Click here for a photo of Beyonce wearing a diamond ring at the Golden Globes award ceremony in January 2007 to support the 'Raise Your Right Hand Ring for Africa' program. I'm being careful with copyright :) .
“Say I’m the one you own
If you don’t, you’ll be alone
And like a ghost, I’ll be gone”
- Lyrics from the 2008 smash hit by Beyoncé:
'Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)'.
“Diamonds - because money equals love”
- Text on a billboard Homer Simpson sees while driving in the 'Milhouse Doesn't Live Here Anymore' episode of The Simpsons TV show (2004).
A meme is a theoretical unit of ideas, symbols or practices in human culture, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. This theory was made famous by the archetypal God botherer, Richard Dawkins.
In the 1930s New York advertising agency N. W. Ayer launched a large US advertising campaign for the diamond mining company De Beers and was credited with having helped revive the diamond industry at that time. Later in its 1947 strategy plan the agency emphasised a more psychological approach to advertising and marketing:
"Since the Ayer plan to romanticize diamonds required subtly altering the public’s picture of the way a man courts—and wins—a woman, the advertising agency strongly suggested exploiting the relatively new medium of motion pictures. Movie idols, the paragons of romance for the mass audience, would be given diamonds to use as their symbols of indestructible love. In addition, the agency suggested offering stories and society photographs to selected magazines and newspapers, which would reinforce the link between diamonds and romance. Stories would stress the size of diamonds that celebrities presented to their loved ones, and photographs would conspicuously show the glittering stone on the hand of a well-known woman. Fashion designers would talk on radio programs about the “trend towards diamonds” that Ayer planned to start."
- Edward Jay Epstein on theatlantic.com (2006)
Click here for a photo of Marilyn Monroe wearing the Moon of Baroda diamond to promote the 1953 film 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'. De Beers encouraged jewellers to give diamonds to Hollywood stars for public appearances. I'm being careful with copyright :) .
The diamond industry has successfully created many memes including the advertising slogan "A diamond is forever." (the phrase which in the plural form also became the title of the fourth novel in Ian Fleming's James Bond series and a film was also made starring Sean Connery). Some have argued that "a diamond is forever" as an idea serves more than one purpose, encouraging people not to resell their jewels thus maintaining the artificial scarcity that some have alleged De Beers created by their cartel's former control of the market. Another eye watering meme for the struggling working (or unemployed) man is the expectation to spend two months' salary on a ring for their fiancée. It is important to note how these memes may have coloured human relations. Around eighty years ago, our great grandparents didn't do this when they got married. They gave each other relatively simple and inexpensive items like a promise ring and hope chest.
Rough Diamond Life Runs In Eternity Rings
The diamond industry has seen these memes under attack over the past few years. It's arguable that a lyric from "Independent Women" by Destiny's Child (the global smash hit from the year 2000 by the group fronted by Beyonce Knowles) was seen as a feminist-inspired attack on this meme,
“Tell me what you think about me, I buy my own diamonds and I buy my own rings”.
“Good morning, this ain't Vietnam still
People lose hands, legs, arms for real
Little was known of Sierra Leone
And how it connect to the diamonds we own”
- Lyrics from "Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)" by Kanye West (2005)
“I want loads of clothes and fuckloads of diamonds / I heard people die while they are trying to find them”
- Lyrics from 'The Fear' by Lily Allen (2009)
In 2006 Warner Bros launched its “Blood Diamonds” film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly. Set during the Sierra Leone Civil War of 1996-1999, the film shows the West African country torn by the struggle between the government and rebel forces.
'Blood diamonds' (aka conflict diamonds) are diamonds mined in a war zone (usually in Africa in recent history) and sold to finance an insurgency, invading army's efforts or warlord's activity.
In 2006 the Diamond Information Center (a division of J. Walter Thompson, De Beers' U.S. marketing agency) sent the 'CEO of hip hop' and co-founder of Def Jam Records Russell Simmons (also known as Rush since day dot) and entourage on an all-expenses paid trip to Africa. Russell Simmons as an individual (as well as a part of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network which he founded) can be argued have a complicated history of blurring the boundaries between marketing and campaigning (see http://www.leftlion.co.uk/articles.cfm/title/the-ceo-of-hiphop/id/814#.UYzV0bWyAtU ). It was reported on laweekly.com at that time that De Beers supplied the blinging ice for Simmons' jewelry company.
It was reported on the guardian.co.uk that filmstars / singers Beyonce Knowles and Jennifer Lopez had agreed to wear diamond rings on their right hands at the Golden Globes award ceremony in January 2007 in return for a $10,000 donation from the Diamond Information Center each to the African charity of their choice. The campaign known as 'Raise Your Right Hand Ring for Africa' which made the products prominent in photos of the event.
