M.I.A. scores a mainstream hit


Hipsters have been mad for British electro-rock singer songwriter M.I.A. since she released her debut album Arular in 2004. Now, four years, another album and endless critical praise later, M.I.A. has finally scored a Billboard hit and it’s thanks to a television commercial.

M.I.A.’s song “Paper Planes,” from her 2007 album Kala, is that catchy song you hear every time a trailer comes on television for Pineapple Express, the new Judd Apatow-penned comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. “Paper Planes” shot to the middle of Billboard’s Hot 100 and cracked the iTunes Top 20 after that spot aired — even though the song isn’t included anywhere in the movie itself.

M.I.A. is just the latest of countless indie artists who crack the mainstream via commercials. Pop songs and commercials have always gone hand in hand, but big corporations once only banked on bona fide hit makers. In 1987, The Beatles’ “Revolution” was used to pimp Nike shoes. Just a few years before, Carly Simon’s “Anticipation” sold Heinz ketchup. There used to be endless debates about artist integrity: Was it tacky for big name musicians to sell their tunes to corporations? How much money did these people need?

Nowadays, clever ad execs are using more obscure artists to peddle their goods. The results are big time attention for little known acts that wouldn’t otherwise receive airtime on the radio. Having a debate about the evils of selling out for these upstarts isn’t as relevant when you consider independent artists on small labels have no way to crack the mainstream. Most of them don’t have megabucks either so getting paid to have your song heard on TV could be a very attractive deal.

Two years ago, indie rock enthusiasts had the shock of their lives when they heard indie darling Cat Power singing a cover of “How Can I Tell You,” by her fellow feline, Cat Stevens, in a commercial for DeBeers diamonds. What was even crazier, we all learned, Cat Power had recorded the song exclusively for the ad.

Target made The Concretes a stateside sensation when it featured the quirky Swedish band’s catchy “Say Something New” in commercials. Last year Feist fanatics either thrilled or bristled at hearing her “1234” in a commercial for the iPod nano. Feist herself must have been pleased when the commercial helped the tune shoot up the iTunes Top Songs chart.

In a weirder move, Mates of State, a husband-and-wife duo that’s little known outside of indie rock circles, actually appeared in a commercial for AT&T Wireless. The duo is seen performing their tune “For the Actor” in the spot.

French-Israeli singer Yael Naim was unknown in the United States until her song “New Soul” was featured this year in commercials for the new MacBook Air laptop. The song quickly climbed to the number one spot on iTunes for downloadable songs.

Finally, in one of the boldest artist-advertisements relationships we’ve seen, electro clash singer-songwriter Santogold has songs featured in not one, not two, but three TV spots right now including commercials for Ford, Bud Light and Converse.

Have you discovered a new singer or band through a television commercial? How do you feel about artists selling their music to big corporations? Is it OK to earn money and gain exposure through ads on TV?

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