Since 1984 the MTV Video Vanguard Award also known as the Lifetime Achievement Award is given to musicians who have had a profound effect on MTV culture, honouring their body of work. 2015's recipient was awarded to none other than Kanye West. The artist who gave pop culture a social currency with the song 'gold digger', the greatest rock star in the world, an innovator of fashion ("It ain't Ralph doe!") and more recently, gained a renowned status in pop culture by being sworn in to the Kardashian empire through his female counterpart - Kim. As he took the stage, accepting his award from Taylor Swift - where six years previously on this very same show, he forcibly intruded her acceptance speech, diminished her efforts and gave praise to Beyoncé - it made everyone question (including Taylor) whether history would repeat itself. As it turned out it didn't, and he wants you to know he thinks of his actions with remorse. Though in true Kanye style, the praise given was to himself so much so; he announced his presidency for 2020.
If this monologue of fragmented thought patterns was given by any other artist attending the VMA's that night, media outlets and the viewing public would hold a greater level of bemusement towards this surprise announcement. Rather, Kanye's career as an entertainer is in its purest form, because alongside attention towards his music, there is an even greater transfixion on his persona, which includes a hint of ego-centrism that we all secretly enjoy being the spectators of.
Taking it back to 2005, Time Magazine had dubbed Kanye the 'smartest man in pop', his critics were quick to question its authenticity, because thus far, all Kanye had contributed was golden rhythms and a knack for typing in capital letters. Then, Kanye took the stage for NBC's 'A Concert for Hurricane Relief' where he was scheduled to appear alongside the comedian Mike Myers to work in unison to read from a script on the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and how much more relief work still remained. Whilst Myers remained confined to the teleprompter, West ad-libbed his exert, focusing on media bias towards black people, the deep-rooted racism prevalent in America today and the apathy of George W. Bush towards America's minorities. This contravened media incident highlighting the struggle faced in black America was a profoundly devastating moment for the production team. But more poignantly, his improvisation reflects the on going influence Hollywood has by taking real issues affecting real people and attaching celebrity ambassadors to raise its profile; creating a 'poli-tainment' for modern society.
The case of Pussy Riots
Whilst West's music has influenced a feeling of self-determination, music inspires unity as it has the ability to connect people globally, a language not constricted by culture or inferences. With lyrical and creative exposure to issues of corruption or poverty, it shows people know to take a stand against something that is real. Political sentiment in music, particularly anti-establishment songs is seen across cultures. But its expression is important in reflecting the history and political context of the country in question and could potentially provide a partisan opinion on the meaning behind the music, creating a distinction between its awareness and its advocacy.
In Russia, resentment against Putin is rife, with the international community observing him as undemocratic through irregularities in his presidential election, decrees for the Russian economy, promoting homophobic propaganda against the LGBT community and the battle of Crimea. The most notorious protest was from Pussy Riot. Founded in 2011, Pussy Riot is a Russian, feminist, punk protest group, gaining recognition for their staged provocative performances in obscure public locations, making the airwaves online. In February 2012, the group filmed their music video 'Punk Prayer - Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!' in a Moscow Cathedral, which were eventually stopped by Church security. And in March, the group were arrested and denied bail, later to be convicted of 'hooliganism and motivated by religious hatred', each with a sentence of two years imprisonment.
Although the act gained notoriety for being nihilist feminists, the reception to their struggle lacked change for the regime; focusing more on the relationship between the Church and state. Despite the performance gaining international coverage and global support for their release, only 55% were informed about the group and only 13% of people closely followed the events as they were happening. Its low-tier reception amongst the wider community reflects an on going struggle for important issues not to be categorically recognised as important unless a figure-head who resonates popularity amongst a mainstream narrative is attached to the issue.
Philanthropy: The new Hollywood brand
Fame today is a dissociative term and its achievement is widely accessible. You can either participate in reality TV, have a strong social media presence; and to build on this you add a slice of controversy, date someone who is famous or if all else fails: release a Z-list sex tape. In 2015, the power of Instagram has transformed the lives of many ordinary people to a level of success and recognition. For example Lucky Blue Smith, the 17 year old Mormon who became a sensation amongst teenage girls through his blue eyes, blonde hair and good looks achieving more followers than the most successful male model: David Gandy. Or Matthew Noszaka, once an ordinary country boy and after one instragram upload, his next booking was a flight to Los Angeles with Wilhelmina Models and then an interview with Ellen Degeneres. Whilst this remains a strong base for the individual, its through an increased push by the company to increase their support base and recognition in the mainstream, creating a type of faux-fame.
This type of fame is not one to define Emma Watson. From her polished media interviews, her global success as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and is now an incredible ambassador for the UN. In 2014, at a global leaders summit she delivered an inspiring speech announcing the He for She campaign, which was a moment of national pride for Britain and the feminist movement. Despite its importance, another with an equally important and heart warming message at the UN was Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, who in the same summit as Watson had the world leaders roaring with applause from her original poem written for civil society. Brandon Stanton, the creator of the Facebook based photo-blog Humans of New York, recently travelled to Pakistan, where he met Syeda Ghulam Fatima, who is devoting her life to end bondage labour, despite facing the prospect of death on a daily basis. Her story and the poem from Kathy, articulately describing the ills of the world; would surely require the same recognition and support as the He for She campaign from Watson, but unfortunately does not, not because of its irregularities, but because it lacks the profile of visibility.
In 2011, an interview by Justin Forsyth CEO of Save the Children said that rather than hindering the cause of a campaign, celebrity ambassadors push the message deeper and gain a wider reception in its message. But what if the celebrity outshines the companies brand, hindering the efforts and message of the campaign? Scarlett Johansson became the face of Soda Stream and because of the company's plans to open on the West Bank in Gaza, Johansson became embodied in a tussle with Oxfam, her now-former ambassador employer. Rather than gaining support for Soda Streams 'intentions' to build on the West Bank, narrative and discussions focussed on the relationship between the companies and the actress. In 2009, Chris Brown was dropped from the advertisement 'Got Milk?' after he relentlessly assaulted Rihanna and Nutella ended their relationship with Kobe Bryant after allegations of sexual abuse, questioning whether high-profile visibility hinders a business objective.
The creation of a brand is a critical activity for a business, taking a lot of work to represent what the brand stands for and who will represent it. Today, authenticity and goodwill is important, but because of the instant impact of social media; conveying that message becomes a lot harder for a celebrity who may 'ad-lib their exert' when asked to read from the screen. Though music can be used to change the way people think about politics, its can become lost through outer-issues affecting the figures advocating the change. Whilst celebrity ambassadors are an effective method of supporting a business objective, the question remains whether they are helping or hindering its cause. On agreeing to work for the company, they enter into a quasi-diplomatic relationship; having never been trained in the art of diplomacy and in Johansson's case; only lace, pearls and cat suits. With a culture obsessed with the private lives and pitfalls of others, there can be an angle of positivity for a brand attaching itself to a figure of pop culture - to reach a certain demographic. But once the contract expires, the business moves on to different projects, there are still lives experiencing pain and issues affecting real people that remain. If more investment was put to inspiring people working for great causes, like that found by Brandon, where there is no prior information or need of their personal lives, then the true meaning of the message will remain and its inspiration and impact can be greater.