I can’t seem to get enough of the Tour de France. A recent convert to the event, I sit transfixed in front of the screen, watching the peloton flow across the French countryside, up and down mountains, over winding roads and through picturesque towns, past lavender fields and 12th-century churches while the English ESPN commentating wizard Phil Leggett provides non-stop verbal accompaniment to surgically unpack the layers of psychological drama inherent in this grueling 2,200 mile journey of endurance. Whatever may be going on inside their heads, outwardly the cyclists are a case study in the hypnotic flow of repetition, propelling themselves mile after mile at fast speeds in a unison rhythm, their environment just a blur of passing color as they power through it. Leggett’s commentary makes you wonder: why do they do it?
And since I’m taping several hours of race coverage, I too power through the commercials at triple (>>>) fast forward speed to get back to those glorious aerial camera views of the French countryside and listen to Leggett’s insights. But with my remote in hand, I notice a recurring commercial for the French clothing company Izod that features the indie rock band Weezer. What is this? Well, it’s a song from 2010 called “Brave New World.” I start to listen and then, despite myself, start liking this little 30-second explosion of music and commerce. Here’s the ad:
Then I start Googling around, reading people saying things like –
“Is anyone else tired of this song?”
“The song is sooo bad” –
and so on.
So, clearly the song has had an impact.
Since apparently no one buys music recordings anymore, artists clamor to get their music into TV commercials as way of not only making money, but also of reaching a whole lot of people (like me) who otherwise wouldn’t even listen to their music. But companies also clamor to use particular musics in their commercials. Music, that mediating force that Georgina Born astutely calls an “assemblage” or “network of relations” between sounds, listeners, discourses and cosmologies (among other many other things), seems to have an almost infinite power to signify an almost infinite number of things because that’s just in its nature. In fact, its contours, rhythms, melodies, harmonies and timbres compel us to respond in corresponding ways. Around music, we’re a little like puppets tugged about on strings. Add words to the equation and the possibilities for meanings just explode. Suffice it to say that music’s signifying power coupled with our susceptibility to it are very useful things for companies trying to sell stuff.
So then, why this song?
My Googling leads me to the blog called tourdewhat, where the writer weighs in:
“I don’t really care about Weezer being complete sell-outs. In a time such as this [when people don’t buy music anymore], any band that can make money, more power to them. However, what in the hell do Izod and Weezer have in common? Absolutely nothing. Izod is supposed to be upscale casual wear clothing company, and as you can see in the commercial, perhaps having a nautical influence. Weezer is an alternative rock group in the shaggy hair/thick glasses ilk. I’m guessing any of its members have never worn a piece of Izod clothing in their life. The whole mash-up is confusing to the point of infuriation. Do you think they got some bogus market research, or maybe some exec just really likes Weezer and this is a pet project? Who knows?”
What I know is that even though I’m lousy at paying attention to the words in songs (let alone remembering them), already the vocal melody from the Weezer song has become an earworm: “…This is the dawning of a brave new world. No more hesitating, it’s too late to turn back now, yeah…”
And I think tourdewhat hits the aesthetic nail on the head when wondering about what Izod and Weezer have in common–why this particular “mash-up”? For me, the power of the ad comes from the juxtaposition of this Weezer song with visuals of good-looking young folks outside swimming and sailing and dancing, getting tons of fresh air. (Kind of like the tour riders in the peloton, only they’re not nearly so grim-faced.) The music is hard-hitting and upbeat, moving through a mere three chords (E major to C major to A minor) and the lyrics vague enough for the overall message to be inspiring in the same way that the folks in this commercial seem happy, fit and inspired. Interesting too, that the most climactic moment in the 30-second clip is exactly 19 seconds in when the chord changes to C major with the singer hitting an F-sharp at the same time on the words “no more.” The distance between these two notes–C and F-sharp–is six semitones and considered a very dissonant interval (called a tritone). In that micro musical gesture and in the commercial as a whole, Weezer’s music packs a lot of affective punch on Izod’s behalf.
*Note: The picture in this post is taken from Sylvain Chomet’s film Triplets Of Belleville, which features of good deal of cycling. In a curious case of life seeming to imitate art (and not the other way around as usually happens), now when I watch the real Tour de France I’m reminded of Chomet’s animated world.