BY MIN CHEN
Lil Wayne’s long-anticipated Tha Carter V finally saw the light of day last month, followed by a nine day-long unveiling of a series of collaborative T-shirts. The lineup included graphic tees by Heron Preston, Illegal Civilization, Pizzaslime, Midnight Studios, among others—variously hyping the album’s textual and textural frequencies—culminating in the pièce de résistance, a crafty T-shirt created in collaboration with Advisory Board Crystals and Wikipedia. Echoing Lil Wayne’s instruction of “Wiki me, bish,” made in Tha Carter V’s announcement video, the design is a visual (and no less informative) representation of the rapper’s Wikipedia page, quoting in neon colors and images his past albums, star sign, choice of herb, Grammy wins, and previous statements, including, of course, “Wiki me, bish.”
It surely beats any plain ol’ T-shirt bearing a band’s logo. Indeed: while ostensibly a part of a musician’s publicity engine, there’s no reason for merch drops to be rote exercises of plastering album titles, tour dates, press photos, and variations of the aforementioned logo against a cloth background. Lil Wayne knows better ways of occupying a fan’s chest, as do these six other bands and musicians whose T-shirts do their advertising and publicizing while leaving tongue in cheek.
When Is Sharon Van Etten’s Next Album? Created by a fan who’d apparently grown antsy awaiting the singer-songwriter’s next move (her last LP was 2014’s Are We There), this originally DIY design has since been given Van Etten’s official stamp (and response). The T-shirts she produced and sold on her site came with a bonus reveal, printed on the back, of the release date of her upcoming fifth album. Yes, the T-shirt has spoken: Remind Me Tomorrow is due to drop on January 18, 2019.
Blur: Are Shite Evidently, Mogwai are no fans of Blur. Created by the Scottish band and unveiled in 1999, on the occasion of Mogwai and Blur’s simultaneous headlining slots at the T In The Park festival, this tee casts frank judgement on “one of the weakest bands on the planet,” according to Stuart Braithwaite. “The thing about the shirt is it’s like a dictionary definition,” he added. “It’s factual and if there’s any legal problems about it, I’ll go to court as someone who has studied music, so I can prove they are shite.” And lest anyone think Braithwaite’s vitriol was simply a cynical (and circular) bid to sell T-shirts, Mogwai’s animus against Blur reignited in 2008 with the British outfit’s reunion. “Anyone fancy a ‘Blur: Are Shite Once Again’ T-shirt?” asked a blog post on Mogwai’s site. “Blur‘s surprise reunion could have destabilizing ramifications which are too legion to be properly explained here.” Blur have, to this day, yet to comment.
Johnny Fuckin Marr Johnny Marr’s reputation is clearly such that his name can no longer be just that, but a fuckin’ assertion, a declaration of awe. And the legendary axe man himself must know as much. In 2013, he donned a red T-shirt, which loudly announced “Johnny Fuckin Marr” for an NME feature (the magazine had awarded Marr the year’s Godlike Genius award; “God of Fuckin Everything” went the article’s headline). It caught on fast. In but a few months, Marr was apparently being “called Johnny Fuckin Marr all the time”—perhaps abetted by his site (and Urban Outfitters), which had began selling the T-shirt. (Other bands also took note) It’s still available to buy there, albeit as a variation: the red shirt now black and the black text now a blue gradient, but the legend remains the same.
Blondie Is A Group Oh, the pitfalls of having your band fronted by an attractive woman. As Blondie’s ex-keyboardist Jimmy Destri remembered, “No one really paid attention to Debbie [Harry]’s singing style and how great a writer she was, because they couldn’t get past the image.” Hence the new wave group’s late ‘70s publicity push, spearheaded by their then-manager, to right perceptions and re-center attention on the band, not the blonde. It led with a T-shirt that simply read, “Blondie is a group.” “There was some confusion about Blondie,” Harry explained. “Since I was blonde, it sort of had to be stated that we were a group.” No word on the actual effectiveness of this campaign, but Harry’s image adorns a large part of Blondie’s merchandise today.
If It Ain’t Stiff, It Ain’t Worth A Fuck Stiff Records’ rough-hewn, irreverent approach to marketing—besides its fine stable that included Elvis Costello, Madness, and Ian Dury—is fabled. They dubbed themselves The World’s Most Flexible Record Label, sold clocks that read “When you kill time, you murder success,” and in the late ‘70s, coined the everlasting slogan, “If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a fuck.” The phrase was latterly used to title a documentary of Stiff’s 1977 package tour, but only because it looked so great on a T-shirt in the first place.
Who The Fuck Is Mick Jagger? The Rolling Stones, of course, are on top of their merch game. Any number of T-shirts, bags, buttons, shot glasses, and posters have been produced in their name, carrying images of group and record, and boasting their inescapable logo. For all their merchandising might, though, the band never made or sold official versions of this infamous artifact—a T-shirt, originally produced for the road crew on their 1975 Tour of the Americas that in asking “Who the fuck is Mick Jagger?” dares to feign ignorance about the Stones frontman. The impudence. Of course, Keith Richards had to have his picture taken while wearing it. Bootleg versions of the tee abound, but you won’t find this in the Stones’ official store (here’s a 21-count Deluxe T-shirt Set though). What happens on tour, after all, stays on tour.