Britney and Madonna exploring their sapphic sexual tension? Such old news. The shocker of Britney's new ''Me Against the Music'' video might be the appearance of a particular car.
While paid product placements are a fixture in films, the Britney video's prominent plug for the 2004 Mazda RX-8 reflects the music industry's increasing need to find new sources of financing. ''Labels are looking at any opportunity to help fund these very expensive videos,'' says MTV exec Tom Calderone. Indeed, according to Mazda, it was Britney's label, Jive Records, that solicited the carmaker for the high-profile plug. (Jive had no comment.)
Such deals are fast becoming a necessity to sustain high-quality work, says video director Dave Meyers, who has lensed everyone from Missy Elliott to Creed. ''Video budgets for A-list artists are half of what they were a year ago,'' says Meyers. ''So there's a real need to help subsidize that cost, 'cause the vanity of the artist hasn't dropped.''
However, amid declining sales and rampant Internet piracy, it's about more than vanity -- it's about survival. To that end, Interscope Geffen A&M Chairman Jimmy Iovine initiated the placement of Apple's white-hot iPod in recent videos by 50 Cent and Mary J. Blige to show support for nascent online services like iTunes. ''[iPods] are good for the music business,'' argues Iovine. ''It wasn't about money, it was about getting our artists to support Apple and getting this to a younger crowd'' -- a crowd that is, ultimately, the only hope for an aging industry.