Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Why on Earth Did BlackBerry Hire Alicia Keys?

I take issue with this part of Russell Brandom’s editorial for The Verge:

The core problem is that most tech companies aren’t cool. They don’t even know what cool is. At best, they make things that are cool, but even that was never BlackBerry’s strong suit. Its most successful products grew out of business needs, not an aura of hipness. But because the iPhone was briefly cool, BlackBerry feels like it needs to be cool too, so it throws a bunch of money at a celebrity and hopes that having Alicia Keys come on stage will help them seem like rock stars instead of the awkward cover band they really are. Apple does this too — most recently with the Foo Fighters — although they were good enough not to give them an official title.

I don’t disagree that Apple brings musicians out for publicity reasons. But the implication here is that the Foo Fighters are shills for Apple in the same way that Alicia Keys is shilling for BlackBerry, which is simply incorrect. Since they’re the people behind iTunes and the iPod, Apple has long had performers at their events. The event at which the Foos appeared was essentially two events in one, and they filled the traditional musical slot for the iPod event.

However, this is a truly salient point, and the reason I’m linking to this:

For the most part, people know it’s an empty gesture, but the very idea underscores how little faith BlackBerry expects from their actual creative team. If you already loved the work BlackBerry was doing, you wouldn’t be thrilled to have a parachuting celebrity join the team.

Precisely. The difference between the musicians’ appearances at Apple events and Alicia Keys’ appearance at today’s BlackBerry event is that the latter is actively promoting the products of the company. At Apple’s events, the musician typically — with one exception — makes a brief remark about how cool the new iPods are, then launches into a short set. That’s a big difference, and shows a lack of confidence on BlackBerry’s part.