In February 2007 Russell Simmons announced creation of the Diamond Empowerment Fund - “a non-profit international organization with the mission to raise money to support education initiatives that develop and empower economically disadvantaged people in African nations where diamonds are a natural resource”. The fund was to direct a percentage of the profits from some of his Simmons Jewellery Company products to African charities and institutions.
In the final analysis it seems this all was pure public relations for the diamond industry. Byron Crawford broke it down on xxlmag.com
"In the New York Times the other day, it was revealed that Africans are getting raped big time on the sale of these diamonds. They only get paid $15 for a diamond that would cost us (you) $5,000. Will the Africans in Rush’s Diamond Empowerment Fund make any more money from diamonds than they would otherwise? Pshaw! Rush’s response to a reporter who put forth this question: “No, I’ll answer him because I’m a business man and this gentleman obviously is not.” Simmons then countered that it takes about 25 cents to make a t-shirt you can sell for a $100. “Kimora can sell it for $500 or $600,” he added."
Essential Tokens of Esteem for Single Ladies
^ Russell Simmons with Beyonce wearing a piece with the Simmons Jewelery Company's Green Initiative Collection
"Everything about it feels calculated ..."
- Frannie Kelley on Beyonce Knowle's 'Single Ladies' song - www.npr.org
"There are gospel and acoustic versions. Toddlers have tackled it. [So have] recreation centre dance classes, sorority sisters in their dorm rooms, suburban teenagers in their basements and high school cheerleaders... There are all-male tributes, an impromptu number in an airport lounge and even some "new 'n' improved" videos of dance teams taking a second try."
- Toronto Star on the cultural impact of "Single Ladies" seen in Youtube versions of the song.
In mid 2007 Beyonce launched the new perfume Emporio Armani Diamonds. She also appeared in a TV commercial for the product singing, 'Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend' -made famous by the actress Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 movie "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes". The reiteration of the meme! It was reported that at the launch, Beyonce said diamonds often are a sign of a woman’s strength and that “women can buy their own diamonds” nowadays, reemphasising the message of her song "Independent Women". The launch seemed to be at least in a small way about the other crystalline form of pure carbon, not just smelly liquids.
It was reported in 2008 on contactmusic.com that various celebrities including Beyonce had been reported to be owners of the Simmons Jewelery Company's Green Initiative Collection signature piece - a bracelet made from 'genuine' green malachite beads and a small rough diamond.
"Nothing about love or caring. Just if you liked 'it' then you should have put a ring on 'it.' Exactly what is 'it' and what kind of piercing would she require in order for a ring to go on 'it'?"
- Proxywhore.com forum member Daisy Jane on Beyoncé's song 'Single Ladies'.
As early as December 2007 (http://popculturefix.com/2007/12/did-bey-z-say-i-do-in-paris) Beyonce and Jay-Z were spotted with tattoos with the Roman numeral 'IV' on the fourth finger of their left hands - the engagement ring finger. She later got married to Jay-Z on April 2008.
In late 2008 Beyonce Knowles launched her single "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)". The phrase "If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it" is repeated 18 times in the lyrics and the single is explicitly addressed to single women. Another reiteration of the meme! Here neither a stone nor a metal is mentioned – simply the item of jewellery. The rest can be inferred from the other powerful memes on jewellery and relationships. It's worth noting that there is some ambivalance in the lyrics to 'Single Ladies' to materialism: 'Don't treat me to the things of the world / I'm not that kind of girl / Your love is what I prefer, what I deserve'. But the main 'message' is predominant.
It is also worth noting that there is 'old fashioned' product placement in this song for Beyonce's clothing line - Dereon. It is possible to interpret this song as a strong reiteration of the many modern retail diamond industry's memes linking engagement rings with romantic love, courtship and marriage.
The writers of the song include Beyonce and one of the biggest songwriters in pop music at the moment, namely Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, whose brother (and partner in RedZone Entertainment) Laney has composed advertising jingles for companies such as Budwiser, McDonalds, United Airlines and Coca Cola according to to urbannetwork.com. In 1989, Laney opened a jingle company, Minute Men Music. Tricky worked for him in the area of recording and music production. Another co-writer of the song is Thaddis Harrell, a former commercial writer and producer who worked for Joy Art Music, contributing to major ad campaigns for McDonald's, Kraft, Coca-Cola among others.
Christopher "Tricky" Stewart said of the song's origins in an interview on people.com, "It was the only public statement that they (Jay-Z and Beyonce) ever made about marriage, When we went into the studio she didn't have a ring on or anything, because at that point they were still really hiding it. That's where Dream got that concept from...I thought it was a subject that most women wanted to talk about because most of us men are scared as shit to be bound to a commitment" .
Trish Crawford on the Toronto Star website stated that Single Ladies is a, "a strong song of female empowerment ('if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it')". To Crawford, the exhortation to the man to have bought a ring to make a statement of affection to the female represents female empowerment!?
"Like the Supremes dancing to "Stop! In the Name of Love," they hold up their left hands like traffic cops. Then, in a modern twist, they quickly show the back of the hand, the palm, the back of the hand, the palm. "See, no ring," they seem to be saying. It also suggests the "talk to the hand" gesture."
