In April 2015, Rihanna famously made tabloid headlines when a video surfaced online. It appeared to show her snorting cocaine inside her tour bus.
It is hardly shocking in today’s culture to learn that artists and singers smoke or take drugs whilst on tour. Sometimes, if they are careless, their activities are caught on film and documented by the media online, on TV and in the press.
The question is, how does this impact the brand image of the artist and what are the knock-on effects for record sales and concert ticket sales?
One Direction Going in the Wrong Direction
One Direction star Zayn Malik was photographed on several occasions smoking marijuana and the story was eagerly publicized in the media.
What must be taken into account is that a large percentage of the fan-base idolizing superstars such as Rihanna and Zayn Malik are children and young teenagers.
These younger fans are impressionable, and it is their parents who buy the merchandise. Whether it’s a Rihanna T-shirt or a One Direction calendar, responsible parents will certainly think twice before spending their money after reading headlines about these artists their children adore, being publicly shamed for taking illegal substances.
The Label’s Responsibility
In the pop world, it should be in a record label’s best interest to help their artists develop a marketable image; to both the parents and youngsters. Artists often act as role models to their fans, and as ambassadors for their record labels.
With social media, bad news travels fast, so record labels need to keep their artists under tight control and protect them from illicit substance abuse. In addition to bad press, an artist is also subject to being arrested if caught whilst taking illegal substances.
Bieber’s Scandal & The Downward Spiral
Justin Bieber was famously arrested on Miami Beach for drag-racing following a drug-fuelled evening with friends. Being arrested mid-tour will undeniably cost a record label considerable funds if they have to cancel dates and refund tickets. This also alienates and frustrates fans who have been eagerly waiting to see their favorite singers live.
Late and lamented superstars Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston died as a result of alcohol and drug abuse. When young pop stars such as Rihanna and Justin Bieber are caught taking drugs people can assume they may well be on the same downward spiral.
Whether this is the case, onlookers will make their own assumptions, and may stop supporting artists they had previously enjoyed listening to as a result of bad behavior.
Positive Artist Reception
Positive artist reception is the fundamental prerequisite that leads to revenues for a record label, in the form to music purchases; merchandise sales and the sales of concert tickets.
Ultimately, for younger fans of pop stars such as Justin Bieber and Rihanna, it’s the parents who will fork out $300 for a pair of concert tickets. If parents no longer deem these pop stars as suitable role models for their children they will not be prepared to do so.
Other Incessant Image Issues
Substance abuse and antisocial behavior is just the tip of the iceberg. Parents will take notice of the visual content of specific pop stars, and many will not agree with the direction of their visuals, choices of outfits, lyrical themes and dance routines performed on set.
Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande and Cardi B are arguably some of the biggest stars on the planet right now. But their entire pop star regimes are built on sexualized outfits, videos and lyrics.
Obviously there is an enormous demand for these singers, and their successes are down to the fact that kids, teens and adults love their music and performances.
But many parents begin to question these full-blown pop icons and their image – consider Ariana Grande’s album cover for her 2016 album Dangerous Woman; donning latex fetish wear and singing about promiscuous sexual encounters.
Whilst Ariana Grande boasts over 155 million Instagram followers, there is something intrinsically questionable about her record label’s marketing tactics and choice of promotional tools that enable her to be adored by children, often oblivious to the meaning of many of her songs and performances.
Whether a pop star is built on the foundations of sexualized themes, or perhaps more substantial and meaningful messages, one moment of poor judgment caught on camera can ruin a career.
Artists need to consider their behavior in the light of their audiences and record labels need to ensure that their artists are protected and chaperoned on a continual basis. This is not just a matter of good social responsibility it is a matter of business.