Hey! Today’s update covers Missy Elliott getting her deserved roses at tonight’s MTV Video Music Awards and how her iconic music videos didn’t always translate to commercial success. I continued to discuss why the VMAs still matter despite all the thinkpieces that say otherwise. And of course, I covered Hasbro buying Death Row Records.
(By the way, last Wednesday’s piece has been read nearly 50,000 times now. Keep sharing!)
Missy Elliott’s Moment
Tonight, Missy Elliott becomes the first female rapper to earn the distinguished Video Vanguard Award at tonight’s MTV Video Music Awards. It seems overdue— especially since Hype Williams already got this award in large part for directing Missy Elliott videos!
Irony aside, Missy is taking advantage of the moment:
- She’s released a five-track EP Iconology, her first project in 14 years.
- A music video for the lead single “Throw it Back”
- A two-day Missy Elliott pop-up museum in Manhattan this past weekend
This comes after her recent induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She’s only the third hip-hop artist to earn that claim.
In Missy’s heyday, music videos were primarily a marketing tactic to sell CDs. Here’s what I wrote on this in May:
“In Hype [William’s] heyday, music videos were a marketing expense. Each video was a four-minute ad that record labels spent money on to increase album sales. But these “ads” weren’t “sold” in a traditional sense. Instead, they were featured programming on MTV, BET, and VH1. From the inception of MTV in 1981 to the music industry’s peak in 1999, revenue from recorded music doubled (even after accounting for inflation).”
Surprisingly, Missy’s iconic and out-of-this-world videos rarely made the list of most expensive music videos. “She’s a Bitch” is the only reported one that broke the $2 million mark. In contrast, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Britney Spears were more commonly featured on that high-spender list. Missy made the most of her budget.
But unfortunately, Missy’s album sales did not always match the music video credibility. None of her albums topped the Billboard 200 chart. Most of them eventually went platinum, but there was still a disconnect. Music video popularity album sales, which stems from a couple of reasons.
Women in hip-hop had a tougher time selling albums than their counterparts. In that era, Lauryn Hill, Foxy Brown, and Eve are the only female MCs to have their albums top the charts, and each only did it once. But Missy was still in a slightly different bucket. She wasn’t positioned as a sex symbol in the way that Foxy or Eve were. But their music videos were hardly as memorable as Missy’s were. For most artists, there’s an obvious correlation in a music video popularity on MTV and BET and album sales. That correlation, unfortunately, was weaker for someone like Missy.
The good thing is that Missy can further capitalize on this moment. Right now, fans can purchase a $25 vinyl of *Supa Dupa Fly.* There’s a big opportunity for her to sell some merch. Her fashion style of old feels synonymous with current trends in streetwear culture (Missy had a partnership with adidas back in 2004—well before every rapper teamed up with adidas).
She could easily sell items that signal back to her classic outfits from past music videos. Imagine if Missy sold the puffy plastic jumpsuit from “The Rain” for $75? That thing would sell out instantly. There’s also an opportunity for her to do additional pop-up museums/stores in different cities. Tickets to this past weekend’s Manhattan pop-up sold out instantly. There’s plenty of people outside of Manhattan that would love to hear her too.
MTV VMAs Still Make Money
Each year, there are dozens of thinkpieces written on why the MTV Video Music Awards no longer matter. Most of these thinkpieces are written by Gen Xers and millennials who remember a pre-social media era when MTV was the gatekeeper to American culture. ‘I Want My MTV’ was the wave, and the VMAs were its tentpole event. Moments like Michael Jackson kissing Lisa Marie Presley (“just think, nobody thought this would last!“), Lil’ Kim’s 1999 outfit, or Madonna and Britney Spears’ kiss were fixtures in pop culture.
Has the show lost its cultural relevance? Yes. But does that mean it should be canceled? No. That’s like saying artists should stop making albums because they rarely go Diamond anymore.
