Technology has enabled many wonderful things, among them the insta-sharing of mug shots and communication between toasters and the Internet, but none quite so wonderful as allowing me to become a complete master of my audio domain. On public transit, podcasts keep me sonically isolated from the madding crowd. In the car, I can toggle among tens of commercial-free Sirius XM stations that cater to my every musical whim. While I am enormously proud of my kids, my true crowning achievement in this life is making it through two consecutive holiday seasons without once encountering “Wonderful Christmastime” or anything from the Mariah Carey seasonal oeuvre. I’m that damn disciplined.
There still exists, however, a single setting where I remain vulnerable to aural violation: the chain drug store. Only at CVS, Duane Reade and Walgreens do I find myself at the complete mercy of the in-house musical programming. It’s not possible - nor is it polite - to conduct a conversation with a pharmacist or clerk with ear buds wedged deeply into one’s canals. So it’s usually in the wake of these conversations that, my guard down and phone silenced, I am assaulted by music created after 1982. The experience never fails to leave a mark; it did so again on Monday morning. I will describe it in two words and two words only: Mr. Mister.
When I returned Tuesday to grab the items I neglected to pick up after losing consciousness, I exposed myself to this dark fate once anew. After browbeating the store manager for ridding the shelves of Cadbury Eggs, the strains of a new-sounding song reached the part of my brain that processes melodic noises… and my brain reacted not by ordering my legs to flee the premises, but instead by transmitting a tap-away directive toe-ward. The song had an effortless top-of-the-chorus hook, a wiggly guitar motif and, of all the unlikely top-40 flourishes, a trumpet solo. It hadn’t been engineered and layered within a sixteenth-note of its life. It was, as they say in the biz, pretty okay.
After calling in sick to work and booking a session with a therapist who specializes in identity disorders, I cued it up again and, much to my distress, enjoyed it just as much. Two days later, knowing that none of my opinions about anything in the universe will ever again be taken seriously, I figured I might as well commence the search for a silver lining.
My thinking was that if I can derive actual enjoyment from a Justin Bieber song, perhaps I might also unearth new merit in other brands that have long appalled me in both theory and practice. Ergo: today’s column on a new vintage of Mountain Dew, Mtn Dew Black Label.
Even as a college kid perpetually on the hunt for new substances with which to amp himself up, I never had much use for Mountain Dew. I hated the marketing - WHY TALK WHEN YOU CAN YELL YEAH EXTREME WHOOO KAYAK SURFBOARD EXPOSED TEETH GAAAAAAAAA - and I hated the product itself, which married the manic kick of cheap coffee with the oaky bouquet of cat urine. In the wake of my pop-cultural reinvention, perhaps I might feel differently?
After viewing “Mtn Dew Black Label: Gentlemen of the Jacket” and indulging in a few brave sips, I can say without equivocation that no, I might not. Forget the drink itself, the official description of which (“crafted with dark berry flavor and herbal bitters”) will likely eliminate 92.5 percent of all potential consumers. The video doubles down on Mountain Dew’s rad-bro lineage, presenting three mini-vignettes in which stereotypical Dew-ds herald the new addition to the brand family.
An athletic guy stationed in front of a playground talks up the color and size of the can (huge lures for the Millennial set, truly) and welcomes us to “a classier side of Mountain Dew” (akin to welcoming someone to “a wilder side of meditation”). A reasonably put-together guy in a bar talks taste and then, with the help of D-grade visual effects, uses his drink to create a champagne-glass waterfall. A gamer entrenched in his couch celebrates his virtual victory by indulging in a little Black Label, noting that it’s “the classiest way to reward yourself after a job well done.” At the end of each of these sequences, two background bros cloak a black jacket over the shoulders of the freshly appointed Black Label devotee.
The problem is that “Gentlemen of the Jacket” lands right in the middle of two concepts - and, as a result, muffs them both. If the idea is to mock the notion of black-label-type brand upgrades, Mountain Dew doesn’t take it far enough (a pitiful champagne-glass waterfall would’ve trumped the perfect, visually engineered one). If the idea is to introduce a new product, Mountain Dew doesn’t do enough to differentiate it from what came before.
What we’re left with, then, is basically “similar swill, different can.” Good luck with that.