Playboy's New Music App Isn't Helping Anyone

Courtesy of Playboy
Madonna covers the Sept. 1985 issue of Playboy.

Just a few months after officially stepping away from publishing full nudity in its magazine, Playboy has been making moves towards attracting a younger, hipper, more millennial audience. This week that manifested itself in a new streaming app called Playboy Music, which aims to pair live performances from select emerging artists with videos of Playboy models in various amounts of lingerie. The result is, to put it kindly, a little confusing.

First, despite the fact that it streams music, the Playboy Music app isn't quite the streaming service that most people associate with the phrase. It launched on Wednesday with just 38 songs, for example, broken out into five "genres": Rock, Party, Latino, Folk and Indie, with each section holding six or seven videos from artists such as California-based DLRN, jazz/electro artist The Flashbulb, Bay Area folk singer Kendra McKinley and rockers the Stone Foxes, among others. Each song in each playlist is a live performance video by the artist.

But then there is the Models section, which currently features five Playboy models, including Playmate of the Year 2016 Eugena Washington. The app's free version essentially provides one picture of each model with a short biography; for $0.99 per month (reasonable!), subscribers can get one video of a model dancing, eating cereal or generally turning everyday activities into seductive situations as one of the 38 songs included in the app plays in the background. Setting aside the fact that the app is clunky and has plenty of redundant functions, the model shoots are tamer than a Nelly video; it's another attempt by Playboy to steer its image towards tasteful temptation rather than soft core porn.

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"Playboy Music celebrates the diversity of female sexiness with a curated playlist of songs framed within beautifully crafted videos," said Jeff LaPenna, Creative Director of the Playboy Music app at Bamm.tv, in a press release. "But the models are more than just sexy -- they are the focal point of a narrative that connects beauty with music in a way that men will enjoy and women will find empowering."

To create the app, Playboy licensed its name to digital distributor BAMM.tv, which has been creating live performance music videos for artists for the better part of a decade. BAMM's business model has been to record these videos for free and enter into a 50/50 net profit share agreement with each artist, a deal which includes global distribution rights in perpetuity for the live videos that the company generally uses for direct licensing deals. Those licenses are "robust," BAMM.tv CEO Chris Hansen tells Billboard. "[The artists] retain the copyright and underlying rights [to the songs]... We can make derivative works, as with the Playboy videos, synchronize and remix, sample, et cetera."

That also means that BAMM.tv already has the rights to include the videos they've made with each artist on the Playboy app. But as for the five select model videos, Hansen says the company contacted those particular artists ahead of time to make sure they were comfortable and to give them the option of declining; as of yet, none of the artists have declined, he says, though it's worth noting that all five model videos are set to songs by male artists.

Hansen says BAMM.tv will be adding 3-5 songs per week to the app and that the model videos will be updated at least once a month. "It's not intended to [compete with other streaming services]," he says. "It's a music discovery app. It's intended to fill in the gaps... It's an opportunity for us to push our creative boundaries further and try to make something that's tasteful but also sexy and provocative."

All of which is fair, of course, and it's reasonable to spin the app that way. But this is an awfully unwieldy way for Playboy to "reach out to millennials online," as the company's SVP of content rights and licensing said in a statement provided to Billboard. And in an era where Spotify's discovery-based playlists are getting a billion spins a week and nudity is a click away from anyone with an internet connection, Playboy's window of relevance is closing fast, and Playboy Music is not going to help.