Kiss: The Hype Essay, Research Paper
Kiss: The Hype
What is hype? Hype is defined as promotional publicity of an extravagant or contrived kind. It is used to lure the consumer to a certain product or an event of some kind. The competition for the consumer’s attention is intense and even desperate at times. Throughout the 1970’s, there was a vast machinery of hype surrounding the music industry. Some of what came out of it was original and imaginative, but some was deceptive and outrageous. Whatever it was, it was all aimed at the consumer.
The rock group Kiss has been performing for over twenty-six years. In that time, they have sold over ninety million albums, amassed legions of fans, and sold out stadiums around the world. There is a reason for the extraordinary success of Kiss. It has something to do with their music, but it has more to do with the way they are hyped and packaged. So lets unwrap that package. In 1972, Gene Simmons was a sixth grade school teacher in New York City. With guitarist Paul Stanley, he formed a band called Wicked Lester that played in small clubs and bars around New York. That band quickly failed. “Wicked Lester just wasn’t the deadly rock n’ roll assault squad they had always wanted” (Kitts 12). But Simmons and Stanley felt they could and would become stars. They invested in some large equipment and decided to start a major rock band. From the hordes of drummers, they chose Peter Criss, who had been advertising himself in New York newspapers. They auditioned over thirty guitarists and chose Ace Frehley, who had been delivering liquor for a living. The band was formed and now came the time to sell it. The key step was to persuade Bill Aucoin, director of the television show Flipside, to take over the management of the band.
Kiss emphasized style over substance and went heavy on trappings. Makeup came first. It set them apart from everyone else and gave them an aura of mystery. Each member developed his own alter ego. It was the first of many Kiss gimmicks that worked. The costumes came next, complete with black leather, aluminum studs, and seven-inch platform heels. They never allowed themselves to be photographed out of character. “The hype was self-perpetuating. The more Kiss’s identities were shielded, the more interest there was in trying to photograph them” (Lendt 40).
By 1978, Kiss was the highest grossing live act in the world. Their concerts became main attractions for millions of people. Kiss’s formula for success was simple: hit the audience so hard, with a barrage of gimmicks, stunts, and theatrics, that they will not be able to forget you. Everything was intended to project power. The double s’s at the end of the Kiss logo were designed to look like lightening bolts. The stage was equipped with drum risers, platforms, and a towering electric sign with a gigantic lit up Kiss logo. A high point, or “hype” point, in the show came when Gene Simmons, the demon, would breathe fire. Another “hype” point would come when Simmons vomited blood. For Kiss, their concerts were the best commercials for their albums.
Kiss had to make their way in the 1970’s without the help of radio. There were virtually no stations in the country that would play their music. Instead, they promoted themselves in other ways. They permitted no promotional possibility to slip away. Kiss sold t-shirts, hats, belt buckles, puzzles, dolls, jackets, pictures, posters, comic books, and virtually any and everything they could put their logo on. “In some ways it epitomized just how big and different we were that a lot of other bands” (Stanley, Kiss Extreme Close-up). They used all of this promotion to sell records. In the music business, this sort of thing is called, not without reason, exploitation.
Kiss is one of the best examples of hype in the music industry. Without their image, along with the package, they might not have ever made it out of the clubs and bars. Few imitators have attempted to copy or adapt the Kiss formula’s obvious appeal, and certainly none have surpassed Kiss’s success at capitalizing on that formula. In time, Kiss may one day be permanently enshrined as a theme park ride, a Las Vegas casino attraction, or some other modern era mass entertainment spectacle: which is what Kiss was all about in the first place.
Kitts, Jeff. Kisstory. Los Angeles: Kisstory Ltd., 1994.
Lendt, C. K. Kiss and Sell: The Making of a Supergroup. New York: Billboard Books, 1997.
Kiss Extreme Close-up. Dir. Bill Bowman. Polygram Video International/ Polygram Records,