Ain’t going down: Lead singer Axl Rose (left) and guitarist Slash entertain their audience during a stop on the Guns N’ Roses concert tour called “Not In This Lifetime” at the Bung Karno Stadium in Senayan, Central Jakarta, on Thursday. (JP/Donny Fernando)
Any marketing people worth their growth projections love markets that keep on giving long after the initial investment is laid out. The cosmetics industry’s favorite is usually a woman within the 15- to 35-year age bracket and electronics love a 25- to 45-year-old male — just as examples. It does sound stereotypical, but when you look at many sales numbers across different products and markets, you’ll often see why stereotypes exist to begin with. Sometimes the human race is not that unpredictable.
What about the entertainment industry? These days of 24/7 multiple media platforms do offer virtually all kinds of entertainment out there with their own marketing investment structure, yet there seems to be a market that keeps on giving: the children of the 1980s and 1990s.
Yeah. Long live Gen X, the demographic once mocked as the “MTV Generation”. These days, or this week in Indonesia to be precise, they are giving lifelines to many aging entertainers.
I’ll start with Mariah Carey. Born among the last batch of Gen X, my friends and I grew up listening to her. We remembered when she eclipsed Whitney Houston by letting free her soprano voice past the five-octave mark. We followed her tumultuous marriage to and subsequent divorce from powerful producer Tommy Motola. Like Halle Berry, she is a biracial celebrity raised by her white mother “to be black” long before a man named Barack Obama gave the silently divisive American entertainment industry a poster boy to collectively root for. We adored her feather boas, copied her loosely curled tresses and failed miserably in the shower whenever attempting to deliver her vocally insane songs. We went back to American Idol in those years she served on the judging panel.
I didn’t go to Borobudur Temple to watch her perform earlier this week, but many of my friends did. The stage and seating arrangements were apparently a bit of a letdown, but most people still had a great time. They didn’t just go for the concert — they stayed in nice hotels, hit the shops and sampled the popular eateries, even just for bragging on Instagram.
That’s what Gen X wields now: purchasing power. If they could hog outbound flights for Mariah, imagine how they’ve been inundating neighborhood cinemas for Queen, or Freddie Mercury personally, in recent days. Paying posthumous homage to perhaps the most flamboyantly tortured singing soul of recent decades, some of the older Gen X brought along their teen kids — today’s version of my parents making the little me watch grainy videotapes of the Beatles and King Elvis. If the theaters were to sell any official movie merchandise, I bet lines would snake into the parking lot.
A snaking line for official merchandise was actually the first fixture of the Guns N’ Roses (GNR) concert seen by fans before anything else. I think the band management and local organizer didn’t do their business math properly — the GNR concertgoers might have caused drunken riots and literal pissing contests back in the ‘90s, as some of us bore witness to during the fateful summer of 1995 (ahem), but the diehards flooding Bung Karno Stadium earlier this week were sober adults with mortgages, cellulite and wallets that wouldn’t shrink at T-shirts tagged at Rp 450,000. (US$30.66) It was stupid to open just one (one!) booth with limited stocks that were sold out an hour before “Welcome to the Jungle” boomed from the stage. Didn’t they learn from Madonna’s 2016 Bangkok concert, the Foo Fighters’ 2017 Singapore show, or the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta? Bloody hell!
There are stupid people and then there are people who underestimate viable markets in the age of easily Googleable data. Thank God, I at least could buy one of the last ladies’ Ts, otherwise the GNR in Jakarta organizer would have received my profanity-laden speech at the venue then and in writing now.
Am I preaching for consumerism? I’m preaching for market savviness in the age of collapsing retail businesses. Gen X grew up saving pocket money for cassettes, then CDs, to listen to new releases. We grew up hounding newsstands for teen magazines’ enclosed-poster editions, or settled for roadside copycats. The Indonesian Gen X would tape MTV’s special programs because foreign bands didn’t come so often here then and would readily disown friends who dared to break such precious tapes. For the love of God, we’re the generation who had to use typewriters, dot matrix printers, and then emails to send fan letters. Two decades on, when information and funds could be obtained simply by lifting thumbs, we’re pretty much the most bankable audience one can find and should be catered to with the smartest care. We’ve got resources, we’re willing to pay up and we ain’t too old to stay out.
A lot of our creative aesthetics have rubbed off on the millennials, the generation originally on J-pop and K-pop diets that often felt a tad bit twee even when compared to Gen X’s bubblegum pop of Britney and Tiffany. It’s one thing to know kids are dragged by parents to see Mariah and Freddie, it’s another to personally witness unsupervised teens head-banging next to you throughout the “Not In This Lifetime” concert even when Axl Rose could only hit his trademark high notes on the last songs. They were too young to understand why I went wild when in the mid of belting out iconic GNR songs Slash, an icon by his own merit, suddenly tuned his guitar to the theme of The Godfather, but I bet this weekend they’re busy downloading and reading up on that equally iconic flick. There: another lifeline from the market that keeps on giving. What’s culture but preferences and customs preserved through generational lifelines?
My two cents worth for the week: You can agree or think I’ve got too much of the ‘90s reunion tonic. While you debate, I’m gonna sit by my balcony, enjoy a real November rain, while reliving the sound of Slash’s guitar wailing live from the file now saved on my iPhone for posterity.
—Lynda Ibrahim is a Jakarta-based writer with a penchant for purple, pussycats and pop culture.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.