When the musician Shirley Manson, of the band Rubbish, visited Graceland on her first tour of the U.S., she had a particular memento in thoughts. “I needed Elvis Presley bathroom paper,” she mentioned over the telephone with a deep chortle. “I went to the reward store and scoured the entire place and I couldn’t discover any. I used to be gutted.”
Although she left empty-handed, visions of novelty bathroom paper by no means stopped dancing in her head. Throughout the holidays in 2019, Ms. Manson positioned a roll of President Trump-patterned bathroom paper in her visitor toilet and “each time anyone went in, you might hear hoots of laughter,” she mentioned.
In March, she needed to recreate that feeling of surprising humor for her followers. Along with her 2020 plans scrapped (Rubbish had been set to hitch Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Capsule” anniversary tour), she met with the brand new merch workforce she’d not too long ago contracted to rethink the band’s choices. One merchandise needed to make the lower: bathroom paper imprinted with the band’s members on each tender sheet.
“We have been all so deep within the pandemic and Shirley thought, ‘Let’s simply have some enjoyable,’” mentioned Samantha Ray, an government at Manhead Merch, which labored on the bathroom paper. After a 90-day turnaround, the $12 rolls (4” x 4” 2-ply sheets, totaling 82 inches unfurled) began flying off the digital cabinets, mere months after buyers had scrambled to seek out toilet paper in their local bodegas and grocery stores.
With this move, Garbage joined other musicians including Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish in pivoting from tour T-shirts to tchotchkes, selling fans at-home comforts to help them slog through the monotony of the pandemic. Cozy items like blankets, candles, sweatsuits, pajamas, socks and puzzles have popped up for sale by pop stars including Megan Thee Stallion and Shawn Mendes. Katy Perry is hawking daisy-print onesies. Lady Gaga has a “Chromatica” bar soap ($15) and pillows (starting at $55) for sale. Drake’s Carby Musk candle “actually smells like Drake,” in line with the retailer — in case that’s one thing you’d wish to expertise.
“I feel this 12 months has proven everybody how far a little bit self-care can go,” mentioned the nation singer Kacey Musgraves, whose “Sluggish Burn” candle (named after a music from her “Golden Hour” album), created with the candle and underwear firm Boy Smells, has offered out a number of occasions since February.
Kelly Jarrell, who works for Ms. Musgraves’s administration firm, Sandbox Leisure, mentioned: “After all of us entered lockdown, Kacey was like, ‘That is what I would love. What would make me really feel higher? What could be enjoyable? What could be inventive?’” The consequence was a self-care bundle containing a shower bomb, puzzle, socks and a tie-dye package for $100. (Every merchandise is now offered individually.)
“Our properties have all needed to grow to be our sanctuaries. A bit of factor like a scent or a shower could make an actual distinction,” Ms. Musgraves mentioned over the telephone. “It could possibly go such a good distance, whether or not it’s a candle or a shower bomb or pausing for 5 minutes, or studying easy methods to not beat your self up for not being as productive as you would like you might have been.”
“I like having little initiatives to work on and my mind is at all times spinning, fascinated with simply little issues that amuse me,” Ms. Musgraves added. “If something, I like creating the merch for myself, simply to maintain a inventive wheel spinning and to carry some pleasure to individuals who have loved the songs.”
Within the absence of touring, merch has not solely helped artists keep afloat financially; it’s additionally given many the choice to speak with supporters who’ve caught by them for years. “I used to approve merch prefer it was a byproduct of my artwork,” mentioned the artist Liz Phair, who labored with Manhead on a collection of album-cover puzzles throughout lockdown, through e-mail. “The pandemic made me notice it’s a highly effective, tangible reference to followers in and of itself.”
“We’ve all been partaking in nostalgia, wanting again wistfully on the life we took without any consideration, pre-pandemic,” Ms. Phair wrote within the e-mail. “T-shirts and sweats have grow to be our each day go-tos whereas we shelter at house — cozy staples. The isolation might be robust, too. It helps to have reminders of what you care about surrounding you. Band T-shirts have at all times been touchstones — objects which have emotional worth past their aesthetic enchantment. That’s so necessary proper now. I need to make merch that individuals maintain onto for years to return.”