- Nancy Stetson on floridaweekly.com describing the semiotics of Beyonce and her dancers in the 'Single Ladies' video.
Beyonce raises her right hand in the video, showing a ring (only visible briefly towards the end) reported to be her 18 karat diamond engagement ring (valued at $5 million according the jeweller who made it - the same jeweller who provided the ring for the 'Raise Your Right Hand Ring for Africa' publicity stunt) ...
In 2008 Beyonce said in an interview with Essence Magazine (reported on mtv.co.uk) after her marriage to Jay Z that she said she had not wanted an engagement ring because, "people put too much emphasis on that. It's just material, and it's just silly to me."
On the 'I Am... World Tour DVD' Beyonce during a performance of 'Single Ladies' exhorts her audience, saying 'I want you to put your hand in his face'.
From my research you can prove a commercial reationship between Russell Simmons and the diamond industry. How L'Oreal (the owners / licensees of Giorgio Armani Parfums) ending up naming it's perfumes 'Diamonds' is another question – it may be considered almost a generic name for a perfume. Suffice to say that Giorgio Armani Parfums and De Beers have a shared interest in maintaining the myths and cachet of luxury goods (Armani also sell jewellery under the Emporio Armani brand). It all fits in with another more modern meme / maxim – L'Oreal's "Because I'm worth it!" - L'Oreal are the owners of Giorgio Armani Parfums.
From 2007 Beyonce has had a relationship with the Diamond Information Center - maybe being lent or given lots of diamonds inspired her to write the song. She has known Russell Simmons through her partner Jay-Z (his old boss at Def Jam) for even longer. Beyonce has mentioned diamonds in her solo songs since 2002. Whether the lyric of 'Single Ladies' (or the other 2 songs on the same album mentioning diamonds) were commissioned by the diamond industry is not known.
This all can quite easily 'fly under the radar' as diamonds are often mentioned in pop and love song lyrics. The memes of the George Leybournes 150 year old music hall song 'Champagne Charlie' have been credited by some for the perception of champagne as being part of conspicuous cosumption in modern Western culture. Also bling is also mentioned in RnB and hip hop quite often too. This is not (subliminal) marketing or advertising, this is meme warfare.
At least one other song on the same Beyonce album (2008's 'I Am... Sasha Fierce') as 'Single Ladies' show at least a little ambivalance to those shiny stones...
“Don't need to buy a diamond key to unlock my heart”
- Lyrics from "Hello" by Beyonce – repeated twice in the song. This was written by Beyonce and other songwriters.
“Diamonds used to be coal
Look young cause they got soul
That's why they're beautiful”
- Lyrics from "That's Why You're Beautiful" by Beyonce from the same album – repeated twice in the song. This was written by Beyonce and other songwriters.
“Some people will say that it's wrong to use charitable contributions to promote your business, but I'd rather see a picture of an African school on an ad than one of a rich person.”
- Russell Simmons from an interview on inc.com (2007).
“There was no brand name to be impressed on the public mind. There was simply an idea - the eternal emotional value surrounding the diamond.”
- Edward Jay Epstein on the 1947 advertising and marketing plan for De Beers - edwardjayepstein.com
It was reported in the Independent newspaper in January 2010 that Beyonce had recently played a private concert at a New Year's Eve party at a nightclub on the Caribbean island of St Barts, hosted by a son of the Libyan dictator, Muammar Gadaffi. She issued a statement clarifying that "The party in St. Bart's on New Year's Eve ... was hosted by Muatsim-Billah Gaddafi, not his brother Moutassim Bilal "Hannibal" Gaddafi...” . Russell Simmons argued in his blog that the media was possibly being hypocritical in the reporting of the gig as Libya is a major oil supplier to the West. He also stated that that the reporting of the gig was Islamophobic in the choice of words and images. It is worth noting that Simmons was at the gig too.
In mid 2010, Beyonce launched the latest TV advert for her Dereon fashion line. In the clip, Beyonce attempts to steal a large diamond protected by lasers amidst high security. With her track ‘Single Ladies’ playing, she jumps and slides between the lasers to obtain the rock.
We can also see that the 'Single Ladies' song (also featured in a popular children’s movie 'Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel') and has even been incorporated into childrens' play - the following video was filmed at a primary school in London, England in 2010 and seems to be working as a meme with the core message intact:
What appears to be a diamond engagement ring also confusingly plays a part as a wedding ring in the wedding ceremony scene in the video for Beyonce's video for her 2011 single 'Best Thing I Never Had'.
"They say true love's the greatest weapon to win the war caused by pain. But every diamond has imperfections, but my love's too pure to watch it chip away."
- lyrics from Beyonce's 2016 song "All Night"
I originally posted this on a blog on Posterous but the host shut down. Here are some links to related articles (some archived as blog host shut down):