By virtue of their selections about what was included on the different issues of the CD, Jive tipped its hand about what it really thinks of David relative to the marketplace. The most telling example of this was their decision to relegate “Somebody Out There”–one of the most moving, one of the most David of the entire collection–to the most marginal release opportunity, a pre-order special on iTunes, now available to the public–oh, that’s right, nowhere.
This, along with their edition selections, make it clear what Jive considers priority in terms of David’s ultimate appeal, and have telegraphed in no uncertain terms their level of strategic sensitivity about him and his career: They either don’t get it or they don’t care. What we are seeing here is a quintessential short-term strategy. Get in, get out, go to the bank.
Exacerbating the insights gleaned from their product decisions is Jive’s marketing, which is turning out to look like a full-on, total teen strategy, with all the requisite TV shows, magazines, web sites, and appearances. It may not be Disney, but it’s only one step away. Given all indications, Jive would undoubtedly be thrilled to see images of David competing with the likes of Miley and the JB’s for cover and homepage real estate.
This would all be perfectly fine and thoroughly reasonable if David were any other teenage sensation, with prospects no more substantial than a goodlooking youth who can carry a tune and stand still for stylists. But David has more artistic legitimacy in his little finger than all the cutie patooties that have filled out the last ten years worth of Popstar Magazine pages put together. Is there a downside to this Total Teen positioning? Yeah, there is.
For the time being, the more legitimate and influential press have indicated that they are predisposed to accord David the credibility he deserves. Billboard, The L.A. Times, and the New York Times have all to one degree or another observed what we already know: that David should by all indications (and even despite Jive’s efforts to the contrary) be seen as an artist to be taken seriously. The potential problem is that the more David comes to be seen in the marketplace as a cover-boy teen dream, the more it will undermine his artistic credibility. Reviewers and cultural columnists will be forced to mine their courage in order to go up against the prevailing assumptions about teen idols to proclaim David’s real merits. Do we really want to rely on the courage of the press? Please.
I’m not suggesting that Jive should ignore the teen market, that would be foolish. But it is equally foolish, and ultimately against everyone’s best interests, to ignore or fail to leverage the more substantive and long-term value that David brings to the market. Some recognition, some degree of support in the marketing strategy, needs to establish David in somewhat more serious musical terms. Quietly book some small clubs in larger cities where he can experiment, play piano, have some fun, and get some write-ups in smaller pubs and blogs with some street cred, for example.
Given the ridiculous time-frame, maybe we can give Jive a pass for not recognizing what they had on their hands right away. But now that it’s becoming obvious that some of the best cuts on the album are David’s own, and that those who truly appreciate what he offers (and which will not be lost on the teen market, either) are crying “foul” on the edition selections, why not regroup and consider just exactly what this kid’s potential really is. Don’t make him have to make up for a year’s worth of superficial positioning with several years worth of re-establishing his serious musical credibility. Give him that chance now.