Week 9: Gorillaz – Social Heroes or Promotional Geniues: using culture for commerce

Virtual band Gorillaz are set to release their fifth record – Humanz – six years after their last, the fan-exclusive The Fall. The heavily promoted record has remained within the spotlight through copious announcements including the launch of their one-day festival Demon Dayz, a slew of singles ready to enter the charts straight away, and now the Mixed Reality app. The app offers fans unprecedented insight into the animated world of the Gorillaz for the first time, blending elements of the real world, AR, VR, and 360 environments, with narrative contexts. Interestingly enough, on the 28th April, fans who have the app will be invited to an exclusive worldwide synchronised listening event where the new album will be heard in full for the first time. Is this a culturally significant event for sharing music in the 21st century or the smartest promotional move since U2 inserted themselves into every single iTunes user’s library?

Admittedly, U2’s invasion of taste wasn’t the most successful of promotional tactics if you were to simply look at it in the way that it annoyed a lot of people, but on the flipside, every single iTunes user knew that U2 had a new album, and therefore whether they listened to it or not, they were reminded of U2 and sales of their back catalogue could easily have been influenced. Here, Gorillaz are disguising the same reminder, that they have a new album and that their back catalogue is sitting and waiting for them, by offering them something no one else has ever really done, at least not on a global scale.

Building on Martin’s (2006) work on music’s place within social contexts, I suggest that record labels operate using a hermeneutic circle of interpretation through which social activities receive meaning from music, and vice versa. In this sense, you could suggest that by offering the listener a sense of meaning through constructing social activities within a wider social group made up of culturally-different yet like-minded users revolved around the release of their new record, they are in turn solidifying their value within their listeners minds, offering up further economical opportunities down the line such as renewed sales of back catalogues and gig tickets.

In fact, through the Gorillaz, independent artists working on a far smaller scale could adapt the techniques they’ve used – particularly the way they contextualise their music through exploiting narratives. The band’s utilisation of the notion of the virtual as a conduit for parodic artistic expression through their evasive strategies that eschew the traditional trappings of the pop industry (Richardson, 2005) offers a platform for independent artists to slip into a wider audience through utilising similar strategies. Similar to the strategies used by record labels such as Alcopop! Records as mentioned in an earlier blog, such as pressing cheap asteroid brought from eBay into vinyl they were releasing, this could offer bands unforeseen exposure, with scope for new revenue streams to open as a result. More so, whether the strategy is seen as a positive or a negative move, overall it will be successful in some way as people will know about it, talk about it, and ultimately remember it, and therefore the seed is there to sprout.


Martin, P. (2006). Music, Identity, and Social Control. In: S. Brown and U. Volgsten, ed., Music and Manipulation: On the Social Uses and Social Control of Music, 1st ed. New York: Berghahn Books, pp.57-73.

Richardson, J. (2005). “The Digital Won’t Let Me Go”: Constructions of the Virtual and the Real in Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood”. Journal of Popular Music Studies, 17(1), pp.1-29.


1 thought on “Week 9: Gorillaz – Social Heroes or Promotional Geniues: using culture for commerce

  1. I really like how you captured the essence of U2’s promotion tactics and mentioned both the negatives and positives of a tactic like that. I think the idea of using culture for commerce is a common feature within the music industry and the Gorillaz are clever to use the idea to their advantage. You could perhaps talk more about Alco-pop and compare them to commercial record companies and relate them to how modern independent artists could take a similar approach into finding a wider audience.


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