For a few months Kevin Federline was reasonable tabloid fodder, and he decided to use his fame as Mr Britney Spears to launch a career as a rapper. This was his big break. Failure was not an option. As Vanilla Ice once put it, “opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo.”
The results were a purported Brazilian ass-shaker called “Popozao”, part of an unfinished track with lyrics inveighing against “all the Pavarottis followin’ me” over a backdrop of fart samples, and a studio album called Playing with Fire, which was described by the press as a concept album dedicated to spending Britney Spears’ fortune. With the ink drying on divorce papers, and his career plummeting so hard it never got off the ground in the first place, Kevin embarked on a tour to promote the album. I have a friend who’s worked as a sound man for rappers. He says you’ve got to give them a wireless mic, because they keep making 180 turns in the same direction while walking on stage and if there’s an XLR cable it ends up kinked and twisted. But I go off course. Just like rappers with a mic cable.
Tickets to his shows weren’t selling, so management started giving them away for free. They were prepared to lose money just so they could have full houses. Was it worth it?
Some people view fame as a luck-based enterprise, like gambling. In some ways, it’s even worse than that, because unlike gambling, the past effects the present. A roulette wheel doesn’t care if you struck out the last fifty times, the 51st will still be an honest spin. But if an entertainer has his name attached to a notorious flop, future opportunities can dry up. You just can’t afford to be known as a guy who’s stuff fails. In show business, you’re only as good as your last hit.
So yeah, his label was reasonable in deciding throw money in a furnace so that The Artist Formerly Known as Mr Britney Spears didn’t have to play to an empty house. And he wasn’t the first, or even an especially notable case. K-Fed was merely a lowly white-belt in the ancient dojo of Paying to Avoid Looking Like A Failure.
Remember KISS? As the 70s wound down, and KISS was oversaturated to the point of being uncool, they pulled off a stunt where each member released a solo album on the same day. They actually pressed and shipped a million copies of each to record stores, so they’d be certified platinum (the RIAA’s gold, platinum, and diamond certs are based off albums shipped, not albums sold. You could theoretically go platinum and sell zero albums.)
Unfortunately, nobody really wanted to hear Gene Simmons’ cover of “When You Wish Upon a Star” or thirty minutes “will this do?” from Peter Criss. Very few of these solo albums were sold, and their record company Casablanca took a body blow to the tune of millions of dollars. But they got their platinum records. Score! History recorded KISS as paper champions, even though they got battered and bloodied for all twelve rounds in the marketplace.
Other examples of large scale “fake it till you make it” include:
2. WWE promoters pumping “canned heat” through the PA at quiet events (ie, pre-recorded cheering and booing noises). Any attempt at charisma and stage presence becomes obsolete, as you can make anyone look like a hero or a villain.
3. Qatar trying to pump up hype for their nonexistent soccer prospects by building stadiums and filling them with hapless Nepalese slaves, who dutifully pretend to be cheering fans.
The fakery can be a bit overwhelming to keep track of. Sometimes you wonder if anyone honestly represents themselves in any venture.