Is Lady Gaga’s Doritos-sponsored SXSW show a step too far?

03.13.14 4 years ago 4 Comments

AP photo

Ever since Lady Gaga announced that she would be playing a South by Southwest gig at outdoor amphitheater Stubbs, sponsored by Doritos, I”ve had a bad taste in my mouth.  

Doritos usually leave a yummy, albeit slightly burning, corrosive taste in my mouth, but this time it feels like I”m being force fed a whole bag.

Lady Gaga was already in bed with Doritos for SXSW before she announced the Stubbs show last week: the original plan was for Momma Monster to play a free outdoor show on the street by the 64-foot Doritos vending machine.  SXSW”s streets are clogged enough as it is, so the city of Austin smartly denied a permit for that plan (and given the horror that occurred at SXSW last night when a drunk driver crashed a barricade, the city”s decision seems even more advisable).

So, instead, Lady Gaga will play a show at Stubbs tonight, but the only way to get in is for fans to make a bold move (#boldmove, because if something doesn”t have a hash tag, it no longer is real).  Or as Lady Gaga said in a video announcing the entry rules, “share a picture or a video that expresses your individuality through a bold action. What bold thing have you done that stands out?” We suppose a bold action can be anything from a “Jackass”-like stunt to declaring your love for someone and then posting it. According to Forbes, fans could also enter by “busk[ing] on the street using instruments Doritos provides” or “have Doritos give you a haircut.” Really?

Lady Gaga looked a little bit like she was a hostage being forced to recite words dictated by her captors in the video announcing the #BoldStage ticket last week.  There are cuts every few seconds and you can almost see her eyes, even though they”re obscured by sunglasses, begging us to help her.  

So a show that was supposed to be free for all to attend turns into an exclusive event that fans can only attend by performing some stunt to hype Doritos. Not only that, as Jon Pareles declared today in the New York Times, Doritos (and its parent company, Frito-Lay), basically own your picture and/or video until the end of time and can use it however they see fit without compensating you. So, say someone did something so creative, Doritos decides to use it in a commercial (perhaps like their user-submitted Super Bowl ads), they don”t have to ask you or pay you, they have it. Hey, at least you got to see a Lady Gaga show… (For his part, Pareles is boycotting the show).

Yes, sponsorship is a reality these days and SXSW has been increasingly taken over by brands that would have been run out of town in the fest”s early days, but are now embraced. I remember hearing Robert Redford rail against how commercialized the Sundance Film Festival had become a few years ago during his annual welcoming address. He bemoaned it and declared that he hated how big corporations now came in and sponsored houses and events, but he somewhat acceded that it had become a necessary evil. SXSW seems to have not only reached that conclusion, but surpassed it this Doritos/Lady Gaga union.

As for Lady Gaga, she seems lost. After declaring that she planned to relaunch “Artpop” in a wrenching post on her site in January in which she blamed the album”s failure on her since-dismissed handlers, we have yet to get a new single and the album feels like it will not be revived. There are rumors that tickets for her tour aren”t selling well, although the tour promoter denies that is the case. Yes, she”ll get press from her performance tonight, but how much is enough? Does this alliance with Doritos benefit her in any way?

As she showed during the beautiful, poignant rendition of “You”ve Got A Friend,” at the MusiCares Person of the Year salute to Carole King, she”s tremendously talented, but her talent has been overshadowed by her playing the blame game and other distractions, like a 64-foot vending machine.

Hopefully, her show tonight will go off without incident, but holding a show open only to contest winner in the middle of SXSW madness, seems foolish. If Doritos and Lady Gaga were determined that the show happen during SXSW, they should have at least moved it away from the main drag so as not to impede people with SXSW badges trying to get to other shows on already impossibly crowded streets.

I hope during her SXSW keynote Friday morning, she addresses why she felt the need to align herself with Doritos.  The video ends with a card also branding the evening, “Born This Way Foundation Night, ” so maybe Doritos is donating money, or at least a lifetime”s supply of Doritos, to Gaga”s foundation, but if so, she may want to trumpet that a little bit more.

Ultimately, SXSW needs to do a little retrenching, which will obviously happen following Wednesday night”s tragedy, but maybe it”s time for both SXSW and Lady Gaga to rethink if getting in bed with a sponsor in such a way benefits anyone but Doritos.

In this day of shameless corporate tie-ins, whether it”s Beyonce with Pepsi or Jay-Z with Samsung, this stunt seems a step too far.

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