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What Does "Iconic" Mean Today in Music?
Exploring the artists included in M&M's latest Album Art Packs campaign
At the end of January, M&M’s candy announced an inclusive rebrand of their friendly characters, igniting a series of opinions. Simultaneously, the brand also announced their Album Art Packs, “celebrating iconic and barrier-breaking musical artists from yesterday and today.” The exclusive share-size candy bags feature the album covers of artists David Bowie, Kacey Musgraves, H.E.R., and Rosalía.
Out of the four artists M&M’s chose to be the faces of their campaign, three are “artists of today”, while Bowie, who passed on in 2016, is the only artist of “yesterday”. Musgraves, H.E.R., and Rosalía have come to fame within the past five years, while Bowie’s legacy spans over 50 years. All four artists are Grammy award winners and average 14.5 million monthly listeners between each other on Spotify and 6.75 million followers on Instagram. Their influence is no doubt tangible, but can artists with only two to six albums under their belt, compared to an artist of Bowie’s stature, be dubbed iconic so soon?
The meaning of icon and its descriptor “iconic” has changed throughout the centuries. The origin of the noun defines a symbolic person as well as “a painting of Jesus Christ or another holy figure, typically in a traditional style on wood, venerated and used as an aid to devotion in the Byzantine and other Eastern Churches” according to the Oxford Language Dictionary. Nowadays, the word is used casually, seen in comments across social media. It’s used to describe anything from outfits, think Rihanna’s baby bump reveal, to dance moves, think Megan Thee Stallion & Cardi B’s WAP. These brief pop culture moments are for lack of a better word, iconic, but the original use of the adjective was to describe persons or objects whose influence has lasted multiple generations.
Every creative campaign starts with a broad pitch of some kind. Bowie, Rosalía, H.E.R., and Musgraves were most likely four out of hundreds of artists in the running to be the faces of the Album Art Packs. Options quickly dwindled down as genres, followings, fan demographics, potentially problematic histories, and legal rights were taken into consideration. Besides the actual aesthetics of the album covers (H.E.R. and Golden Hour lack innovation in terms of being visually iconic) what also piques my interest is how M&M’s skipped decades of other influential musicians. From the early 2000s: Beyonce, Drake, The Strokes, Lady Gaga, to the 90s: Bjork, TLC, Erykah Badu… (I’ll refrain from listing every influential artist of the past five decades).
When stepping back and looking at this campaign as part of M&M’s journey to become a more inclusive brand, H.E.R, Musgraves, and Rosalía are perfect choices to reach a young and diverse audience. These women are “barrier-breaking”, paving the way for artists to come, and in decades may very well be considered icons of their time. It’ll be interesting to see if this is just the first edition of M&M’s Album Art Packs and if not, which artists will be included next. But in this hyper fixation to refresh, the candy brand shouldn’t lose sight of what makes a musician truly iconic, the time it takes to make a name last.
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