When the musician Shirley Manson, of the band Garbage, visited Graceland on her first tour of the U.S., she had a particular memento in thoughts. “I wanted Elvis Presley toilet paper,” she mentioned over the telephone with a deep giggle. “I went to the gift shop and scoured the whole place and I couldn’t find any. I was gutted.”
Though she left empty-handed, visions of novelty rest room paper by no means stopped dancing in her head. During the vacations in 2019, Ms. Manson positioned a roll of President Trump-patterned rest room paper in her visitor toilet and “every time anybody went in, you could hear hoots of laughter,” she mentioned.
In March, she needed to recreate that feeling of surprising humor for her followers. With her 2020 plans scrapped (Garbage had been set to affix Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” anniversary tour), she met with the brand new merch group she’d just lately contracted to rethink the band’s choices. One merchandise needed to make the minimize: rest room paper imprinted with the band’s members on each mushy sheet.
“We were all so deep in the pandemic and Shirley thought, ‘Let’s just have some fun,’” 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 customers had scrambled to seek out toilet paper of their native bodegas and grocery shops.
With this transfer, Garbage joined different musicians together with Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish in pivoting from tour T-shirts to tchotchkes, promoting followers at-home comforts to assist them slog by way of the monotony of the pandemic. Cozy gadgets like blankets, candles, sweatsuits, pajamas, socks and puzzles have popped up on the market by pop stars together with Megan Thee Stallion and Shawn Mendes. Katy Perry is hawking daisy-print onesies. Lady Gaga has a “Chromatica” bar cleaning soap ($15) and pillows (beginning at $55) on the market. Drake’s Carby Musk candle “actually smells like Drake,” in keeping with the retailer — in case that’s one thing you’d prefer to expertise.
“I think this year has shown everyone how far a little self-care can go,” mentioned the nation singer Kacey Musgraves, whose “Slow Burn” candle (named after a track from her “Golden Hour” album), created with the candle and underwear firm Boy Smells, has offered out a number of instances since February.
Kelly Jarrell, who works for Ms. Musgraves’s administration firm, Sandbox Entertainment, mentioned: “After we all entered lockdown, Kacey was like, ‘This is what I would like. What would make me feel better? What would be fun? What would be creative?’” The end result was a self-care bundle containing a shower bomb, puzzle, socks and a tie-dye equipment for $100. (Each merchandise is now offered individually.)
“Our homes have all had to become our sanctuaries. A little thing like a scent or a bath can make a real difference,” Ms. Musgraves mentioned over the telephone. “It can go such a long way, whether it’s a candle or a bath bomb or pausing for five minutes, or learning how to not beat yourself up for not being as productive as you wish you could have been.”
“I love having little projects to work on and my brain is always spinning, thinking about just little things that amuse me,” Ms. Musgraves added. “If anything, I love creating the merch for myself, just to keep a creative wheel spinning and to bring some joy to people who have enjoyed the songs.”
In 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 like it was a byproduct of my art,” mentioned the artist Liz Phair, who labored with Manhead on a sequence of album-cover puzzles throughout lockdown, through e mail. “The pandemic made me realize it is a powerful, tangible connection with fans in and of itself.”
“We’ve all been engaging in nostalgia, looking back wistfully at the life we took for granted, pre-pandemic,” Ms. Phair wrote within the e mail. “T-shirts and sweats have become our daily go-tos while we shelter at home — cozy staples. The isolation can be tough, too. It helps to have reminders of what you care about surrounding you. Band T-shirts have always been touchstones — objects that have emotional value beyond their aesthetic appeal. That’s so important right now. I want to make merch that people hold onto for years to come.”
For her personal cozy merch, the musician Phoebe Bridgers favors cozy staples and different soft-material attire, too. “It needs to not be depression clothes, which I definitely have,” she mentioned on a telephone name. “There needs to be a middle ground for me of clothes that make you feel like you’re a person who exists, but also you’re not wearing jeans, which I think is absolutely a despicable thing to do in the comfort of your own home.”
Ms. Bridgers mentioned her merch can also be typically impressed by memes and trollish web tradition, referencing a sequence of tour-only T-shirts with Danny DeVito in a blonde wig and Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange as proof.
The strategy has translated to gross sales; Ms. Bridgers can’t appear to restock her merch shortly sufficient, with even an deliberately garish vacation sweater (“the most impractical thing, because you can only sell it for a section of the year,” she mentioned) consistently promoting out. “I think that the stuff that sells the best is the stuff that genuinely makes me laugh,” she mentioned.
For profitable artists who’ve moved ahead with new merch traces in the course of the pandemic, there have been moments of hysteria and trepidation about promoting something, not to mention non-essential gadgets, throughout a catastrophic financial downturn.
“I did have several bands at the beginning of the pandemic who we were approaching and saying, ‘Are you interested in making masks, or anything quarantine related?’” Ms. Ray mentioned. “They were very strongly against it. They didn’t want to put the wrong message out there, and just look like they were trying to make money.”
Ms. Manson mentioned: “Because everything had started to shut down, our ambitions became very small — as they should be, when everybody is stuck inside and struggling for cash.”
Ms. Musgraves and her group have had related conversations over the previous eight months. “We’re super mindful of pricing,” mentioned Lucia Kaminsky, who oversees the artist’s e-commerce and social media for Sandbox Entertainment, over the telephone. “If there’s a sweatshirt we want in a specific material, but it’s outrageously expensive, then we change the material.”
Much of Ms. Musgraves’ cozy merch was resonant with followers “because it was a creative outlet for her, and that’s why everyone is gravitating towards it,” Ms. Kaminsky mentioned.
“I think people enjoy it because they can tell that it’s something that I really put my heart and brain into,” Ms. Musgraves added. “It wasn’t just me slapping my name on a random brand to cash in on something. I didn’t grow up with money, so money is not my driving factor when I make decisions. If it’s a success, that’s icing on the cake for me. But as an artist, you have to be careful not to consistently push things that are ingenuine or just a cash-grab, because it’s going to water down the whole reason people even know who you are anyway.”
That mentioned, robust merch gross sales have allowed profitable musicians to offer again, even throughout a interval when their foremost supply of earnings — touring — has all however dried up. “I had a day dedicated to The Bail Project where I sold merch for them,” Ms. Bridgers mentioned. “It’s kind of the only way to do that when you can’t play a benefit show.” Over on Garbage’s internet retailer, a share of each sale goes to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, an initiative pricey to Ms. Manson’s coronary heart.
And robust merch gross sales have allowed Ms. Musgraves to maintain her complete band and crew on payroll, even within the absence of touring. “I think it’s important for people to know that when you are buying merch from an artist, you’re putting money directly into their pocket,” she mentioned. “I’m really thankful that people have been so supportive of the merch for an album that came out in 2018.”
With the arrival of vaccines for the coronavirus, there’s hope that 2021 would possibly see the return of reside music, however it’s in no way a given. In the meantime, there’s nonetheless merch to purchase — and never simply from established artists. In many instances, mentioned Ms. Bridgers, “merch is a DIY thing that might bring some sort of revenue to smaller artists, and people are getting pretty creative with what that looks like.”
Ms. Musgraves echoed that sentiment, saying, of musicians: “If you’re able to spend any money on merch, it’s really going to help them stay afloat.”