When it comes to pop music, I don’t believe in guilty pleasures, and neither should you. At least not in the traditional sense.
That’s because guilty pleasures aren’t really about guilt. They’re about fearing the judgment of others — anyone who might frown on your affection for Taylor Swift, James Taylor or Trinidad James.
But if life on the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that we’re never alone in our tastes. This planet is filled with people who love the exact same stuff we do, no matter what we love. That means we’re free to kick our shame back to the 20th century, crank up the tunes that inhabit the secret corners of our iPods and bask in the cool of post-modernism’s shadow. Everything goes.
So what should a pop fan feel guilty about in 2014?
At the risk of sounding like a finger-pointing grouch, I still feel tremendous guilt for enjoying songs that serve corporations. I feel guilty when I fall for the sing-songy melodies that pop up in television commercials. I feel guilty for being touched by music whose fundamental purpose is to persuade me to buy a smartphone, lease an automobile or sign up for a credit card.
And on July 7, I will feel guilty for singing along when Beyoncé and her husband, Jay Z, touch down at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium as part of their “On the Run” tour, sponsored by Chase.
It’s the couple’s first co-headlining tour, and the timing couldn’t be better. She’s an R&B superpower supporting the most adventurous album of her career. He might be the greatest rapper that ever lived — but his last album was abysmal.
Together, they’re pop music’s premiere power couple, and they’re currently experiencing a momentous shift in power. It should make for a revelatory night, or at least a fascinating one.
Perhaps that’s why JPMorgan Chase reportedly scrambled to win the bidding war to sponsor the coast-to-coast stadium tour. According to Billboard, it put in an eleventh-hour bid rumored at roughly $4 million.
In turn, Chase cardholders were given exclusive pre-sale access to some of the summer’s most coveted concert tickets as well as special access to VIP areas and other on-site experiences at the gigs.
It sounds a little slimy, but sponsorships by financial services have become standard for artists of this magnitude.
Last year, the Rolling Stones struck a similar deal with Citi. Justin Timberlake has teamed with MasterCard. And in addition to sponsoring performances from Arcade Fire, Kenny Chesney, Maroon 5 and many others, American Express recently started offering its members advance album streams from big-name acts, including Coldplay.
And while the collapse of the record industry has forced artists to find creative ways to monetize their charisma, shouldn’t we at least flinch when JPMorgan Chase — the bank responsible for one of the biggest investment scams in history — invites two of America’s most beloved pop stars to help repair their criminal image?
Meanwhile, Jay and Bey have been shoring up their own criminal image in the land of make-believe. They recently released a promotional video for their “On the Run” tour fashioned to look like a trailer for a Hollywood blockbuster. There are car chases, massive explosions and cameos by Don Cheadle, Sean Penn, Blake Lively and Jake Gyllenhaal. Halfway through the clip, Mr. and Mrs. Carter rob a bank wearing matching white blazers and black balaclavas.
They’re simply sprucing up the “Bonnie and Clyde” personas they first explored in a hit duet more than a decade ago, but who are Jay Z and Beyoncé really robbing in 2014? Can starry plutocrats fantasize about armed robbery in good taste? Shouldn’t we at least wonder why they’re encouraging us to invest with a bank whose role in the 2008 global financial crisis unleashed a historic epidemic of foreclosures and unemployment? And does buying a concert ticket six summers later make us complicit?
In the context of guilty pleasures, those questions sink to the bottom of my stomach much faster than any secret fling with “Call Me Maybe.”
Then again, it’s only a guilty pleasure if the pleasure outweighs the guilt. If Bey and Jay understand that, we might be in for a hell of a show.