Hip Hop Pop-Up Shops

With Drake, Justin Bieber and, perhaps most prolifically, Kanye West all hosting hugely successful pop-up shops this summer, the world of music merch has been truly fired into the 21st century. Musicians are beginning to offer fans a more authentic experience than ordering from an online shop, providing opportunity for them to connect with likeminded people in their area. However, it is important to establish where the line falls between supplying an opportunity for collective appreciation, and greedy capitalisation on their support.

On the penultimate weekend of August, Kanye West hosted twenty-one weekend long pop up shops in locations across the globe, like Los Angeles, Berlin and Cape Town. The pop ups were selling printed clothing relating to West’s seventh studio album, The Life of Pablo. The prints included lyrics as well as location names printed on T-shirts, hoodies, denim jackets and hats. These designs were printed on inexpensive Gildan T-shirt and hoodie blanks, available online for $4 and $9 respectively. Price lists handed to customers showed these same $4 t-shirts, with the addition of the Pablo print, were priced at £50. Despite this, people queued and camped for hours on all three nights in each location to get their hands on the pieces. Everything sold out. Those fans who had been unable to attend any of the pop ups but still wanted the clothing faced having to pay up to double the retail price on eBay.

Like any instance where demand outstrips supply, eBay quickly became flooded with much cheaper replica items. Anyone can bulk order from Gildan, anyone can download the ‘Life of Pablo’ font, and anyone with any degree of nous can get the designs printed. The whole event almost seems as though West, or, perhaps more fittingly, his management team, were abusing fans’ willingness to support him in everything that he does.
Just hours after the doors closed on the Sunday evening at the Pablo shops, Frank Ocean released his long awaited album Blonde. Simultaneously, four locations in Chicago, New York, LA and London transformed into Frank Ocean pop ups, distributing his much anticipated magazine Boys Don’t Cry, which included a free copy of the album on CD.

The striking difference between the two pop ups was that the limited number of copies of Ocean’s magazine in each location, a product of inconceivably greater creative endeavor than West’s clothing, were being distributed for free on a first come first serve basis.

Writing the pieces, the photography and getting the actual magazine printed all takes a great deal longer than slapping a slogan on a T-shirt. Ocean was gifting his fans, repaying them for their patience whereas West seemed to be advantageously capitalizing on the furore of hype currently surrounding him and milking his fans’ wallets dry. News of the last minute pop ups spread like wildfire across social media and people were offering up to £400 for people close to the pop ups to get them a copy.

These kind of instant pop ups have only been made possible by advances in technology and it is likely they will become increasingly common over the coming years. The examples here give a clear insight for the two ways this culture can develop. The West and Ocean pop ups are at two ends of the spectrum. I am not suggesting that artists must use pop ups to give things out for free, nor that making a profit is inherently evil, but a happy medium must be found. The pop up platform should be used as a way to give back, to bring their fans together to enjoy a shared appreciation of music, not to charge over a thousand percent mark up on t-shirts. The platform has the capacity to bring so much to the music scene, it shouldn’t be treated solely as a vehicle for profit.

Rory Shell

(Image: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

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