Solvent dignity is an unfortunate casualty of these hard knock economic times. This became pointedly obvious to me after a tiff (just short of scene-making) with an equally cash-strapped barista who overcharged me 25 cents—that’s for bus fare, ma’am! So who can blame musicians like Cat Power and now Joanna Newsom for licensing tunes to the likes of Ford Motor Company and Victoria’s Secret? Artists see little profits from recordings; the money’s in relentless touring—and commercials.
But while Cat Power’s cover of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” at least made some postmodern, thematic sense in the context of the sexified, futuristic Lincoln MKS, Newsom’s “Sprout and the Bean” (off 2004’s The Milk-Eyed Mender) has nothing to do with Victory’s Secret’s Dream Angels Push Up bra, in which woodland nymph/model Miranda Kerr meanders through a forest. Yes, Newsom’s ethereal harp/avant-garde folk would be the perfect accompaniment to a care-free arboreal frolic. But no, the frolicking fantasy, in my mind, would not involve a padded, underwired, gravity-defying bra, a device that’s hardly conducive to feeling free and breezy.
And maybe that’s the point. Perhaps ad execs thought, “Let’s naturalize the unnatural expectation that the ideal woman possess a full, erect bust”; the whimsy and innocence of Newsom’s song is meant to highlight/imbue the product with similar characteristics. And trees. Lots of trees—”We must keep the associative leap from spandex to nature as effortless as possible for viewers.”
I like Joanna Newsom. I do not like Victoria’s Secret—aside from fetishizing mammary glands and essentializing “woman,” they charge too much. Will my opinion of either change because of this union? No, and I’m not sure Newsom’s other fans will give a hoot, either. But I will have some difficulty getting through “Sprout and the Bean” without being reminded of recession, baristas, and bus fares. At least for a while.
Photo of Joanna Newsom by Pete Newsom, via Dragcity.com.