Ooh Child

MTV's blockbuster TRL Tour proves black is beautiful and profitable

Beyoncé Knowles' eye-seizing image flashes from the arsenal of giant video screens towering above the briefly vacant stage. And 10,000 mostly young, mostly female concertgoers, all decked out for the last big summer concert before heading back to school, erupt in a spirited siren of "Whoo!"s worthy of MTV's Total Request Live -- not coincidentally, the sponsor of this megabudget tour.

Never mind that Knowles' group, the gigaplatinum-selling, all-pervasive Destiny's Child, is still a good two hours away from even taking the stage. Or that the video being played between set changes isn't even one of those irresistible take-down booty-shakers for which the trio has justifiably earned all those MTV Video Music Award statuettes.

No, what that throng is cheering for at the moment is a 15-second TV commercial they've already seen a thousand times before on . . . well, MTV.

Destiny's Child: The new millennium Supremes.
Rod Spicer
Destiny's Child: The new millennium Supremes.

One of the most groundbreaking things about the TRL Tour is its utterly unapologetic, totally matter-of-fact blasting of common, prime-time TV commercials over the mammoth sound and video systems between each live performance.

"Yeah, this is a little unusual," a busy Sandy Lundin concedes between hustling image-hungry photographers in and out of the press pit in front of the stage. As the marketing coordinator for the Tampa Ice Palace, Lundin has done the backstage hospitality gig for nearly all of central Florida's biggest concerts. But she's never seen anything quite like this.

"Usually, you don't have commercials on the screens between acts," she says. "You basically just see the roadies moving equipment while some recorded music plays. But I think this is more of an MTV thing."

And a TRL thing. Indeed, by taking the pick of MTV's biggest crowd-pleasers on the road, and replicating the format of its phenomenally popular audience request show by including typically kinetic MTV "coming up" teasers and familiar commercials between the action, the TRL Tour brilliantly succeeds in putting thousands of chart followers, in 45 cities, smack dab in that Times Square corner outside the MTV studios window where the champions of pop are decided each afternoon at 3, 4 Central. The between-acts commercials only heighten the sensation that the whole thing is being broadcast to a trend-watching world. All that's missing is hunky host Carson Daly (who nonetheless appears on video, natch, at the start of the roughly four-hour spectacle).

But the estrogen-heavy contingent of fans didn't "Whoo!" like this for the Carrot Top 1-800-CALL-ATT commercial that just played. No, this one is different.

This -- shh! -- is Beyoncé's Feriá commercial, the chic 15-second showcase the singer (and now Wilhelmina model) shot immediately after inking her six-figure deal with L'Oréal Paris last spring. In it, the impossibly gorgeous 19-year-old tosses her long, straightened, Cool Blonde 81-dyed locks to radiant effect before a steely gray background. "Vibrant, shimmering hair color I can see," intones an off-camera female voice. "Independent color!" Beyoncé adds confidently -- and the TRLcrowd, once again, whoops it up.

Looking out into the sea of young girls pressed up against the barricades, it's easy to understand why the cosmetics commercial manages to galvanize their attention. Forget about the music: the TRL Tour could easily be called the nation's biggest back-to-school fashion show.

With style-setting Destiny's Child topping the bill (what chic magazine have they not graced the cover of recently?) and other female fashion plates Eve, Dream and 3LW on hand to rock the house, a TRL Tour ticket is worth more this fall than a hundred trips to the mall.

Clearly, these divas are doing more than selling millions of danceable, radio-friendly CD's. They're setting the new standards of style and beauty these thousands of image-conscious young women are so determinedly, well, destined to follow.

Beyoncé may have the most marketed face. But the distinctive looks of the other Destiny's women, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams -- not to mention fellow Wilhelmina model Eve -- are also emulated, to varying degrees of success, by many of the girls in the audience. Levi's Superlow Jeans are everywhere -- there are more exposed belly-buttons than on the whole WebNursery site. Candies shoes (another DC tie-in) are a hot accessory. But there's one elusive element to the Destiny's Child look that many of the fans have a little more trouble just slipping on. A white reporter talking with the members of opening act 3LW dances around the subject, trying to pose a question about the difficulties some audience members seem to be having in adopting the styles and attitudes of hip-hop culture. But his companion, a black 36-year -old cosmetics representative, puts it much more succinctly: "Damn!" she says, surveying the crowd. "There's a whole lot of white girls wearing braids in here!"


Black is more than beautiful today: it's the pinnacle of cool. A recent USA Today story on the rise of major advertising campaigns showcasing African-Americans noted that "dozens of marketing giants -- from Visa to Marriott to IBM -- are all running new advertising campaigns that feature black women front and center." And people of all colors are buying. Market analyst Marian Salzman, a former Young & Rubicam ad exec who now heads up global planning for New York-based Euro RSCG Worldwide, nails it perfectly: "Black is the only cool."

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