SOURCE: Whitehorn Group

Whitehorn Group

January 29, 2014 15:10 ET

2014 GRAMMY Awards Showcases Celebrity Brands

Christopher Johnson, CEO of Branding Firm Whitehorn Group Shares His Opinion on Why Lorde's Originality and Pharrell Williams' Hat Are Good Signs for the Music Business

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwired - January 29, 2014) - By now it's not news that the music business is struggling to find its future in the digital age. Apart from Tailor Swift's hilarious head banging, there were other significant moments at this year's GRAMMYs that indicate hope may indeed be on the horizon. Christopher Johnson, CEO of branding firm Whitehorn Group in New York says, "What I found most interesting about the 2014 GRAMMY Awards was the support for authenticity -- by the artists themselves, The Recording Academy and the fans. Specifically, Pharrell Williams and Lorde both had a huge impact for the same reason -- they were truly themselves." An oversimplification? Not really, and that's the exciting development this year. Johnson says, "While music labels chase shrinking profits, and deliver heavily produced music, performances, costumes and recordings which have forced many artists to imitate and repeat what seems to work commercially -- Pharrell's and Lorde's simple and original appearances at the GRAMMYs were powerful examples of celebrity brands handled well. It was refreshing."

The talented yet unassuming new pop star from New Zealand, Lorde gave a flawless performance and also, demonstrated she knows who she is as an artist. Johnson says, "Her professionalism and consistency was remarkable. Even the graphics projected behind her performance meshed seamlessly with her dancing style."

Lorde also won a coveted GRAMMY Award. In her acceptance speech she expressed her surprise and appreciation by complementing her competitors. It is a prize she definitely deserves. Her number one hit song "Royals" is unique and fresh with its mixture of hip-hop beats, suburban milieu lyrics and Queen-esque harmonies. The videos she makes are also quietly different. For instance, in her video for "Tennis Court" she simply stares directly at the camera in black lipstick. This simple move mixed with her brilliant talent -- supported by her surprisingly mature comments about the music industry -- envelops her with charisma.

At the age of 17, she is determined to present a real depiction of teenagers' concerns, not the standard lyrics about love that saturate the airwaves. She is authentic and she is not apologizing to anyone for it. Lorde is probably the anti-commercial artist we have all been waiting for. Creativity in the music industry has been waning, and artists like Lorde are a clear sign that authenticity can work. Johnson comments, "Lorde's brand is powerful because she rejects the usual expectations in the music. She really doesn't care about hair and makeup -- which is almost a standard for celebrity brands."

Another highlight from the GRAMMYs was Pharrell Williams donning a gigantic hat to complement his Addidas bomber jacket and jeans. The mammoth hat became the singular GRAMMYs icon -- generating a lot of buzz, especially on Twitter. In fact, it was such a hit that a Twitter handle called @Pharrellhat was created in its honor. Comments drew humorous comparisons of the hat in all ways imaginable. One comment expressed concern that Pharrell's hat looked like it was about to tell him to move to Gryffindor. Another stated that the hat looked like a recycled brown grocery bag. But Pharrell is not only an artist and music producer but also a keen investor in the fashion industry. So, when he makes such a move no matter how ridiculous it seems, it should not be taken lightly. The hat was a reference by the Pharrell Williams to the early days of Hip Hop in New York and the U.K., showcased in Malcolm McLaren and the World's Famous Supreme Team's music video for their 1982 early hip-hop classic "Buffalo Girls."

After the show, Pharrell told 'The Hollywood Reporter' that the hat was not vintage and that it was an authentic Vivienne Westwood Buffalo hat. The hat was made originally for Westwood's autumn and Winter 1982-1983 collection. Johnson says, "As a branding expert, and a fan that grew up in the 80s, I will say that wearing the hat at such a major event was to clearly position his seniority and perspective in the music industry and to fans who care about the history of Hip Hop." It may have generated a ton of memes and jokes online but it demonstrated his respect for the original source of art, not to mention how fashion can be used to express an idea that goes beyond beauty alone. Johnson remembers, "The historic moment the hat referenced was one of the watershed moments for Hip Hop's coming explosion around the world. Pharrell Williams was innovative while also owning his position -- a perfect move for a 40 year old pop star and fashion leader -- showing unusual clarity, insight and maturity."

Johnson says, "This is a good example of the branding power of celebrities when handled correctly. The hat may have nudged our sense of humor but it certainly got everyone talking." In fact, they may do much more than talk. Johnson continues, "His seemingly ridiculous move was indeed an act of branding genius because it came from his own authenticity -- something the music industry appears to be ready for once again."

As expected in the GRAMMYs the surprise of the evening occurred as Macklemore came onstage and performed 'Same Love' while 33 couples got married live on air. Madonna joined and sang "Open Heart" as diverse couples, both straight and gay, exchanged rings in the group wedding officiated by Queen Latifah. This segment of the GRAMMYs was highly relevant in the current American political atmosphere, making a statement that drew very positive and also very negative responses from the public.

Johnson says, "Clearly, the wedding segment was a branding exercise for the entire music industry." The industry itself was standing up to say that marriage is for everyone and that gay marriage must be acknowledged by all. Johnson explains, "Just like Pharrell's hat, this was also a brilliant branding move because it sends a clear message that marriage equality has won. The GRAMMY Awards also sustained its brand as the leading annual music event." In fact, GRAMMYs producer, Ken Ehrlich stated that the show is distinct from the other shows because all things are possible on the GRAMMY Awards. Johnson concludes, "The 2014 GRAMMY Awards showed that authenticity is here. So this will be an exciting year for the music business -- artists and fans included."

About Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is CEO of branding firm Whitehorn Group. Mr. Johnson is a highly regarded authority on celebrity branding and creating innovative brands, like Infiniti Motor Company and JetBlue Airways. He attended Carnegie Mellon University where he won the Tholenheimer Award and McCurdy Prize. He may be reached at (212) 537-9129, or on Twitter @Chris4Whitehorn.

About Whitehorn Group

Whitehorn is a premier brand strategy firm. They create what's NEW and NEXT through global branding, celebrity brands, business strategy, design and product development, marketing and distribution.

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