Last year’s VMAs were streamed over 140 million times, the most-streamed awards show ever for a Viacom company, which includes the BET Awards, CMT Awards, and more. The VMAs broadcast ratings have declined each year (and reached their lowest point in 2018), but this is a trend across network television. It’s hardly unique to MTV.
In June, I wrote Hot 97’s Summer Jam is a Cash Cow. Both the VMAs and Hot 97’s annual concert fall into the same camp. The 1999 lineup was iconic: Aaliyah, Jay Z, Nas, Mobb Deep, Snoop Dogg, and more. Everybody was there. That’s how the VMAs once was too. When someone didn’t show up—like DMX at the 1999 VMAs—it was a surprise. But lately, it’s more surprising when a superstar actually does attend MTV’s show.
But like Summer Jam, the VMAs don’t need every superstar in attendance to do its job. It just needs a respectable number of artists to keep the train moving. With Taylor Swift, Lizzo, Bad Bunny, Normani, Lil Nas X, and Ozuna, this year’s lineup still reflects pop music in 2019.
Remember, MTV and Viacom’s goal is to sell ads during the VMAs. The show printed money twenty years ago during it’s rising star phase. Today, the show is much more of a cash cow. And cash cows, by definition, still make money!
In 2014, the VMAs sold ads for an estimated $650,000— yielding around $75 million in total revenue. Even if ads sold for $400,000 each for tonight’s show, that figure would still rival the cost of primetime shows on broadcast television.
The MTV VMAs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. The iconic moments might be fewer and farther between, but this is still a business that makes money.
Death Row Records’ Future
It’s ironic that last week’s Death Row article —which was an evergreen content piece I had on the calendar for a minute—dropped a few days before the record label got sold. Of course, it’s hilarious that the company that runs Mr. Potato Head now controls Tupac Shakur’s masters, but sometimes it be like that.
The better question is the future of Death Row. eOne, the company that owned Death Row for the past three years, owned a plethora of content across various mediums. Although Death Row-Hasbro made the headlines for obvious reasons, it’s less likely that Hasbro actually wants to own and manage the Death Row label. Hasbro will most likely keep the eOne content it wants to improve cost synergies (as it reported) and create new content opportunities, but it doesn’t need the entire catalog to do so.
This weekend, Tim Ingham from Music Business Worldwide predicted that just a few of eOne’s assets are aligned enough to stay with Hasbro:
“An exception to this rule, perhaps, is Audio Network.
eOne Music acquired the UK production music house for approximately $215m in April this year. That, at prevailing exchange rate, was worth GBP £165m, which, in turn, represented a 17-times multiple on Audio Network’s annual operating income (£9.62m) in 2018, according to the British company’s latest annual filings.
Audio Network, with its catalog of over 150,000 fully-owned tracks, has long specialized in providing production music to TV, movies, video games and advertising. For Rhode Island-HQ’d toy corporation Hasbro, having this ready-made library in-house may provide some attractive synergies, particularly in the kids’ television space.”
I generally agree, but there are additional opportunities not yet explored. Death Row’s new home sparked the eye of Hollywood director Ava DuVernay, who apparently has a film idea. There had been talks of a Death Row movie ever since Straight Outta Compton debuted in 2015. There hasn’t been much traction since, but it’s one of those projects that will always be “in the works” somewhere.
If and when that project gets official backing, the perceived value of the records will inevitably rise. Hasbro technically doesn’t have to act on it. The ownership of Death Row Records is a lucrative bargaining chip for those interested, and a valuable thing to sit on as back catalogs continues to rise in value during the streaming era.
Good content from elsewhere:
- Def Jam EVP Rich Isaacson on Pioneering Street-Team Marketing and His Iconic Label’s Future – (Jewel Wicker / Billboard)
Questions for y’all:
- Which companies would be ideal partners for Missy Elliott-inspired merchandise?
- What will the MTV Video Music Awards–and awards shows more broadly–look like five years from now?
- What type of cross-content opportunities come to mind for Death Row Records?
Discuss this update in our Trapital member forum