Remember when Kanye West
designed a plain white t-shirt and correspondingly sold each tee for $120 until they were almost immediately out of stock? That was back in 2013, following the release of Yeezus
, in which Kanye launched several lines of clothing including $250 jeans, a $300 sweatshirt, and eventually his pricey Nike Air Yeezy model sneaker. After Nike refused to distribute royalty checks, Kanye switched to Adidas where Yeezy models continued to sell out in seconds at a couple hundred dollars per pair and gather a resale value of up to several thousand. To this day, they still have incredible value in regards to dollars and fashion.
While on tour, Yeezus
merchandise became a brand, an absolute must for Kanye lovers and fashion fanatics. Mr. West and his branding team parodied the font, color, and image styles of the 80s. Guns N' Roses
colors, Grateful Dead
images, and the Metallica
font all fell victim to the stylized t-shirts, sweaters, and other miscellaneous accessories sold while Kanye was on the road. Pop-up shops, temporary merchandise setups that attract hardcore hypebeasts, accompanied Kanye during his touring travels. Of course, all articles were at the least marginally overpriced.
Just in the last year, the hype surrounding merch sprouted further into mainstream culture. Last year's release of Kanye's The Life of Pablo
included a tour that kicked off in August and a catalog of gear including hooded sweatshirts and flashy jackets. However, the new merch was not exclusively sold at the concert venues but rather assorted "pop-up" shops located across the globe, from LA to Cape Town, from Boston to Shanghai. Stupidly long lines flooded boutique outlets for musically inclined, ridiculously priced, Kanye West themed fashion. Attending one of those pop up shops was hypebeast heaven.
Just before Kanye announced his tour in August, Justin Bieber
, and Drake
all launched tours to correspond their albums between spring and summer of 2016. Of course, in an era where music is preferably streamed rather than purchased, the opportunity of merchandise seemed infinitely appetizing and conclusively profitable. Each artist invested money and top caliber designers to conceive hooking merch. Bieber's "Purpose Tour" dished out overpriced combinations of Iron Maiden fonted tees and skateboarding fashion. Drake and Rihanna's merchandise exhibited similar qualities. Their merchandise all played in the same ball park, and these three artists frequented the same sold out stadiums in the summer of 2016.
The merchandise business was wildly successful as reports emerged such as a one night collection of $780,000 at Madison Square Garden from merch at a Pablo concert. The Pablo
pop-up shops easily cleared their stock. Everything that Kanye sold was a hit. Customers did not care that a majority of their costly clothing were Gildan t-shirts, ones that cost no more than a few dollars to make and print with a Pablo
title. Bieber's $50 tees, Rihanna's oversized sweaters, and Drake's "Summer Sixteen" gear triumphed as well.
This week, Kendrick Lamar commenced a tour for the release of DAMN.
along with a website calendar with dates and locations of upcoming pop-up shops. I'm curious as to how his merch and pop-up shops will be received by fans and critics. Kendrick Lamar doesn't have stigma surrounding him like Kanye does, and his clothing and accessories certainly won't shatter the bank ($60 hoodies, $30 hats), or at least not exist in the same price range as Kanye's and J Biebs's did. Kendrick comes off as concise and reserved, giving anthem to the Black Lives Matter movement but also unafraid to cash in at a branding opportunity and an original one at that.
Irregardless, the merch craze that occurred in 2016 revealed a collection of distinct but skewed ideals within our society. Some of us may want to reflect our own interests through what we wear, but at a certain point, when a t-shirt shirt that costs a couple dollars to produce and is listed at $50, do we start to value a perception of ourselves more than music itself? Perhaps it's just the issue of fashion and a reflection of class, but when Kanye or Justin Bieber become involved, it has to do with interests in art that aren't solely high fashion. At the same time, we all know that merchandise has always existed as a win-win for both artists and audience. The artists, designers, and anyone involved in the tour make more money and develop their brand, while the concert-goer is treated with a momento.
At the end of the day, do you wear an artist's or band's shirt because you like their music and it's a piece of clothing, or do you wear the shirt in an attempt to have others think more about you or even have people think that you're something that you aren't? A yes/no answer isn't necessary, but a reevaluation of self preservation and perception might be.