The recession blah blah blah and the crumbling media industry homina homina hoooo, and hey, what’s the deal with advertisers? Turns out you’re not responding to their wiles anymore because you’re suddenly too good for ad-supported content or something, and last year, for the first time ever, you spent more of your leisure hours with “paid content”—i.e., things such as cable television and books that weren’t just cleverly packaged word jumbles meant to prop up reality TV shows—than with old-fashioned magazines and newspapers, those salt-of-the-earth industries that rely primarily on seamlessly interweaving their editorial product with pictures of things you might like to buy, as God intended. Because you’ve become such a cash-burning heretic, bratty and resistant to the motherly concern of market-researched suggestion, the entire industry is now looking down the barrel of a steady five-year decline, and it’s going to have to devise new ways to help you improve your life. You won’t sit still during Two And A Half Men and you won’t pick up a newspaper. Obviously you’re just going to have to start getting ads in your CDs, mister, and you’re going to like it.
Blazing the trail to an exciting new world where liner notes do more than just “enhance art”—which is, as we all know, something useful only to visionless layabouts—Island Def Jam will soon begin (in the enviably clever words of Billboard) “jamming on a new business model” that involves “integrating brands into artists’ CD booklets,” beginning with Mariah Carey’s forthcoming Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel. The album will reportedly come with a 34-page reproduction of an issue of Elle (which the magazine is co-producing) that features exhaustively researched “Mariah-centric editorial ("VIP Access to Her Sexy Love Life," "Amazing Closet," "Recording Rituals")” that will crack the Mariah Carey mythology wide open, alongside ads for brands like Elizabeth Arden, Angel Champagne, Carmen Steffens, Le Métier de Beauté, and the Bahamas Board of Tourism. "I wouldn't want to do Mariah Carey and Comet abrasive cleaner," says Antonio “L.A.” Reid, label chairman. "I wanted things that really reflected her taste." (Yes, because Mariah Carey has always been so discerning about what she's lent her name to in the past.) And not only will the magazine be a miniature time capsule of Mariah Carey’s uh-mazing life—it’s like a blueprint of her essence, outlined with a sparkly T-square!—hey, it could also be what saves the record industry from economic meltdown!
"Reid said the program was unprecedented. Terry Dry, president of Los Angeles-based digital-word-of-mouth marketing agency Fanscape, agreed, saying that the CD booklet advertising is a first, though he wouldn't be surprised if more labels look into doing the same thing: "Hollywood Records [Disney], I know they love to monetize all over the place for something like a Jonas Brothers record. Open any rap record and a couple of inserts will come flying out, usually for a business the artist is a part of. I wouldn't be surprised if 50 Cent had a Vitamin Water thing."
And we all know that Vitamin Water was pretty much the best thing to ever happen to 50 Cent’s career, now that he’s moved on from being a hip-hop artist to existing solely as a corporate, Krusty The Clown-like entity. The same thing could happen for Mariah Carey, who won’t have to bother collaborating with Eminem to engender mutually assured public apathy by releasing lame “diss” tracks anymore. Now that she’s made this deal to have her CD “merchandised directly outside Walmart's music aisle with Carey's new signature Arden fragrance, Forever” (she’s got her own display case promoting her bland products at the end of the aisle, like the Entenmann’s of R&B!) Carey can stop worrying about “art” altogether and concentrate on the “package,” which is obviously where the future of music lies: Stressing the need for these sorts of partnerships in the future, Reid said, “We don't have music retailers any more, so a smart consumer products company that understands the value in distributing music is going to restore the vitality of our business.” As such, he’s already looking ahead, “eyeing bigger brand deals for booklets of CDs by Rihanna, Bon Jovi, Kanye West and other artists,” and more or less declaring that the already sketchy line separating art and commerce has been completely erased and replaced by a Nike swoosh.
Naturally, some may bemoan the incipient death of album art as we know it, and perhaps even argue that major labels are losing money because they’ve failed to adopt a leaner business model, rethink their pricing structures, do away with unnecessary corporate excesses, or even take more risks on smaller bands rather than spending millions of dollars promoting mediocre products simply because they come from established artists. But they would be wrong! No, the labels just need to find a way to cram their already wasteful packaging full of enough ads to offset all of the above costs and once again temporarily staunch the bleeding—and as a bonus for you, the consumer, you’ll get to find out exactly what kind of jeans Bon Jovi likes, and where to purchase Rihanna’s mascara. It’s win-win. Besides, other than providing a memorable visual accompaniment and placing music within a historical context—which are outdated concepts anyway, thanks to the rise of digital mumblety mumblety—what has album art ever done for you? Maybe if you wanted to preserve the sanctity of “art” so badly, you should have spent less time deliberately ignoring commercials. Well, we’ll soon fix that.