Meet and greet, and hug and strip, and charge a fortune
If you have the money, you can buy a photo with Justin Bieber, a cuddle with Peter Andre, dinner and a striptease from Princess Superstar... Fiona Sturges asks why acts are selling themselves
Friday 03 December 2010
They say you should never meet your heroes, as they will invariably disappoint you. Clearly there's no joy in discovering that the icon of your youth is actually a self-regarding bore with a short temper and bad breath. But there's another more practical reason why you shouldn't come face to face with those whom you have idolised from a distance: it can cost you an arm and a leg.
In an era of economic uncertainty, it appears that everything's for sale, and that includes one-to-one time with your musical heroes. With the record industry struggling to turn a profit, even established pop stars are feeling the pinch and looking for new ways to top up their earnings. If this means relieving their devoted fans of yet more money, then so be it.
Several months ago Justin Bieber, the most Googled pop star and, yes, one of the richest teenagers on the planet, offered his fans the opportunity to join him at a meet-and-greet prior to a concert in Paso Robles in California. Tickets for the event were said to be changing hands at more than $4,000 (£2,500) a piece. What life-changing wisdom, you wonder, does 16-year-old Bieber impart in those precious few seconds to merit such a price? For that money, you'd expect something more than a handshake – a personal tour of his home, perhaps, or a cameo in his upcoming biopic.
But it's not just teen heart-throbs who are doing a roaring trade in hand-shaking while allowing fans to bask in their celebrity glow. VIP packages for arena tours are increasingly big business for major labels and their artists, whose profit lies exclusively in live shows. These days it's a sanctioned form of stalking, where both sides emerge with a smile on their face.
Of course, there's nothing new in the idea of fans wanting to meet musicians, and the musicians indulging them in return for their continued loyalty and support. In the past, bands (or more likely their marketing and PR teams) would set up competitions via television, radio or official fan-clubs, with the grand prize being a meeting with the star in question.
There were other circumstances, too, where fans might find themselves face-to-face with their musical icons, the most traditional being the stage door of a venue where the band would emerge after a show, sweaty and jubilant, to sign autographs and shake hands before being driven off into the night. Now such encounters frequently come with a price-list.
Fans of Peter Andre can, should they feel inclined, stump up £300 for what he sweetly calls his "Unconditional" package on his current tour. This includes a "collectible" band laminate, a signed programme, a souvenir backstage pass and a photo opportunity with the man himself.
Kiss, the metallers who famously have a higher turnover in merchandise than in music sales, have long championed their own "Meet & Greet Experience" in which, prior to the live shows, fans get introduced to the band and have their photograph taken with each member. After that they can sit down on their premium seats and watch the show while clutching, among other things, their concert shirt, poster and exclusive set of Kiss guitar-picks.
When it comes to souped-up VIP gig tickets, meeting the star of the show is by no means guaranteed. Bon Jovi's 2011 tour offers an assortment of VIP packages, the level of perceived exclusivity matched by the rocketing prices. Packages offer everything from special merchandise, commemorative tickets and autographed lithographs to backstage tours ("Go on stage and take photos of... Jon's mic stand!", one offers) and pre-gig backstage dinners. Only long-standing fan-club members get to shake hands with the band.
Until recently, Lady Gaga's £300 VIP package included a meet-and-greet with the newly-crowned queen of pop, though for the latter part of her Monster's Ball tour, to the ire of many fans, this was downgraded to gig tickets, a souvenir laminate, complimentary pre-gig drinks and some finger-food, with no tête-à-tête with the lady herself.
While plenty of acts still offer personal access, quality control has yet to be enforced in the murky world of the celebrity meet-and-greet. A few years ago, while interviewing the members of Mötley Crüe before a concert in Kansas, I witnessed a group of paying punters wait for two hours for their much-anticipated backstage rendezvous (it took place in a corridor). When the band finally showed up they all politely posed for photos but there was little in the way of chit-chat. Within 20 minutes, it was all over and the fans were herded back into the main auditorium to watch the show.
Money for old rope? It certainly seems like it, though admittedly the fans looked happy enough. For many music-lovers, meeting their idol is the ultimate prize and something upon which they are prepared to squander a small fortune.
You might think that the meet-and-greet system was the preserve of spoiled celebrity A-listers with huge entourages to maintain and five-star hotel bills to pay. In fact many artists struggling to finance new projects are now turning this demand for one-on-one time with fans on its head, and using the money to make albums on their own terms and free of record company interference.
Charlie Simpson, formerly of the boy band Busted, is one artist using his former celebrity status to finance his forthcoming solo album. With the help of Pledge Music, a company that unites musicians and fans as a method of raising funds for recording, his latest wheezes include VIP tickets and meet-and-greets for his live shows (£120), a chance to attend band rehearsals (£55) and a private concert in comfort of your living room (a whopping £2,000). And the US hip-hop siren Princess Superstar has sought Pledge Music's help to raise money for her sixth album. Along with offering private meditation sessions (£37) and "the shirt off my back" (£37), she is currently volunteering to cook fans dinner at her New York apartment for £470 and, for an extra £6,200, the rapper will even perform a private burlesque striptease.
This summer Gang of Four took the meet-and-greet experience to new heights when acolytes were offered a chance to travel with the band, via helicopter, to Glastonbury for £950. Meanwhile, fans on a budget could part with £45 for an "Ultimate Content Can" which included a CD, a unique piece of art by the band, a scratch-and-sniff booklet and even phials of the band members' blood.
Clearly every musician has his or her boundaries with regards their fans, with most, one hopes, electing to keep their clothes on.
And with the terms agreed beforehand, the Pledge Music method would seem like a reasonable deal for artists and music lovers alike. For the musicians in question, the end clearly justifies the means. Meanwhile fans aren't simply paying through the nose for handshakes with narcissistic stars, they are investing in the future of the bands that they love. At last, everyone's a winner.
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