I hate Jay-Z’s Samsung ad. Not because I hate Jay-Z; like every other human, with the possible exception of Paul Anka, I love the guy. Nor because I have some quaint attachment to the idea that musicians shouldn’t appear in commercials. I hate the Samsung commercial because it’s painful and embarrassing to watch, as an admirer of Jay-Z and as a human.
The ad is a runaway hit. (Twelve million YouTube hits and counting.) It’s also the dorkiest thing Jay-Z has ever been associated with. It’s cringe theater. Here are ten reasons why.
1. The gawky staged phoniness of the thing. We’ve come too far, seen too many mockumentaries, watched This Is Spinal Tap and Parks and Recreation one too many times, to suspend our disbelief about these “intimate” “peekaboo” glimpses of the Artist at Work. I kept expecting Jim Halpert to pop into the frame and start mugging. The jittery camerawork, the ponderous pronouncements, the relentless self-seriousness, it’s all meant to add to the effect — to heighten the sense that this is fly-on-the-wall vérité, not an advertisement. In fact, I felt more battered by the hard sell here than by any Crazy Eddie commercial.
2. That “studio.” Does it really exist? If anyone can afford to put a state-of-the-art recording facility in a sun-flooded aerie half a mile above Manhattan, it’s Jay-Z. Still, I’m skeptical. Where’s the soundproofing? The vocal booth? The geeky engineer? The harried personal assistant, balancing five cups of coffee, while being flayed with a cat o’nine tails?
3. Those establishing shots (0:00–0:32). Why can’t the cameraman get a clear shot of Jay? Why must he shoot through the cracked door of a cupboard?
4. (0:32–0:40) “Pretty much what the album is about — is, like, this duality of how do you navigate your way through this whole thing.” Can’t wait!
5. Sorry: Jay-Z, Timbaland, Rick Rubin, Pharrell, and Swizz Beatz don’t just hang out together in rooms, listening to tracks, dancing, goofing around, and exchanging koans about the meaning of hip-hop. Not even a royal summons from Jay-Z can make that happen. An Army-issue duffel bag stuffed with cash, delivered by Samsung to each producer’s compound — that can make it happen.
6. (1:05): “We need to write the new rules.” These rules — do they involve a duality?
7. Swizz Beatz. He doesn’t speak?
8. Rick Rubin. I realize he’s attained of rare state of JewBu enlightenment, which allows him to loll on leather couches, eyes closed, barefooted, occasionally bestirring himself to intone “beautiful.” But that shtick creeps me out, as do his feet, his eerie resemblance to Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and, especially, his beard, which is so capacious, who knows what might be hiding in it — a colony of fire ants? Swizz Beatz’s missing larynx?
9. (2:14–2:26) Jay-Z: “‘I just want a Picasso.’ You don’t want a job, you don’t want happiness, you don’t want this, you don’t want that?” Rick Rubin: “You’ve found in life experience that you’ve gotten enough of those things to realize that it doesn’t change your life at all.” Isn’t it great when multi-millionaires explain how a painting worth millions of dollars won’t change your life?