The Beatles for Nike
Michael Weinreb: I have reached the age where I don't begrudge anyone for selling out at any time, with one notable exception: I've heard the opening riff to "Revolution" at least 343 times since 1987, and it still makes me think of elderly people power walking. (I'm not sure if these 60 seconds or "The Girl Is Mine" is the worst Michael Jackson-related stain on the Beatles' legacy. The '80s were dark, man.) For this ad alone, Phil Knight should be condemned to a bleak hellscape where Bo Jackson repeatedly fires a crossbow at his skull.
Ian MacKaye for Nike
Chuck Klosterman: Ian MacKaye totally sells out. I BET HE WAS PAID FOR THIS SPEECH! I BET THEY GAVE HIM FREE BOTTLED WATER, AND HE PROBABLY DRANK IT!
Jay-Z for Budweiser Select
Amos Barshad: The dark days of Hova. In the aftermath of Kingdom Come, would anyone have been able to imagine the world-conquering charms of Watch the Throne would arrive five short years later? Like, I’m definitely not one of those people who hate when rappers rhyme one word with itself — but “I am the Mike Jordan of recording / you might wanna fall back from recording”? Gah. And then, salt in the wound, he does a Budweiser Select commercial involving imaginary holographic football. You know what Budweiser Select’s slogan is? It’s “Full flavor. 99 calories.” 99 calories?! Fuck 99 calories. I’d wager Jay has never actually tasted a Budweiser Select. I commend him for eventually disassociating with the brand. And I ask that if he ever does another alcohol commercial, it be for St. Ides.
Pearl Jam for Target
Molly Lambert: Can't Find a Better Deal: It's pretty ill watching the formerly famously anticorporate Pearl Jam shred while a tattered, muddy-maroon pool of a "grunge" Target logo is projected behind Eddie Vedder's face. They play for a crowd of discount-retail fans to promote their '09 album Backspacer, which was carried exclusively through the big-box store and cross-promoted with Verizon song snippet ringtones so that now Jeremy's phone can play "Jeremy" in class today. Forget about all your old 1990s cultural politics. Let's unleash some bargains!
Smashing Pumpkins for Visa
Mark Lisanti: Let me begin by saying I have no problem with an artist getting paid. (Big of me, I know!) Hey, guy's gotta eat. Or guy's gotta upgrade his solid-gold bidet to the platinum. Whatever. We all have our needs, and, in all fairness, the platinum is another order of magnitude classier. I suppose in the end it doesn't actually matter which corporate behemoth you roll over for, but something definitely didn't feel right about Billy Corgan giving up such a personal song and taking a swan dive into a Olympic-sized swimming pool full of Visa's cash. One imagines he might have held out for a different payday had this opportunity presented itself post-financial meltdown, but who knows? At least "Cherub Rock" isn't scoring the in-house product promos for credit-default swaps at Goldman. As far as we know. (This is where I'd come back to the bidet, but you really don't want the diamond-encrusted one.)
Nick Drake for VW
Andy Greenwald: Nick Drake, the frail English folkie who died at the age of 26 from an overdose of antidepressants, probably never owned a convertible. It’s not just that the frequent rainfall in Tanworth-in-Arden made unglamorous affectations like “roofs” necessary, it’s that Drake himself was a notoriously troubled figure, his deeply intimate finger-pickings about as far from beachy fun and frivolity as humanly possible. And so “Pink Moon,” the haunted title track from Drake’s final album, would seem to be a poor choice to soundtrack a 1999 commercial for Volkswagen’s boxy, topless Cabrio. Using the song, with its vague whiff of loamy English soil and cheap ‘70s patchouli, would only infuriate Drake’s culty followers and confuse the decidedly non-fey convertible-buying audience of frat boys and Cool Moms, right?
Wrong, as it turned out. Far from trampling on Drake’s memory, the ad conjured up the singer in all his druid-y glory. A group of lo-fi pretty people cruise down a nighttime highway, Drake’s song sighing from the tape deck. As the moon waxes, their interest in attending a crowded house party — the kind populated by the braying bros usually associated with sporty rides — wanes. Sharing a silent look, they reverse course, choosing instead to spend the evening driving, not drinking. Not only did the spot increase Drake’s sales a hundredfold, it also may have been more accurate than initially thought. In the months before his death, Drake would, according to his longtime producer, Joe Boyd, “borrow his mother's car and drive for hours without purpose ... until he ran out of petrol and had to ring his parents to ask to be collected.” Just another example of commerce imitating art imitating life.
Of Montreal for Outback Steakhouse
Tess Lynch: I have such dark feelings about the Outback Steakhouse/Of Montreal phenomenon. Lacking money for an attorney, Kevin Barnes reportedly didn't consider his contract carefully enough and wound up dancing with the lyrics-changing devil down under. Their ugly, chilling progeny managed to be everywhere at once, saturating televisions and radios like evil diapers with a "quasifunky" melody and lyrics changed to "Let's go Outback tonight / Life will still be there tomorrow." Well ... not eventually.
Wayne's World for Everything
Katie Baker: Remember when Doritos bags looked like that? And whatever happened to Nuprin? Also, speaking of selling out, it's hard to even look at Rob Lowe now that I know that he's bizarrely tight with Jim Irsay.
David Spade and Chris Farley for DirecTV
Dan Silver: I’m all for actors/actresses satirizing their most iconic performances in commercials. It’s fun to see their characters in new scenarios; it’s also interesting to see how the performers inhabit the roles years later (and by default, could potentially save us from unneeded and unnecessary sequels). So in this series of movie parodies for DirecTV’s HD service, it’s amusing to watch Kathy Bates pick up her beloved sledgehammer, or see an electrocuted Christopher Lloyd pick himself off the curb again. But this Tommy Boy spot feels just all sorts of wrong. The fact that it’s exploiting and profiting off the untimely and tragic death of Farley is only exacerbated by the fact that unlike Bates and Lloyd, Tommy Boy is not David Spade's movie — it’s Farley’s. Both Annie Wilkes in Misery and Doc Brown in Back to the Future were/are distinctive and memorable roles, so this ad would have made much more sense if it were Farley reprising his role of Tommy Callahan. In the film, Spade essentially plays a version of himself. Sure, he’s funny, but he doesn’t need to do much more than be a straight man and react to Farley’s antics. He plays the same character seen on SNL, Black Sheep, and, later, in all his unwatchable movies and TV shows. Some might argue that Spade’s participation should dissuade negative criticism, but it honestly doesn’t make the heavy posthumous repurposing of Farley’s hilarity feel any less wrong or creepy — regardless of the rea$$$ons and justifications.