Gearing up for the April 2nd release of their new album The Terror, their 13th in a long, strange career, the Flaming Lips are priming the commercial pump by debuting a tune called “Sun Blows Up Today” in a car commercial set to air during Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday.
The 60-second spot taps the formerly freaky favorite sons of Oklahoma City to add a bit of hipster cred to Hyundai’s Santa Fe, a crossover SUV marketed at young and growing families. In it, bandleader Wayne Coyne pops in and out of the family’s kitchen and lends his famous inflatable sphere to one of the kids, while the band can be glimpsed from time to time performing in the background, at one point riding on a boat in their own phosphorescent reworking of the infamous Sex Pistols cruise down the River Thames.
“Advertisers are paying upward of $3.7 million just to air their spot during the big game,” reports that Bible of the Music Biz, Billboard magazine, “and major synchs can fetch anywhere from the lower end of $100,000 to upward of $1 million, depending on the artist.” That’s a nice pay day for Wayne and the boys at either end of the spectrum. A Hyundai exec told the publication that the Lips were on a “very short list” from the beginning, but quickly rose to the top when the company learned the release date for the new album and the band was amenable to including “Sun Blows Up Today” (which apparently didn’t make the cut for the original track list) as a digital-only bonus track.
“The Flaming Lips are very much like Hyundai,” company marketing veep Steve Shannon said. “They’re a little offbeat. They’ve been around a long time and they continue to reinvent themselves.”
Now, as someone who once regrettably and briefly owned a Hyundai, and who also wrote a biography of the Flaming Lips, I’d very much disagree with that. But then I’ve always had a problem with bands I love selling their songs and their souls to the corporate advertising behemoth—and I’ve gone quite a few rounds on that issue with Mr. Coyne, who is at heart a hippie capitalist a la that obnoxious and delusionary crusader behind Whole Foods, John Mackey.
“I just go from my own experience,” Wayne once told me. “We can all go back to when [the Beatles’] ‘Revolution’ was used in a shoe commercial, but I still think that’s a kick-ass song, and that didn’t change the meaning of the song for me at all. [When we do a commercial,] I’m hoping that we do things that are interesting. And obviously, we want to make money. Who wouldn’t?”
In the Lips’ case, as I noted in Staring at Sound, sometimes that “open-minded” approach has worked, and sometimes it hasn’t. On the plus side, there’s the Hewlett-Packard “Green Room” ad, which found actor Abe Vigoda of The Barney Miller Show, model Rachel Hunter, the magical comedy duo Penn and Teller, an actor portraying Abe Lincoln, and New York Yankees pitcher Randy Johnson awaiting a mysterious summons to stardom. When the door opened, the producer called, “Flaming Lips… You’re up,” and a beaming Wayne answered the call, followed by two costumed rabbits, to the strains of “Do You Realize??” in what essentially was an ad for the band. (Do you remember what it actually was selling?)
In contrast, the Mitsubishi Galant ad featuring “Do You Realize??” was just another boring TV car commercial. Instead of creating a left-field hit, as Volkswagen did with Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon,” it only cheapened the band’s existential pop song, which Wayne had written to contemplate the meaning of life upon the death of his father.
Where does the new Hyundai commercial fall in comparison? Well, it’s better than that Mitsubishi ad, but it ain’t no “Green Room.” Here: Judge for yourself.