Justin Bieber’s tour merch bonanza
The band T-shirt has left the stadium and become a billion-dollar business. Nick Remsen charts its soaring success
You no longer need to listen to the band you wear. Nor to have seen them. Nor even to like them very much. But no one seems to care any longer — especially not the market.
While band merchandise has traditionally been sold as part of the tour experience, today’s vendors are venturing far beyond the stadium breezeway. Now sold in different iterations in outlets around the world, the tour T-shirt has become a familiar part of the modern wardrobe, regardless of its vintage. Teenagers wear the Rolling Stone “Lips” logo first conceived back in 1970. Versions of Pink Floyd’s 1972 Dark Side of the Moon tour tees can presently be purchased in Topshop (£28).
That the business for tour merchandise has become so huge is due in part to Kanye West, who, with the release of his The Life of Pablo album and accompanying Saint Pablo tour in 2016, caused a worldwide buying frenzy: a single show at Madison Square Garden in New York last July reportedly racked up $780,000 in souvenir sales. West also opened pop-up stores in 21 cities across the world, each hawking Pablo clothes to those that didn’t, and very possibly wouldn’t, attend his shows.
“Kanye West broke the mould of modern merch, and now we’re in a new space,” says Virgil Abloh, creative director of the fashion brand Off-White and a consultant on West’s original Pablo product. For him, the blurring of fan-wear and fashion is inevitable: “We are living in contradictory times.”
The current king of tour merchandise is Justin Bieber, whose mammoth world tour Purpose kicked off last year on March 9 and is due to end on September 24. The 23-year-old artist commands a merchandise empire that spans the entire retail spectrum, from the amphitheatre stall to small boutiques such as Miami Beach’s Alchemist (which sold a highly successful Bieber-merch capsule range last year).
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