Boardroom breaks down the year’s biggest convergence culture pivots and partnerships.
‘Hybrid work’ has multiple meanings in 2023.
For the most influential icons in pop culture, it means making moves and making bank in industries or arenas non-native to what made them famous. This past year, said partnerships took new shapes and took new heights.
To celebrate the year that just was, Boardroom breaks down eight of the biggest crossover moments in culture and commerce that defied expectations and creatively paved new ways for how icons operate in business.
Pharrell’s Ascension at Louis Vuitton
Buzzed by Marc Jacobs — then creative director at Louis Vuitton — the musical multi-hyphenate was chosen to collaborate on a range of Millionaire sunglasses. Twenty years later, a new lens at LVMH finds Pharrell as the fearless leader for the heralded house.
Following the footsteps of the late, great Virgil Abloh, Pharrell’s appointment as LV leadership speaks to many shifts since his mid-aughts shades.
The rise of American — and African American — design directors at European luxury brands has been bubbling over the last decade, with Pharrell leading a list that still needs to grow.
Importantly, the appointment aligns with a more connected world where fashion and culture are less separated by hue or hemisphere.
Additionally, it erases the stigma that ‘celebrity’ is indignant to high fashion, proving all arts are the arts.
Always having an ear for what’s next sonically, Pharrell’s feel for what’s next aesthetically has positioned him as an ideal figurehead for where Louis Vuitton is now and where it’s going.
His ability to see past gender and genre has already led to creative campaigns, spot-on seedings, and an introductory show soundtracked by The Clipse.
Just as Abloh knew the symbiotic relationship between music and fashion far better than pattern-cutting or a Central Saint Martin’s degree could’ve got him, Pharrell’s exposure to creatives of all ilks is reshaping a $407 billion brand at the speed of sound.
The Family Business of Rihanna & A$AP Rocky
Bad Girl RiRi and Pretty Flacko have been making babies and millions for the past two years.
All the while, fans of each artist anxiously await albums with no release date in sight for either. Nevertheless, the two touted musicians have made more noise than most despite the power couple releasing fewer singles than almost all.
Simply put, it’s in their genes — or rather, their jeans.
In 2023, Rihanna and A$AP Rocky dominated headlines and affected bottom lines by both how they dress and the way they dress. Historically, no two artists have been better at mixing high and low fashion in the most influential of manners.
The same can be said for the deals, moments, and moves they make as a power couple.
Example: Rihanna performed two times in 2023: the Super Bowl Halftime Show and the Oscars. At half field, draped in Loewe and Alaïa, the stage and apparel were both mass and avant-garde all at once. The medley of hits was enough to skyrocket streams, sell collaborations, and roll out the red carpet for a return to PUMA.
That same energy is epitomized by her proud partner. While fans didn’t get Don’t Be Dumb in 2023, Rocky’s lone music video for the Pharrell-produced “RIOT” doubled down as a creative campaign for Beats by Dre. The meme-inspired visual was vanguard per usual, once again proving that Rocky’s release method and partnership approach are always off-kilter. This proved poetic when a series of paparazzi photos involving the PMF was reappropriated as a campaign for Bottega Veneta.
So, will 2024 see new music or new children for Rihanna and Rocky? That remains unknown. What we can expect from both is high-level PUMA partnerships that span fútbol to Formula 1, more money from FENTY and Gucci, and visual moments – both candid and campaign – that move the needle as much or more than record residuals will.
AIR Hits a Critical Mass
When word got out that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were making a movie about Nike courting Michael Jordan, the jury was hung among sneakerheads and casuals as if it’d be any good.
Surprise, surprise, it was awesome.
Amassing a 98% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and critical acclaim, AIR rose to the ranks of one of the most loved movies of 2023.
By investing heavily in casting and set design, the sneaker story served as a time machine back to the ’80s that was fun, fast, and just accurate enough. It appealed to fanatics and average watchers alike, casting a wide net despite being what was once considered a niche story.
Audience aside, AIR also made its mark in how it was released. Scoring well at SXSW, the $90 million project was shown at major theatres in an era where only Marvel movies are meant to perform. Additionally, Amazon streaming support provided another income and viewing lane.
Nike Basketball’s NYC Takeover
Events and apparel are seemingly where the money is at in 2023.
Nike — the world’s most famous footwear brand — may not be selling out arenas but they are going big where IRL moments are concerned. From pop-up activations across the world to grassroots sweat sessions in major markets, the Swoosh knows that to matter most to its core customers they have to exist more than just online.
Ironically enough, the 2023 Nike World Basketball Festival was the exclamation point and antithesis of it all.
Hosting hoops’ next generation of boys and girls in tournament play in the Big Apple, the $186 billion brand built a hardwood court in front of the Lincoln Center, showcasing the past, present, and future of basketball products while streaming the games.