For her personal cozy merch, the musician Phoebe Bridgers favors cozy staples and different soft-material attire, too. “It must not be despair garments, which I undoubtedly have,” she mentioned on a telephone name. “There must be a center floor for me of garments that make you’re feeling such as you’re an individual who exists, but in addition you’re not sporting denims, which I feel is completely a despicable factor to do within the consolation of your personal house.”
Ms. Bridgers mentioned her merch can also be usually impressed by memes and trollish web tradition, referencing a collection of tour-only T-shirts with Danny DeVito in a blonde wig and Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange as proof.
The method has translated to gross sales; Ms. Bridgers can’t appear to restock her merch shortly sufficient, with even an deliberately garish vacation sweater (“essentially the most impractical factor, as a result of you possibly can solely promote it for a piece of the 12 months,” she mentioned) consistently promoting out. “I feel that the stuff that sells one of the best is the stuff that genuinely makes me chortle,” she mentioned.
For profitable artists who’ve moved ahead with new merch strains in the course of the pandemic, there have been moments of tension and trepidation about promoting something, not to mention non-essential objects, throughout a catastrophic financial downturn.
“I did have a number of bands originally of the pandemic who we have been approaching and saying, ‘Are you interested by making masks, or something quarantine associated?’” Ms. Ray mentioned. “They have been very strongly towards it. They didn’t need to put the fallacious message on the market, and simply seem like they have been making an attempt to earn cash.”
Ms. Manson mentioned: “As a result of every little thing had began to close down, our ambitions turned very small — as they need to be, when all people is caught inside and struggling for money.”
Ms. Musgraves and her workforce have had related conversations over the previous eight months. “We’re tremendous aware of pricing,” mentioned Lucia Kaminsky, who oversees the artist’s e-commerce and social media for Sandbox Leisure, over the telephone. “If there’s a sweatshirt we would like in a particular materials, but it surely’s outrageously costly, then we alter the fabric.”
A lot of Ms. Musgraves’ cozy merch was resonant with followers “as a result of it was a inventive outlet for her, and that’s why everyone seems to be gravitating in direction of it,” Ms. Kaminsky mentioned.
“I feel individuals take pleasure in it as a result of they will inform that it’s one thing that I actually put my coronary heart and mind into,” Ms. Musgraves added. “It wasn’t simply me slapping my title on a random model to money in on one thing. I didn’t develop up with cash, so cash is just not my driving issue once I make selections. If it’s a hit, that’s icing on the cake for me. However as an artist, it’s a must to watch out to not persistently push issues which are ingenuine or only a cash-grab, as a result of it’s going to water down the entire cause individuals even know who you’re anyway.”
That mentioned, robust merch gross sales have allowed profitable musicians to present again, even throughout a interval when their principal supply of earnings — touring — has all however dried up. “I had a day devoted to The Bail Undertaking the place I offered merch for them,” Ms. Bridgers mentioned. “It’s form of the one manner to do this when you possibly can’t play a profit present.” Over on Rubbish’s internet retailer, a proportion of each sale goes to the NAACP Authorized Protection and Academic Fund, an initiative expensive to Ms. Manson’s coronary heart.
And powerful merch gross sales have allowed Ms. Musgraves to maintain her total band and crew on payroll, even within the absence of touring. “I feel it’s necessary for individuals to know that if you end up shopping for merch from an artist, you’re placing cash straight into their pocket,” she mentioned. “I’m actually grateful that individuals have been so supportive of the merch for an album that got here out in 2018.”
With the arrival of vaccines for the coronavirus, there’s hope that 2021 would possibly see the return of reside music, but it surely’s on no account a given. Within the meantime, there’s nonetheless merch to purchase — and never simply from established artists. In lots of instances, mentioned Ms. Bridgers, “merch is a DIY factor which may carry some type of income to smaller artists, and persons are getting fairly inventive with what that appears like.”
Ms. Musgraves echoed that sentiment, saying, of musicians: “In case you’re in a position to spend any cash on merch, it’s actually going to assist them keep afloat.”