CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: Kanye West has inexplicable launched his own travel website. It's like Orbits or Travelocity except that it's Kanye.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
It's musician and NPR blogger Carrie Brownstein.
BROWNSTEIN: Ostensibly the point is that West is selling more than hotels and plane tickets. He's selling a lifestyle, mainly his.
(Soundbite of song "Stronger")
Mr. KANYE WEST: (Singing) That that don't kill me, can only make me stronger.
BROWNSTEIN: On its own, the music Kanye's online travel agency is benign. Novel in its quirkiness maybe even admirable as seen as part of a long line of West's creative end unique endeavors. But with in the broader context of artists or people turned brands, West's new venture is not so much troubling as it is tiring. Maybe it's that it comes at a time where Madonna is once again ubiquitous, gracing the cover of a half a dozen magazines. And Madonna is always extolling something. Oxygen facials, peeing in the shower - kills fungus - Pilates, adoption, Kabala, children's literature, Britain. But Madonna is so branded that's it's hard to distinguish between her and say, Proctor and Gamble. She's just some other company that shape-shifts with the times transforming her outward appearance and message to attract new buyers, all the while selling us on a new way to exist in the world. And the concept of artist as a brand is also overwhelming within the context of an election year. One which we as consumers, I mean voters, are already inundated with sales pitches of how we can best make America, that brand we live in, safer, cleaner and stronger.
When bands become brands, the dynamic creates a very cynical way of viewing music. The inherent value shifts, from aesthetic or sonic one to a monetary one. If I am choosing between a U2 iPod or a regular one, a White Stripes camera or the non-White Stripes camera my role as a fan has been commodified as well. Basically, I feel like a tool. I'm not fooling myself. Bands and fans and the music industry as a whole are a business, and a struggling one at that. And there has always been a bottom line. But when everything is branded, it gives me the feeling like I'm doing all of my shopping at the mall. There is an illusion of choices, but mostly they are being made for me. And by being at the mall in the first place, I have already forfeited most of my options.
Much of music has always been about buying into an idea of movement, a sphere of influence, and aesthetic, and a voice. As music fans, we are sometimes willing to let the collective voice of the audience speak for us. Or for the music to represent a bit of who we are. But I'd be less willing to do that for a brand. Imagine putting brand stickers on your car. Following brands around the country. Asking for a brand's autograph or trying to sleep with members of the brand. Frankly, it wouldn't be as fun. So before Bright Eyes puts their name on a hybrid car, or Feist comes out with a line of handbags, they should remember that their fans would likely be embarrassed to utter the words I'm with the brand. For Day to Day, this is Carrie Brownstein.
BRAND: Day to Day is a production of NPR News with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX COHEN, host:
And I'm Alex Cohen.