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Vanessa Thorpe, Vanessa Thorpe and Ed Helmore05 Dec 2001 09:30
He is 58 and looking forward to a free bus pass after 40 hectic years touring the world with the Rolling Stones. She is 19 and has taken a new generation of fans by storm with hits such as Baby One More Time and her current, breathless offering Slave4U.
Now Mick Jagger has been told he must emulate Britney Spears if his new album, out next week, is to be a hit.
Despite selling millions of records and amassing a personal fortune of more than Â£150-million, Jagger has been told by executives at Virgin Records that he must convince the key “Generation Y” market that “he is not your father’s rock star”. Convince them, in fact, that he is cool.
Jagger is now being rebranded for the release of Goddess in the Doorway, his first solo album since 1993. Music industry analysts say Virgin has decided that harnessing the Internet — as Spears did — is the only way to reach the top record-buying age group, the holy grail of Generation Y, aged 18 to 24.
“It beggars belief that today’s young people might not have heard of Mick Jagger, because he is such a huge personality,” said Mike Smith of EMI. “But the Internet is now an enormous promotional tool for any artist. It has been crucial for two years and it works well because it is completely international.”
The Stones still sell out giant stadium shows — they plan to tour again next year — but recent records sell only a fraction of earlier releases and Jagger is largely untested with young music buyers.
The Web has proved a successful marketing device for new bands such as Limp Bizkit and Gorrillaz, and has also worked for established acts such as Depeche Mode and U2. While claiming to decry Web piracy, record companies have been known to slip out tracks online as a form of Internet “fly-posting”.
“The Web can serve to draw people in and help those who want to find out more about Jagger,” said Smith.
A new website, mickjagger.com, has been dressed up to resemble a teenage site. There are music videos, chat rooms and handy biographical details (“Over the years, Mick Jagger has been many things ... rock superstar, sex symbol, cultural revolutionary, musical poet, tabloid subject and all-around pop culture provocateur”), titbits of personal interests (his favourite websites are devoted to cricket, Bhutan and the Bodleian Library) and, of course, Jagger himself in a black shirt, unbuttoned to the waist.
Though Bhutan or the Bodleian will be lost on younger music buyers, Virgin is confident Jagger is ready for MTV’s music show Total Request Live.
“You can’t go out and tell 14-year-old record buyers, ‘Mick’s got a brand-new record and you have to have it,’” said Virgin’s Ty Braswell. “You can’t pander to them or overhype, because that has the opposite effect. So you start out with the faith that the music is timeless and suitable for any age and find new ways of presenting it.”
“Mick Jagger is a brand and, like anything else, you can take the brand to new places,” said Cynthia Cohen of the consulting firm Strategic Mindshare that helped engineer the Jagger campaign.
But many in the industry are sceptical that the singer can find new teenage fans. “I see no wisdom in Virgin’s Internet strategy of trying to interest Britney Spears fans,” said Craig Marks, music editor of the United States magazine Blender. “It seems impossible, if not ridiculous.”
The first problem, Marks said, would be to convince Spears fans that Jagger wrote Satisfaction, a song she covered on her last record. “He’d have to cover Britney Spears’s cover.”
Still, Jagger’s album features collaborations with Lenny Kravitz, Bono and Wyclef Jean, as well as contributions from Pete Townshend. Rolling Stone gave it the magazine’s maximum five-star review. Adding to his cool new image is the claim that Jagger is a techie who loves using computers.
In 1995 Microsoft used the hit Start Me Up to launch its Windows series. Bernard Doherty, the Rolling Stones’ publicist, said: “Mick logs on all the time when he is bored on tour. He spent two years on the road writing these songs and decided to record them in Paris, but we all know these days that even he can’t just send a single to the radio and hope they play it.”
But Marks is unconvinced. “They can put the music in a commercial, like Sting did with Jaguar, and put the song on public radio. But to think you can go online and hoodwink
14-year-old Melissa into buying the Jagger record is just a waste of everyone’s time and money.”
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