Pepsi and Pop Music Faketivism

by Lily Lyons

We all saw Pepsi’s latest commercial. The one that failed on so many levels—from its trivializing representation of protests against police brutality to it’s appropriation-laden recreation of the viral image of Leshia Evans—it’s hard to know where to begin when criticizing it. Pepsi’s transparent bid to sell its product through pretending to be socially conscious isn’t the first time we’ve seen false progressivism as a marketing tactic. Some of the most prominent artists in the music industry are guilty of it. Below we revisit some of the most cringe-worthy cases.

1.) Taylor Swift’s ‘Girl Squad’ 

Was it just me, or did Taylor Swift’s girl squad scare you too back in its heyday? Watching her accessorize herself with a never-ending series of mostly thin, white, up and coming it girls felt more dystopian than empowering. Swift’s calculated depiction of female friendship was too narrow to be believable as more than a branding move, an attempt to capitalize on feminism as a trend. Looking at “candid” Instagram shots of her posing on blow-up swans with Victoria’s Secret Angels never inspired any of us to connect with and support our friends. One thing it has done for sure: create unrealistic body expectations.

2.) “All About That Bass”

I can see what Meghan Trainor was trying to do with “All About That Bass” (use the idea of body positivity to sell a single.) But we all can think of better, more inclusive ways to do that. Like not suggesting how a person looks has anything to do with their inherent worth or internal life. Or not saying having a certain body type is okay because the opposite sex likes it, implying that self-acceptance should hinge upon desirability. But Trainor did both these things while also culturally appropriating an entire vocal sound and singing style…because apparently two faux pas don’t cut it?

3. The early days of The Clash 

Throwback with me a little to the 1970s. We remember The Clash as disaffected socialist champions of British punk. But they actually began their rebellious image through what could be considered an incredibly successful case of faketivism. The band-members started out more prone to singing about heartbreak than about the corruption of the western world. They had to be given readings to help them be politically educated by their manager. But lucky for them—unlike many faketivists—they actually did their homework and their audiences believed that they were authentic, instead of paying attention to how they were carefully crafted. Eventually, they began to believe and buy into the image they were selling.

4. Every time Iggy Azalea responds to being called out

The title says it all. She tries to suggest she is victimized, when her career is basically built on pretending appropriating is empowering, despite being given multiple opportunities to learn about the history of hip-hop.

5. The almost protest songs of 2017

2017 hits, Donald Trump becomes president and suddenly a whole group of artists who used to only be political by accident seem to have realized that engaging with social issues is a real and constant part of their fans’ lives. Or maybe they’re just finally seeing even they can be impacted by political situations despite their privilege. But it feels a little too smooth for Lana Del Rey to be penning a song about North Korea in the woods of Coachella, or the habitually silent Harry Styles to be releasing a track that talks about “running from the bullets.” Katy Perry’s “Chained to the Rhythm” suggests discontent with society but doesn’t get specific, presumably so it doesn’t alienate fans. I want to hope that these songs are coming from a well-meaning place. But if they are attempts at activism, they are the kind of attempts that are vague, safe, and convenient.