A man writing about his feelings from a vulnerable place is brave; a woman writing about her feelings from a vulnerable place is oversharing or whining. So to me, feminism is probably the most important movement that you could embrace, because it’s just basically another word for equality” (“Taylor Swift Talks Feminism, Misogyny in Maxim”).
By making feminism part of their branding, these female acts have reinforced the idea of music as “an adjunct to language to emotively reinforce group values, virtues, and normative behaviors” set forth by Steve Brown in How Does Music Work? (Brown, 4). Just as we seek the aforementioned familiarity patterns of pop music, human beings are designed to seek connections to things and people. This subsequently allows women artists who embrace social issues such as feminism to become part of a larger narrative that affects them directly, as well as affecting their target audience: Women. As awareness of world issues grows, so does the need for artists to embody a sort of “social activism,” with MTV even adding a “Best Video With A Message” award to the Video Music Awards in order to promote and share artists who are championing self-empowerment in one way or another.
As Swift, Beyonce, and Adele are female artists who target primarily female fans (though it is apparent they all have significant cross-over demographic appeal), taking on a social, cultural, and political buzzword connects them to their audiences, as explained by The Journal of Popular Culture: “The illusion of intimacy strips away the mask of the public performance through the revelation of personal and private details about the celebrity as an average person that resonate with the audience’s own experiences” (“Can You Handle My Truth?”). Of course, there has been ample debate over whether any of these women can truly classify themselves as a feminist, but in a breakdown of authenticity, they are female leaders in their field who pioneered their careers under their own creative control, who are utilizing a social movement as part of their marketing in order to connect with female listeners. As Adorno and Horkheimer note, “influence over the consumers is established by entertainment;” therefore, the integrity of these influential artists is crucial to how they present themselves to fans: They care about, seemingly, exactly what female audience members do.
Adding an additional layer to the authenticity marketing push is that Swift, Beyonce, and Adele do not simply share social movements with their fans—they share them socially, too. The cross of social issues and social media has utterly altered the landscape of music marketing, and is a direct tie to how these female artists present themselves: No longer are they only in charge of sound and lyric; they are the ones dictating how, where, and why their stories, thoughts, and ideas are transmitted to fans, through a few taps on a smartphone screen. What initially seems like the downfall of society is instead a remarkable glimpse at artists taking back the narrative and controlling their own public image, offering viewers and listeners more authenticity in marketing than is possible in photoshopped, autotuned mass media advertising campaigns. Benjamin observes that “any man today can lay claim to being filmed”: How does the dynamic change when it the celebrities filming themselves? (Benjamin, 9). Swift, Beyonce, and Adele are rewriting the “culture industry” by ensuring they maintain authentic connections with fans and a sense of community that encourages the idea set forth by Sara Cohen that “social practices involving the consumption and production of music also draw people together and symbolize their sense of collectivity and place” (Cohen, 436).
To see clearly how social media is used to create authenticity in self-marketing female artists, one must look no further than the Instagram and Twitter accounts of stars themselves. Swift is particularly notorious for engaging with fans online: During promotion for her 1989 album release, she spent months finding fans on Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr, inviting the most dedicated to private listening parties at her homes in Rhode Island, Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, and London. During these listening parties—dubbed the “1989 Secret Sessions”—Swift baked for her guests, allowed them to take photos with her Grammys and cats, and let them listen to the entire new record months prior its release.
This is a new level of authenticity and fan connection: Is this what Adorno and Horkheimer were referring to regarding the “omnipresence” or “social power in which the spectators worship,” and if so, is this a negative thing? It seems the more a celebrity allows fans “in”—that is, into their private lives—the more relatable, and thus, more authentic, they become. Beyonce, who maintains a far more private social media presence, opted to share the first photos of her daughter, which were worth millions of dollars, herself, on a Tumblr account dedicated to Blue Ivy Carter. In 2013, Beyonce, who was “bored with traditional album marketing,” and dropped her album “Beyonce” by sharing a video featuring images of her to Instagram, bearing the caption “Surprise!” (“Beyonce Shows the True Power of Social Media”).
In response to Beyonce’s unconventional album drop, Jason King, professor at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, said: “”This seems like a direct gift from the celebrity to the consumer” (Beyonce Shows the True Power of Social Media”). In other words, this marks another connection between listener and artist, and another degree of authenticity in marketing. Recently, Adele followed a similar marketing structure to release 25: She tweeted a lengthy entry that chronicles her growth, the turning point that was actually turning twenty-five, and defining the album as a “make up” record.
Despite Adele’s social media use being somewhat sparse by pop culture standards, she choose to announce her “comeback” via this medium in an attempt to connect with fans directly. Much like the employment of the pop music genre, each uses social media in a different way that is strategic to their image and goals. Considering these gestures as both authentic ones and ones of decisive leadership, it pleads the question: Is this the very “unique existence” Benjamin references?