May 21 2003 12:00 AM

The marketability of a pretty face

    music1_2

    Exhibit A: That pretty face

    I caught Pete Yorn at 'Canes last year and gave him admirable props for having the acoustic Foo Fighters thing down. While not necessarily a huge fan, I must admit that every once in a while I find it necessary to belt out the chorus to 'For Nancy' at the top of my smoke-stained lungs.

    "Cos it alllllready issssss!"

    Yorn is certainly a talented songwriter, and many of his fans which are many, and adoring would never have heard of him if not for the ultra-mega-conglomerate that is Sony (the parent company of Columbia Records, Yorn's label). But had he not been blessed with those puppy dog eyes, stunning good looks and great hair, would Sony have given him the time of day?

    Look down the list of Sony artists: Beyonce Knowles, The Ataris, Jessica Simpson there is some hot ass running around those offices. Where are all the ugly musicians at?

    IÕll tell you where. They're at the independent labels, scraping to get by because they can't afford to fix those snaggle-teeth and skin rashes. You don't see hordes of teenage groupies begging to yank their halter tops off for people like Ian McKaye, do you?

    You know why? Because corporate rock can't sell a talented singer/songwriter to a bunch of 15 year olds if he has boogily eyes. So they go for the aesthetically pleasing artistsÑthe ones with sparkling smiles and clean fingernails. It's just good business.

    So I'm taking a stand, here and now, to seek out and listen to the ugliest musicians I can. Give me your Bob Dylans and Ringo Starrs. Sell me some Edgar Winters and Pete Townshends and I'll go home a happy (and by comparison, more handsome) man. It's my duty to stick up for the uggos, for they are Sony's forgotten children.

    Oh, who am I kidding. Pete, you had me at 'For Nancy.'

    Exhibit B: The golden hen

    A week ago, an old college pal of mine caught Yorn's show at the Avalon in Boston and noticed something else peculiar. The songwriter couldn't so much as wipe the hair from his pretty little eyes without being hounded by AT&T mLife representatives who wanted to snap promo shots with their mobile phones.

    Sony has partnered with AT&T Wireless to create one of the first mobile music networks. The record label's artists such as Yorn, Jennifer Lopez, Good Charlotte and Tori Amos are all featured players in what amounts to the newest chapter in the corporate acquisition of culture and beauty.

    The goal is to get audience members to fork over their e-mail addresses so that the photos can be e-mailed to them (have your photo taken with Pete!). Along with the pictures, no doubt, will be the newest phone and music offers from the Sony/AT&T partnership and news of the incredible savings one might accrue by signing up with AT&T.

    I know what you're thinking tours have been sponsored by corporations for years. This year's return of Lollapalooza depended on America Inc.'s deep pockets. Even the Warped Tour, by far the ugliest tour on the block, is sponsored by Vans (one year by Target, even!). But while concerts have long served as vehicles for booze sales and corporate promotions, the level of their participation is reaching invasive proportions now that the industry is desperately seeking cash flow. They are onstage, in the audience, in your face.

    If they were more intelligent, marketers would blend their persuasive tactics seamlessly into the show, so that the only thing on audience membersÕ conscious minds are the lines to Yorn's new single. But the following day they mysteriously find themselves at the mLife mall kiosk.

    Driven desperate by downloaders, The Music Industry lays their golden hens on the chopping block, which cuckle the chorus to 'For Nancy.'

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