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From The KLF to Lil Nas X: The 8 most audacious PR stunts in music

The one thing that artists need to survive is never to drop out of the conversation. One way of remaining relevant is by delivering the most audacious stunts as humanly imaginable, all in the name of press attention.

PR stunts can sometimes go horribly wrong and leave you with egg on your face. But as long as it gets people talking, then that’s all that matters. Attention is the only prerogative, and the sole mission is to garner up as many column inches as possible. It doesn’t matter whether they are positive or negative; as long as the artist is an unavoidable fixture in the press is the only thing that matters at the end of the day.

Many artists have attempted stunts that have gone wrong or found themselves digging a hole the size of the Atlantic ocean, as Rita Ora discovered in 2014. She mistakenly told her Twitter followers that if she got a certain number of RT’s she would share a new song. When it became evident nobody was bothered about hearing said single, Ora then claimed her account had been hacked, which she is still living down today.

That’s an example of an ill-thought-out stunt that’s gone wrong, but the ones on this list are all iconic in their own way and said something about the artist who was behind each one.

Therefore, the publicity they received reflected their character and created a perfect storm in the process.

The wildest PR stunts in music

Super Furry Animals

Super Furry Animals are a band that were never controversial. If you didn’t already know the stunt they pulled, then their name will be a surprise edition. However, back in 1996, instead of wasting the advertising budget on print magazines, the band mentioned in jest to Creation Records’ boss Alan McGee that the money would be better spent on a tank.

A week later, McGee purchased a blue tank which he emblazoned with Super Furry Animals imagery. He fell in love with the wild idea, the band then took it around festivals and delivered legendary DJ sets from the tank, which they then got rid of after festival season, but by then, everyone knew who the Super Furry Animals were.

Gruff Rhys told Vice, “I remember going to the Reading Festival, and our sound system was louder than the second stage. We were drowning out all of these other bands. So people would dance on and around the tank while we pumped out German techno and 12-inches by artists like Hardfloor.”

“The tank kind of ran its course,” Rhys added. “It was so successful in creating publicity. Our record plugger found a by-law where you could drive armed vehicles around London between four and six in the morning. So he drove the tank to Radio 1 and parked it outside, and plugged the record. It got A-listed. So after a summer of taking it around to festivals, we felt we needed to move on. I mean it was difficult to store. We stored it at a guy from the record company’s brother’s field. It was a bit of a pain, so we put it up for sale.”

The KLF

The KLF soaked themselves in mystery, and they never went about things like any other band on the planet. However, even by their standards, this stunt is downright shocking. In 1994, The KLF burnt their earnings to the sum of £1 million in an act that sent shockwaves worldwide.

The event took place on a disused boathouse on the Scottish Island of Jura and was later turned into the film, Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid. It took the pair well over an hour to burn the entirety of the money, and the stunt has become a thing of legend.

The KLF’s defence was artistic purposes, but they received fierce criticism for burning funds that could have gone to needed causes.

Gang Of Four

In 2011, Gang of Four needed to raise funds to record a new album, and they whipped up a frenzy active by selling vials of their own blood to fans.

“We recognise that there’s a fundamental change in the way that bands need to behave and act to make music,” said singer Jon King, explaining the decision to release the album independently.

He added: “The other side is to form relationships with our fans who have become more and more important to us. We realise that they’re the people that make the most difference to us as musicians and have always been incredibly loyal to Gang of Four.”

The Sex Pistols

By the end of 1977, the year of its release and Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, the Sex Pistols had seen their way through a seemingly endless succession of battles. Not only across television, the newspapers, and radio but also in the spittle-dripping concerts. The reason for much of this turmoil was the band’s controversial single ‘God Save The Queen’.

They couldn’t be accused of not doing everything in their might to whip up as much hysteria as humanly possible. To mark the release of ‘God Save The Queen’, the band performed it across the Thames during Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee and let their thoughts on the monarchy ring out across the capital, clear as day.

Unfortunately, the police stopped the gig early, but the Sex Pistols still managed to get their point across sufficiently before it was put to a premature halt.

Ozzy Osbourne

One of the most infamous moments in a long career of infamous moments. Who can forget the time Ozzy Osbourne bit the head off a bat live onstage in front of a stunned audience? It’s gone down in history as one of the most unforgettable moments in rock history.

Although whether this is a PR stunt or Ozzy just seizing the opportunity for headlines and a spur of the moment action, is eternally up for debate.

Nobody will ever quite understand what was running through Osbourne’s mind when he decided to clamp the mammal’s head between his teeth and chomp it down. But it does provide one of the most searing moments in rock music.

The Beatles

On January 30th 1969, the Liverpool band was joined by keyboardist Billy Preston when they surprised central London. They performed a 42-minute set from the roof of the band’s record label Apple Corps and produced one of the most iconic moments of their unstoppable career.

The Beatles performed nine takes of their five chosen songs before the Metropolitan Police stormed the building and asked them to reduce the volume. While reputable footage from the performance was hard to come by, clips later emerged in the 1970 documentary film Let It Be.

According to Preston, who was invited to perform with the band by George Harrison, The Beatles had been trying to arrange one last live performance but claimed that the decision to play on the Apple Corps roof was spontaneous. “There was a plan to play live somewhere,” Preston later explained. “We were wondering where we could go – ‘Oh, the Palladium or the Sahara’. But we would have had to take all the stuff, so we decided, “Let’s get up on the roof’.”

Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X is everything that middle America hates rolled up into one person, and he’s loving every minute of winding them up. While the internet’s best troll currently has a number one in both the States and the UK with ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’, the track’s video has led to Lil Nas X causing the most considerable outrage the music world has seen in years.

In the music video, Nas X can be seen wearing a pair of Nike Air Max 97s containing one drop of ‘human blood’, which he then sold to fans. The run of 666 shoes and were priced at $1,018 when they went on sale. Nike was furious with the rapper, as they had nothing to do with this, but it’s religious figures who got particularly angry, and they’ve all fallen for his bait.

Donald Trump’s pastor Mark Burns tweeted: “These #SatanShoes by #Nike & #LilNasX with 666 and a drop of human blood in the sole is a reason why we Christians must be prayed up ready to battle in the spirit with the Voice of the Holy Spirit. This is evil & heresy and I pray that Christians rise up against this.”

Lady Gaga

When Lady Gaga turned up to the VMAs in 2010 wearing a meat dress, she knew full well the furore that it would cause, which is why she went ahead and donned the controversial costume. Although she did try to spin it as being politically motivated and fighting for the rights of those who don’t have a voice, the suggestion was that it was aimed to sell records for Gaga.

“It’s certainly no disrespect to anyone that’s vegan or vegetarian,” Gaga told Ellen DeGeneres in a post-show interview. “As you know, I’m the most judgment-free human being on the Earth. It has many interpretations, but for me this evening it’s [saying], ‘If we don’t stand up for what we believe in, if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones.'”