One the biggest shocks I’ve had while watching the Rio Olympics came not during a Ledeckian moment of unfathomable human achievement but during a commercial for insurance. Rachel Platten, a recent household name thanks to her “Fight Song” becoming both a Top-10 hit and Hillary Clinton’s unescapable campaign anthem, sat at a piano, smile-singing about the day-to-day struggles of everyday Americans: a dad tying a daughter’s braids; a guy hoping to retire soon; parents feigning excitement as their kid brings home a cat. Then Platten’s lilting melody revealed its purpose: “That’s why there’s Nationwide,” she sang. “Helping to protect and grow your many sides / Nationwide is on your side.” You know how that last part goes, obviously.
In 2016, there’s nothing shocking about a recognizable artist selling their voice and their face to a corporate brand—Bob Dylan does it, Beyoncé does it. But the Nationwide commercial hits a bit like an ambush: You expect a young, still-relevant star to sing something in line with a company’s message, but not a company’s actual name and jingle. Ditto for the Brad Paisley version of the ad, and likely ditto for the Jon Batiste version that never aired due to contractual issues. Still, no new threshold in selling-out has been crossed: There’s a 1969 Aretha Franklin/Ray Charles track sunnily proclaiming that Things Go Better With Coke, just one example in the long history of product pitching by artists across the respectability spectrum.