Lulu – Lou Reed & Metallica: 5 reasons why it won’t work. A marketer’s perspective

In a previous post, I touched on how the hip-hop industry “co-brands” many artists to create synergies from a marketing perspective, essentially growing two ‘brands’ at once.

Well the latest round to be fired out of the music industry’s co-branding cannon is Lulu, the collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica.  And as many of you would know by now, Lulu has streaming in full here, ahead of its imminent release.

It is not easily listening.  It’s a lyrical and musical assault on the ears – and not always in a good way.

Lou Reed and Metallica: they will intimidate you into buying Lulu

Combining the iconic Reed with Metallica, one of the biggest metal/hard rock bands of all time is a bold venture.  However, it is undoubtedly a high risk strategy from a marketing perspective given the current state of the music industry that thrives on well known ‘brands’ playing it safe and catering to as many people as possible.  For example, the latest releases by Coldplay, Beyonce and Lil Wayne can hardly be criticised for pushing the creative envelope.

By composing an album based on an opera about a German prostitute, Lou Reed and Metallica should be congratulated for taking such a big risk.  In many ways it’s what the industry needs – two big ‘brands’ combining to take a risk by pushing the creative envelope and challenging people’s commonly held beliefs about what popular music should sound like.

But as desperately as many people (myself included) want this to work, it will most likely be a commercial and critical failure.  Here’s five reasons why from a marketing perspective:

5. Initial reaction via social media

Social media is a tenuous place for risky brands.  Evidenced by the caustic reaction to the track “The View” and some highly negative reviews, a bad image about Lulu has spread through social media even before it’s actual release.

Albums can succeed or fail on the strength of their lead single and if initial reactions to “The View” are anything to go by, many people will not give Lulu a chance.

4. Fickle consumers and the online environment

The online environment has simultaneously expanded consumers’ musical horizons whilst reducing their attention span.  Consequently, the ability for bands to make a good initial first impression and grab consumers in a short timeframe is essential.

As I said earlier, Lulu is tough listening.  There are no catchy hooks or sing-along choruses, and only 2 songs come in at a YouTube and radio-friendly 5 minutes.  Rather it contains, long and convoluted songs, some of which are over 10 minutes long (and one which is almost 20 minutes).

Although some of these tracks have some of Metallica’s best work in years, (Dragon for example), most people simply won’t bother to sit through these songs when another song is just a click away.

3. The complex and polarising Lou Reed

Lou Reed: Much cooler in the Velvet Underground era

Indie hipsters refer to Lou Reed with a type of effortless cool and it is not a reputation he earned by accident.

With the Velvet Underground Reed put out some groundbreaking material: “White Light/White Heat”, “Loaded” and their debut “The Velvet Underground & Nico” (which contains “Heroin”, which might be the most haunting song about drug addiction recorded).  And also as a solo artist has also released some material, which will stand as classics, e.g. “Transformer” and “Berlin”.

But he has put out some terrible music too; think Metal Machine Music (an album of distorted feedback loops which made him the laughing stock of the industry for some time).

Given his track record, nobody really knows what to expect from each release. This makes him a big risk from a marketing perspective.

Loud Reed is a complex and often polarising character whose relevance has faded.  He is simply too difficult for the mainstream audience and instead of helping this album succeed, he will contribute to its failure.

2. The subject matter

For a mainstream release, the subject matter is about as mainstream as the Frank Wedekind play on which the album is based.  Many albums start innocuously but Lulu begins with:

I would cut my legs and tits off / When I think of Boris Karloff and Kinski / In the dark of the moon

Lulu: A tough mistress.

And perhaps NME said it best with “There’s a time in every person’s life when they have to listen to a 69-year-old man pretending to be a submissive girl begging to be beaten”.

It’s not dinnertime conversation and it’s not the type of things which Facebook or twitter posts are made of.  Lulu is simply not the sort of things that people relate to or will feel comfortable telling others they like.

1. The Metallica ‘monster’

Despite their many detractors, Metallica released some outstanding material in the 80’s.  The rapid fire “Kill ‘Em All”, the thrash metal classics “Ride the Lightning” and “Master of Puppets” and the technically impressive (and personal favourite) “And Justice For All…”, stand as some of the pillars of heavy metal and rock music.

And in 1991 Metallica simplified their sound and went “mainstream” with their hugely popular self-titled album (also known as the Black Album).  Containing instantly recognisable songs such as “Enter Sandman” and “Nothing Else Matters”, Metallica gained millions of fans and grew to epic proportions (albeit losing a few of their core thrash metal fans who thought they had sold out).

However, every release since 1991 has been burdened by the ‘Metallica’ behemoth and all the expectations that come with it.  And in the eyes of many fans and critics, these albums have not lived up to their earlier material either commercially or critically.

Lulu is much more Lou Reed than Metallica and there is little on here for the Metallica’s core fans to instantly fall in love with.  And if their past hostility towards previous “sub-par” Metallica releases is anything to go by (think St Anger) this album will be largely shunned by their core fans who will go back to listening to “Master of Puppets”.

Although both Reed and Metallica have produced some exceptional material in the past, a marketing perspective suggests that this album is destined to fail.

As brands, they are fading entities that have drifted a long way from the core values which made them successful.  Lou Reed has lost the effortless cool Velvet Underground mystique and Metallica have long lost the energy and passion they had on “Master of Puppets”. 

Although they are cultural icons and destined for rock and roll immortality, the seemingly inevitable failure of Lulu will demonstrate that their contemporary relevance has faded.  Feel free to prove me wrong.

// Alec Schumann

About AnthonySchumann
Subtle Bravado // Creative Boutique. Ted Anthony - Vision Alec Schumann - Creative Follow @AnthonySchumann

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