Essay, Research Paper: Kiss And Hype

Music

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Hype is defined as promotional publicity of an extravagant or contrived kind. It
is used to lure the consumer to a certain product or an event of some kind. The
competition for the consumer's attention is intense and even desperate at times.
Throughout the 1970's, there was a vast machinery of hype surrounding the music
industry. Some of what came out of it was original and imaginative, but some was
deceptive and outrageous. Whatever it was, it was all aimed at the consumer. The
rock group Kiss has been performing for over twenty-six years. In that time,
they have sold over ninety million albums, amassed legions of fans, and sold out
stadiums around the world. There is a reason for the extraordinary success of
Kiss. It has something to do with their music, but it has more to do with the
way they are hyped and packaged. So lets unwrap that package. In 1972, Gene
Simmons was a sixth grade school teacher in New York City. With guitarist Paul
Stanley, he formed a band called Wicked Lester that played in small clubs and
bars around New York. That band quickly failed. "Wicked Lester just wasn't
the deadly rock n' roll assault squad they had always wanted" (Kitts 12).
But Simmons and Stanley felt they could and would become stars. They invested in
some large equipment and decided to start a major rock band. From the hordes of
drummers, they chose Peter Criss, who had been advertising himself in New York
newspapers. They auditioned over thirty guitarists and chose Ace Frehley, who
had been delivering liquor for a living. The band was formed and now came the
time to sell it. The key step was to persuade Bill Aucoin, director of the
television show Flipside, to take over the management of the band. Kiss
emphasized style over substance and went heavy on trappings. Makeup came first.
It set them apart from everyone else and gave them an aura of mystery. Each
member developed his own alter ego. It was the first of many Kiss gimmicks that
worked. The costumes came next, complete with black leather, aluminum studs, and
seven-inch platform heels. They never allowed themselves to be photographed out
of character. "The hype was self-perpetuating. The more Kiss's identities
were shielded, the more interest there was in trying to photograph them" (Lendt
40). By 1978, Kiss was the highest grossing live act in the world. Their
concerts became main attractions for millions of people. Kiss's formula for
success was simple: hit the audience so hard, with a barrage of gimmicks,
stunts, and theatrics, that they will not be able to forget you. Everything was
intended to project power. The double s's at the end of the Kiss logo were
designed to look like lightening bolts. The stage was equipped with drum risers,
platforms, and a towering electric sign with a gigantic lit up Kiss logo. A high
point, or "hype" point, in the show came when Gene Simmons, the demon,
would breathe fire. Another "hype" point would come when Simmons
vomited blood. For Kiss, their concerts were the best commercials for their
albums. Kiss had to make their way in the 1970's without the help of radio.
There were virtually no stations in the country that would play their music.
Instead, they promoted themselves in other ways. They permitted no promotional
possibility to slip away. Kiss sold t-shirts, hats, belt buckles, puzzles,
dolls, jackets, pictures, posters, comic books, and virtually any and everything
they could put their logo on. "In some ways it epitomized just how big and
different we were that a lot of other bands" (Stanley, Kiss Extreme
Close-up). They used all of this promotion to sell records. In the music
business, this sort of thing is called, not without reason, exploitation. Kiss
is one of the best examples of hype in the music industry. Without their image,
along with the package, they might not have ever made it out of the clubs and
bars. Few imitators have attempted to copy or adapt the Kiss formula's obvious
appeal, and certainly none have surpassed Kiss's success at capitalizing on that
formula. In time, Kiss may one day be permanently enshrined as a theme park
ride, a Las Vegas casino attraction, or some other modern era mass entertainment
spectacle: which is what Kiss was all about in the first place.

BibliographyKitts, Jeff. Kisstory. Los Angeles: Kisstory Ltd., 1994. Lendt, C. K. Kiss
and Sell: The Making of a Supergroup. New York: Billboard Books, 1997. Kiss
Extreme Close-up. Dir. Bill Bowman. Polygram Video International/ Polygram
Records, Inc. 1992.
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