Devil's Bargain? Not Anymore
Fast Company|Summer 2021
Artists need brands for func=ding. Brands need artists for authenticity. Here's why selling out has lost its stigma.
YASHIN GAGNE

Maya Angelou walked so that Amanda Gorman could run so that I ... could do burpees.

In late January, I listened to the disembodied voice of 22-year-old National Youth Poet Laureate Gorman reciting her inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb,” as I sweated it out during a boutique Zoom fitness class led by a chipper instructor. It wasn’t my first experience working out to a social justice soundtrack: Years ago, I’d listened to a recording of Martin Luther King Jr. play during a SoulCycle class (the instructor even turned off all the lights for dramatic effect). Both times, I was overcome by the absurdity of the situation and laughed out loud. I’m fairly sure that tighter abs were not part of the dream that either orator had in mind.

I had barely returned to a resting pulse rate when I learned that Gorman had signed with IMG Models’ beauty and fashion endorsement division. I should have seen it coming. There had been signs: The yellow Prada coat she wore during the inauguration had gone viral, and she had tagged the brand on Instagram, where she now has 3.7 million followers. But the speed with which Gorman had gone from activist poet to potential brand spokesperson—less than a week—was astonishing. In February, she posted a “Black History Month Manifesto.” It was commissioned by Nike as part of a campaign in which the company committed $40 million to Black communities.

We have entered a new phase in the creator economy. Not only are emerging poets as desirable to brands as athletes and A-list actors, but the period between an artist’s breakthrough and cash-in is now so short that the two events can be virtually simultaneous. What’s more, the stigma is gone. Fans don’t resent artists for the creative control they might give up in exchange for sponsorship dollars. In some cases, artists may even gain more creative control.

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