From John M. Ford:
A couple of weeks back The Economist took time out from its usual obsessions to report the demise of the advertising jingle (not on the obituary page, but in the conveniently adjacent Books and Arts section). It seems that the jingle has been displaced by pre-existing pop lyrics, hired for the occasion by people in advertising, which for reasons lost to history is known as a creative profession. We were told that Sting, who had once disdained to rent “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” to a deodorant manufacture, was now selling cars, happy as a clam with a royalty agreement.
But one wonders. The jingle, after all, was never about its content, even when it had any. Dr. Pepper arcanely displayed 10, 2, and 4 long after anyone remembered that those were desirable times to consume the product. Having a Break Today is far removed from the actual experience of ordering fast food. And, though it was a wellspring of parody, did anyone ever actually wonder where the damn yellow went?
A jingle was a pop tune in small, a memorable phrase, often rhythmic and sometimes actually sung, a meme by any other name. (Whether they actually sold any soap is beyond our brief here.) The new wave just attempts to eliminate the difficult steps of heating up a meme and serving it to an audience by the usual new-wave process of buying the package ready-made. And, as with the earlier habit of buying small, successful businesses and turning them into failed subsidiaries, context doesn’t matter.
Rocks in a state of nature are coarse, grubby, and difficult to handle when not completely immobile. Comparing your Chevrolet to a rock seems somehow unflattering. As for “Moondance”—well, that’s being used as background, telling us how much fun it is to be with your significant other in a car. In the front seat. With the three-point harnesses on and the air bags ready to fire.
It gets even weirder when one listens to the rest of the lyric attached to the hook. Gary Numan’s “Here in my car I feel safest of all” was, for anyone who missed the nuances, about urban paranoia, not safety, but we are now asked to feel warm and huggy about locking all our doors. And then there’s the USPS’s co-optation of “Fly Like an Eagle,” in which not one word of the remaining lyric can be quoted without blowing the gaff—“Till I’m free”? “House the people/Livin’ in the street”? Had those folks with the deodorant contract listened, even once, through “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”? The Nabokov bits too?
A few years ago, some high-school teachers were troubled by their administration’s attitude that the students might be picking up Bad Ideas from that rock music stuff. The teachers took the unusual step of trying to find out just what, exactly, was taking place. (No points for guessing what the administration wanted to do.) They asked for short essays about various popular lyrics of the moment, including “Born in the USA.” Springsteen’s song, the students said, was about, well … “being born in the USA.”
Now, this wasn’t a scientific study, and anyone who has graded essay tests knows that parroting key phrases from the source is a standard tactic. Still, the teachers’ conclusion was that, far from being inculcated with the principles of red revolution, their students weren’t getting anything from pop lyrics except rote memorization.One wonders how many of those kids wound up in advertising.