Though the action on the court was worth watching in person, it was one viral moment online that set it all off.
Taking a photo for the ages, the likes of Kevin Durant, Victor Wembanyama, Dawn Staley, Travis Scott, Devin Booker, Rakim, Dirk Nowitzki, Scoop Jackson, Jason Kidd, Chase B, Lil Yachty, Sue Bird, Ja Morant, Jadakiss, and dozens of other legends all posed on center court.
It was a moment no one saw coming, bringing together decades of influential figures in hoops, hip-hop, and culture in one marquee event.
At a time when advertising feels like a lost art, Nike just did it in the most meta of ways.
Taylor Swift Sweeps the Nation
Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.
If that’s the case, then Taylor Swift is the truth.
Hate it or love it, the country kid turned pop princess is the queen of selling out stadiums and making money off of music. She continues to crush physical sales at a time when even the biggest acts attain pennies off streams. The Eras Tour sold out more dates in the Superdome than the Saints did this season, set to amass even more money internationally in 2024.
While the music and theatrics were already enough to break the bank and amplify economies in every market she stopped at, the entire world stopped when America’s Sweetheart became entrenched in America’s Game.
Already infamous for dating A-list actors and Grammy Award-winning musicians, fans and bystanders collectively lost their minds when Swift began dating Travis Kelce. From a ratings standpoint, everyone ate — especially the star subject.
In today’s fragmented media landscape, most artists only own the timeline the day their album drops. Taylor on the other hand had national outlets covering her every move in a year where she only put out reissued releases.
Not too mention, it was all an encore to a $1 billion tour. Think selling out stadiums is impressive? Imagine making more noise nationally when appearing in the stands. Think the merch margins are good? Consider casually wearing a pair of New Balance 550s and stores selling out their stock.
When looking back at all the partnerships in 2023, Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce, or rather Taylor Swift x NFL, is about as big as it gets.
Harlem Beats Bristol
Active athletes, retired rappers, and C-list comedians all have podcasts in 2023.
What few of them have is a studio show that positions them as pundits in a field they didn’t find fame in. In Feb. 2023, Cam’ron and Mase made a lane all their own in launching It Is What Is: an independently-produced sports’ news talk show that’s already incited a bidding war among buyers and a frenzy online.
By flipping the formula of First Take and Undisputed, Killa Cam and Murda Ma$e are giving fans exactly what they want but network TV could never provide: uncensored commentary cut with humor and context.
Rather than yell at each other for ratings or ride an agenda for acceptance, the Children of the Corn turned men on the mic are telling it like it is. Approaching half a million followers for the show’s IG account and the Come Talk 2 Me YouTube channel in less than ten months, the “Horse & Carriage” collaborators continue to rise to the top.
Music’s Superstars Takeover the Silver Screen
Superheroes and sequels are the surest things smoking when it comes to burning down the box office.
In 2023, another earner entered the chat: concert films.
Both Taylor Swift and Beyoncé rocked arenas all year long, creating commerce in every city they stopped in. While members of the Beyhive were known to budget thousands of dollars on flights, hotels, and outfits to see Mrs. Carter live, the long tail effect for those in attendance or living vicariously through social media was the return of the concert film.
This year, both Bey and Swift broke the bank by turning footage from their acclaimed tours to box office gold. Just the same, Travis Scott reverse-engineered the process by releasing a movie in accordance with his UTOPIA album as a means to set the stage for his CIRCUS MAXIMUS Tour.
Truth be told, the concept of a concert film had been around long before Beyoncé, Taylor, or Travis were born. However, the new stars putting a new spin on the old concept is a new business and perhaps a new precedent. Expect this trend to continue on the road, in theaters, and on streaming.
Cactus Jack Jumps into the Country Club
From Fortnite to Happy Meals, Travis Scott’s bread and butter in recent years has been feeding the youth collaborative product that applied his taste to consumer goods and experiences.
This year, Day 1 fans and new attendees to the party got their fix from concerts to clothing, music to movies. While the annual Air Jordan activations appealed to kids and adults alike, Travis’ most momentous collaborations in 2023 were targeted to a much more mature audience than those of previous years.
As a Nike partner, Travis parlayed his influence outside of the moshpit to take on tennis classics and golf spikes. From volleying with John McEnroe to taking swing lessons from Brooks Koepka, La Flame is slowly blazing a trail in markets saturated in wealth and staying power.
This timely ascent all came to a head in December by way of the Cactus Jack x Audemars Piguet Royal Oak: a $201,000 watch limited to 200 units. By adding collaborative cool to AP and amplifying it all with slightly more attainable merch, Travis proved that he could sell sneakers, sandwiches, and Swiss timepieces all in a matter of minutes.
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