Man at His Best

Opinion: This Song Will Change Your Life (And Sell A Few Sofas)

The potentially questionable act of musicians peddling products.

BY Jonathan Fong | Jul 17, 2017 | Music

That guy’s pants look familiar,” I thought to myself as I closed the last page of a magazine. Flipping back, I scrutinised the Starburst candy ad and did a second take: it was MC Hammer, global hip-hop star of the ’90s, in his signature “U Can’t Touch This” pose with said pants, surrounded by falling rainbow-coloured splatter. The ad’s tagline proclaimed that the candy derives its juiciness from “MC Hammer’s juicy rain dance”. 

Now this coming from a man who was the first-ever hip-hop artist to achieve diamond status album sales (Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ’Em sold 18 million copies) caught me by surprise. Sure, Hammer has a rep for being a one-hit-wonder and a questionable sell-out, but surely things weren’t so bad that he had to resort to such a “juicy” deal? 

Or perhaps, it did make sense. Despite being valued at over USD33 million at the height of his popularity, he was soon saddled with a USD13 million debt and filed for bankruptcy before the ’90s were out. The fact that the present-day music industry struggles to generate sizeable revenue for its artists only encourages acts to jump at the opportunity to take up any paid endorsement. No longer can you solely rely on musical artistry, live shows, promotion and touring to survive the uncertainties of the “biz”. Reality bites, and it bites hard. In a time when fan support is measured in streams, views, clicks and likes, instead of good old-fashioned dollars and cents, you do what it takes to survive. 

It is, therefore, not surprising to find Singaporeans doing the same when given the opportunity. I have personally bought hair products thanks in part to Benjamin Kheng (of The Sam Willows), but former Singapore Idol winner Taufik Batisah is probably the trailblazer in this field, having repped brands such as Samsung, HSC Drinks, Harmuni Rice and Swatch in the past. One, however, cannot forget the questionable, but contractually obligated 7-Eleven advertisements that he was made to do alongside judge Ken Lim (Google “Singapore Idol 7 Eleven” and prepare to cringe/laugh/cry). Perhaps something for Nathan Hartono to mull over, now that he has become Milo’s official ambassador: does delivering Milo in a Milo Van to screaming schoolgirls discredit my illustrious stint studying at the prestigious Berklee College of Music? Does it even matter? 

While endorsements might be the most visible and prominent means of additional income for a musical artist, the truth is that “selling out” in 2017 is pretty much delusory. Whereas once Kurt Cobain wore a T-shirt scrawled with the message “Corporate Magazines Still Suck” on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1992, his grunge and alternative peers have taken to performing in the canteens of tech companies during lunch some 25 years later. 

So really, maybe MC Hammer did get it right early on. While the impact of his “juiciness” remains questionable, it cannot be denied that his dance is making it rain (a little more) for his bank account.

This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Singapore, June/July 2017.