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A Brief History of Pop Stars Shilling for Cellphone Companies

Taylor Swift just inked a deal with a mobile provider — but she isn’t the first

Getty Images
Getty Images

Today, to nobody’s surprise, Taylor Swift got a little bit richer. The noted single female inked a deal with AT&T that the company describes as “major,” “exclusive,” “multi-year,” and “multi-faceted” — a much fancier version of my two-year contract with them, which they just call “binding.” What does this mean for the future of branded T. Swift appearances? So far, only that she will headline a DirecTV-sponsored show in Houston the night before the Super Bowl and provide other “content.” But judging from what we know about pop stars partnering with service providers, there’s sure to be more advertisements and product placements on the way. And considering she’s due for a new release, there could very well be an AT&T-sponsored album launch on the way. (She’s done far worse.) We’ve been here before, so what follows is a history of superlative symbiotic relationships between pop stars and cellphone carriers.

Best Fit for a Musician’s Personality

Lil Wayne for the Galaxy S7

Some genius marketing exec knew that, for Lil Wayne, the most appealing function of the phone would be its resilience to being doused in champagne and dipped in fish tanks. (I am 95 percent sure — or at least 95 percent hopeful — that this ad is based on real events that took place in Lil Wayne’s life.) It stands out on this list for being an actually funny commercial, so we should all thank Samsung for bringing it into our lives. Even if some of the company’s phones might kill us.

Best Pairing of Eventual Obsolescence

Hilary Duff for the Amazon Fire Phone

The failed relaunch of Hillary Duff’s music career runs eerily parallel to Amazon’s brief and disastrous attempt to break into the smartphone market. Both aspired to something much sexier than their current brand represented (Lizzie McGuire and ugly tablets), both delivered us flimsy versions of what they thought was cool (light choreography in a warehouse and 3-D effects), and, after tepid receptions, both went back to what they knew best (a cutesy sitcom and bulk toilet paper shipments). But forget the sad stuff: Sometimes, a commercial catches in amber a brief, fleeting cultural moment. A feeling. This one captured hope — the hope of a fading pop star, and of a massive conglomerate. And for that, it is very important and historic.

Least “Cool” Release

Samsung for Jay Z

Usually, it’s the artist promoting the cellphone. But it’s a power move when the artist can convince a phone manufacturer to promote their product, even if both are bad. Which is what Business Dad Jay Z did when he got Samsung to give away 1 million free copies of his 2013 album, Magna Carta … Holy Grail, exclusively to Galaxy S III, Galaxy S4, and Galaxy Note II owners. But when it came time for the general public to access the album via a promotional Samsung app, the servers were overwhelmed and Hova’s fans took to Twitter to lament their tech troubles. As Jay Z later put it during a Power 105.1 appearance: “not cool.” Which, well, what did you think was gonna happen, Jay?

Best Hidden Premise for a Horror Flick

Selena Gomez for Verizon

Imagine you were very noncommittally listening to a Selena Gomez song, and she suddenly appeared out of fucking nowhere and requested you play the song again. You had no intention to do so (it was fine once), but she’s there and she’s wearing a bright-pink sequined dress and it would just be rude not to. And then it just keeps happening over and over again until you’re driven to madness and all the data on your phone plan is sucked up. I don’t care if Verizon is going to give me 30 percent more data. This commercial haunts me to this day.

Most Chock-full of Lies

Diplo for the BlackBerry Torch

Diplo definitely needs to hire a new agent. Because Diplo definitely got the worst deal on this list. Here are some lies that BlackBerry somehow got Diplo to say:

“The BlackBerry Torch makes it simple.”

“I’m always on BBM.”

“I love what I do and the BlackBerry Torch helps me do it.”

This is false advertising. Nobody willfully uses a BlackBerry, especially someone who presses a bunch of buttons to make music (that’s how Diplo songs are made, right?). And Diplo definitely doesn’t willfully use a BlackBerry. The proof is in the pap pics.

Most Misguided Interpretation of the Matrix

Rihanna for Samsung

No part of this year’s Rihanna album, Anti, seemed to correspond with the strange, futuristic ad campaign that Samsung trickled out leading up to its release. But hey, if Samsung offered to pay me $25 million, support my tour, and make me a website for my upcoming album, I would gladly play a sexy version of Neo. (I am currently unsigned.)

An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that the Samsung Galaxy S7 has been known to spontaneously combust; the Note 7 is the device with this issue.