The Re-Branding of Pop Music: The Lily Prototype


Chris Abraham’s sage advice on PR in the digital age prompted one key question: What is the prototype/blueprint for Digital PR? Essentially, who is doing it right and how are they getting it done? As a Public Comm/Sociology student and a twenty-something “Millennial” I would say Lily Allen, hands down. As the Wordsworth of the MySpace Generation, Lily is the very voice of the tomorrow’s Power 150 — today!

Lily Allen is a digital phenomenon. She propelled herself into a full-fledged entertainment career simply by utilizing the low risk/high reward method of uploading rough demo tracks on MySpace. After millions of listens, Allen was signed to Parlophone Records and so began the modern pop tale. Her original investment was digital, but the eventual outcome was very real. After selling 2.5 million copies of her album, getting a Grammy nomination, starting a clothing line, having David Cameron hand deliver her first album to President Obama, and hosting her own BBC3 talk show, among other endeavors, Allen returns to the music scene with a sophomore album, It’s Not Me, It’s You.

This career that began in the depths of cyberspace, that has seen such successes both on and offline serves as an ideal case study for the future of digital branding and audience analysis/targeting. Lily in and of herself is a blueprint for digital strategy.

Lily is a demographic. She is a self-proclaimed non-careerist. Lily treats music as a hobby, she spends more time and effort on connecting with her fanbase than she does in the studio – more time in ‘the sphere’ than ‘on stage.’ That is digital PR. Allen created a career around communication and connection: music is the front, it is a mask funding the machine. Lily Allen is the new face of an entity in a digital realm. She is fully integrated. As an individual Allen has moved from following technology trends to setting them. From MySpace she created a digital empire. Her genius lies in her steady constant progress. When MySpace lost stake in the mainstream, Lily moved to Twitter – where she now has well over 45,000 followers after two weeks. The hype is simple: she tweets regularly and responds to her fans. Her new album set the record for single-week digital sales – probably due to the fact she had free YouTube “Official Listening Posts” for each track. In the midst of a failing ‘traditional’ music industry, Lily is moving forward on the ‘progressive’ front. She worked with to sell her album for $3.99 during the opening week. Hard albums don’t sell anymore. She cut her losses and focused on the digital domain, which is how she set the digital sales record, in her first week no less.

While Lily may be a blueprint, she is also a demographic. Furthermore, she represents most individuals within the young digital demographic. So it is important to scope outwards and look at two examples of how to best relate with the increasingly influential Lily and Co.

Rolling Stone knows Lily, “Lily Allen is not just a pop star. She’s a genre.” Allen is young, urban, unaffected, hip, socially-engaged, tech-savvy, and pseudo-political. Lily Allen is the Obama ilk of young culture. With RS’ introduction to her album review they no longer reviewed Allen’s album, they reviewed her – and her demographic. They go on to sneer at she who “decides that she is a ‘social critic,’ a job she lacks the insight and the maturity to pull off,” and conclude that Allen is best when she ‘drops the state-of-the-nation pretensions.’ But, why? Obviously, they aimed to cement themselves as the apex of a dying medium — print publication — which is becoming increasingly outdated. RS 1.) voluntarily identifies a modern iconography –- of a key demographic no less –- before 2.) taking the McCain stance on inexperience and immaturity. The target readers of this review are socially and politically engaged, and likely within the same age range as Lily. When RS introduces Lily as ‘not just a pop star, but a genre,’ everything on from that point reflects ‘the genre.’ RS didn’t downplay a pop star’s social voice, they downplayed her demographic’s social significance. No wonder RS’ pages are shrinking — almost as fast as their young readership. While Rolling Stone gathered moss dwelling on Allen’s shortcomings, MTV made moves. Where Rolling Stone saw flaws, MTV saw a future.

MTV wrote on Allen as the most interesting pop star ever created. They call Allen’s new album “the most human pop album ever created.” Here MTV sees Allen as the closest link between celebrity and follower. MTV praises Allen for not being a pop star. This is brilliant because it is MTV saying “You like Lily Allen because she is like you. We like Lily Allen because she is like you. We like you.” MTV illustrates Allen as any other human being. She blogs about her problems. She deals in the gray area – all the time. Allen is insecure, but cocky. She is vulnerable, but unaffected. She just wants to settle down, but hates clingers. She’s political, but slags politicians. Everything is subjective. She is this generation, very, “I’m around enough to get around. I care enough to be cynical but not apathetic. It’s my life, take it or leave it — please?” Like she said in “Everyone’s At It,” “I get involved but I’m not advocating. You’ve got an opinion, yeah, you’re well up for slating.” MTV builds a pop star like the readers, and wins across the board: Lily gets fans. MTV viewers get someone ‘just like them’ in the public sphere. MTV gets cool points and a ride on Lily’s digital coattails.

Lily Allen is like a new
Edie Sedgwick. She’s got undeniable hype, but it’s hard for many to look past the style to the zeitgeist’s core substance. However, just like Edie, Lily holds more than a generation’s attention — she embodies their essence. There are world citizens like Bono and Barack. There are young role models like the Simmons daughters. There are celebutantes like Olivia Palermo and Kim Kardashian. There are the pop figures the masses want to be like, and then there are the pop figures who the masses actually are — and when the latter comes to fruition it makes targeting and messaging that much easier and effective. Edie to most is nothing more than a cautionary tale of modern celebrity, assumed hedonism, style over substance, and pop over purpose; however, this is the same girl who launched the legging revolution –– and a nation no less –– just by being the extraordinary ordinary one. The most innovative trends aren’t always earth-shatteringly complex — they are often just earth-shatteringly accessible and common. Lily is the new extraordinary ordinary one, and the savvy PR professional will note her trivialities — because those are the future trends; where Bob the businessman saw “leggings?” Betsey Johnson saw “leggings!”

Lily Allen is the prototype for digital PR because she is not a musician utilizing the online industry; she is the prototype because she is a member of the digital demographic who happens to make music people like, but more so because she is a person people like. Lily embodies the fundamental feat of the digital sphere – one that Rolling Stone assumed a flaw – to be human, to authentically reflect – and connect with – the audience you want to target. The more things change the more they stay the same. Even in the digital age, people like communicating with people, not products, or personas.

Lily Allen. Watch this space. She’s the ‘Girl on Fire’ — wire.

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