Mon, Oct 12, 2009 - Page 13 News List

[MUSIC] Secret to musical success eludes ‘queen of all media’

Perez Hilton’s failure to turn his celebrity into a sweet-sounding cash cow proved one thing: you’ve got to know your fans

By Joe Muggs  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

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Celebrity is not the same as popularity: that was the lesson Perez Hilton should have learned, but almost certainly didn’t, last week. Maybe he thought his name would be enough to make the Perez Hilton Presents US package tour of hip up-and-coming acts — including Ladyhawke and Little Boots — a hit. After all, he’s the ubiquitous gossip blogger, friend-to-the-stars and self-proclaimed “queen of all media” who has become an A-lister himself in the past few years. Nevertheless, ticket sales for his tour have been so poor that prices have had to be slashed — in some cases to nothing — for the remaining dates.

The tour reached its nadir in Boston, when the Norwegian indie rocker Ida Maria, playing to 250 people in a 2,400-capacity venue, suffered a meltdown on stage and pulled out of subsequent dates. The tour had been intended as an overture to the launch of the excruciatingly named Perezcious Music, through Warner Bros Records. So, will its failure give the music industry pause for thought about the absolute promotional value of celebrity?

Hilton has been uncharacteristically quiet on the matter, but — perhaps unsurprisingly — his rival US pop commentators are more than ready to suggest that the Perez brand itself is toxic. “People go to Perez’s site only because they want to read gossip,” says Michael Knudsen, aka “MK” of popbytes.com, “not because they actually like Mr Hilton. Why would anybody want to go to a concert presented by him?”

Maura Johnston of the hugely popular Idolator blog goes further: “His blend of self-aggrandizement, barely concealed agendas, misogyny and poor grammar is quite a noxious cocktail. It ‘works,’ but I suspect it works largely because he was one of the earliest online gossipmongers and definitely the first to build an outsized persona for himself. He trumpets things like click-throughs to artists he mentions on his site, but the moment the users have to make any commitment or lay out any money, any ‘influence’ he has evaporates.”

Eamonn Forde, who writes about the music industry, suggests Perez’s understanding of the business may also be limited. “I suspect he was probably advised [to put on the tour based on financial] figures going back three years or so, when live music was still a gold mine,” Forde says. “But the recession has changed that totally, particularly the middle-sized shows he’s trying to break into: it’s an incredibly complex science to even make 5 percent or 10 percent profit on a tour, even with corporate backing. I just don’t think people buy him as an entrepreneur, as a tour promoter, or even as someone who understands music that well — he’s a media entity, someone who likes to hang out with the cool kids, and that’s it.”

But use of celebrity-as-brand need not be so crass and off-putting: for every Perez, who appears to think that merely stamping a name on something will transfer popularity to it, there are those genuinely trying to use the power of celebrity to create new business models for artists who can’t survive on record sales any more.

Hip-hop, of course, has forged the way here, and Forde suggests Jay-Z as “the absolute perfect example of someone who maintains the respect of his peers and fans as an artist, but learns from the best — or at least puts the best on his payroll — in each new sphere he moves into, and takes each venture very, very seriously.” Maura Johnston, meanwhile, cites Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy, now also a video director whose name adorns a clothing line, comic book and chain of bars, as someone who has managed to use his fame without losing touch with his emo-punk grassroots support.

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