"Branding" is a term still in vogue among marketers who like to brandish lots of terms. It refers to the act of making a name synonymous with a certain product in the minds of consumersKleenex means facial tissues, Tide means laundry detergent, KY means highly personal lubricants. (Then there's also "cross-branding," which entails taking one product name and applying it to another, unrelated category of product with hilarious results: "Maxim Magazine Hair Color for Men.") Typically, branding is something you do to inanimate products or to corporations that have no chance of succeeding. Lately, however, pop-music performers have been branding themselves in bizarre efforts to turn themselves into consumer products rather than actual human beings. Perhaps they believe that by shedding traditional names in favor of product names they can move more units. But the most irritating aspect of this self-renaming trend is the fact that the music media doesn't hesitate to adopt these new labelsonce pop stars tell them their new, improved names, reporters obligingly use them without question. Here are the worst.
Prince = "glyph"
Ever the trailblazer, Prince introduced the idea that you don't really need a name at all. In 1993, he legally changed his actual namePrince Nelsonto a graphic symbol. At the time, many fans thought this was pretty nuts, another sign of Prince's growing eccentricity. But when you consider that he was trying to get out of his contract with Warner Brothers Records, it makes a weird kind of sensewhat better way to derail your record company's efforts to exploit you? ("The Artist Formerly Known as Prince" doesn't fit very well in ad copy.) Unfortunately, the name change also coincided with the decline in quality of Prince's musical output, so the glyph backfired by becoming synonymous with some pretty mediocre albumsa mess he's only recently been putting behind him by releasing his own records and changing his name back to Prince. Nevertheless, the damage is done: singers now feel free to name themselves whatever they please, no matter how stupid.
Sean Combs = "Puff Daddy," "P. Diddy"
Speaking of which, could there possibly be a sillier name than "P. Diddy" for a multi-millionaire rap-music mogul? The previous "Puff Daddy" was ridiculous enough, conjuring images of folk-song dragons, but "Diddy" sounds like Donkey Kong's sidekick. Perhaps Mr. Combs felt his public image needed adjustment after his well-publicized court case involving nightclub gunplayDiddy sounds safe enough for kids to spend their allowances on. But, in all honesty, it's difficult to question Mr. Combs' marketing decisions as they usually pay off very well. Now if he could only release music to match the power of his hype machine
Jennifer Lopez = "J. Lo."
While Jennifer Lopez has certainly performed well as an actress in movies like Out of Sight, she has never quite been able to pull off her most challenging role: urban pop singer. Although she's teamed with successful producers (see "Diddy," above) and credibility enhancing rappers (Ja Rule), she's never been fully accepted as a true acting/singing "crossover" artist. Maybe it's due to the fact that she doesn't sing very well. Of course, that's never stopped the music industry before, so why call it quits when you've got a hot property who at least can play a singer? But perhaps a little more "street cred" is needed how to find it? Why, by giving her the supposed hip-hop handle "J. Lo," that's how! Suddenly, the marketing plan clicks. Too bad the music doesn't.
Christina Aguilera = "X-tina"
The latest questionable singing sensation to change her name is jailbait-pop-tart-turned-artiste Christina Aguilera. With her recently released album Stripped, Aguilera announced to the world that this record revealed her true personality and artistic direction: a wannabe skank. In her first video off the album, "Dirrty," she boldly did a bump 'n' grind routine while being groped by various half-naked dancers why, just like fellow jailbait artiste Britney Spears' video for her own declaration of feminist independence, "I'm a Slave 4 U." Way to shed those sexual shackles and show the music industry who's boss! But just to make absolutely sure that she would be known as the most artistically advanced of the two teen-whore-as-role-model singers, Aguilera declared that she would henceforth be referred to as "X-tina," no doubt angling for inclusion in the next in-depth "Porn to Rock" documentary on VH1.
Michael Jackson = "The King of Pop"
Someday, college psychology courses will be taught on the phenomenon of Michael Jackson. He is overflowing with psychiatric conditions, from extreme narcissism to body dysmorphic disorder (basically, an addiction to plastic surgery, no matter how damaging). But perhaps the most remarkable point of study will not be Michael Jackson himself, but rather the world's mass delusion in worshipping him. Why do millions of fans continue to slavishly follow Jackson despite the fact that he hasn't released any records of musical worth since 1982? Why do they overlook his self-mutilation, his charges of child molestation, his self-aggrandizing tribute shows to himself, his dangling of babies over balconies? How is it that someone who exhibits all the behavior of the truly deranged and the creatively bankrupt is still considered "the artist of the millennium," a hero for the masses? One small sign of this delusion is the widespread acceptance of Jackson's demand to be referred to as "The King of Pop," when it is eminently clear that such a title expired 20 years ago. Nevertheless, whatever King Jackson demands of his subjects, King Jackson gets except for record sales.
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