Until recently, the big music labels shelled out crazy green to get their talent in front of TV cameras for promotional appearances. Each time a star performed on an awards ceremony or a top-flight chat show, record labels spent excessive amounts to put their moneymakers in front of the cameras.

Up to a quarter million dollars per appearance might be sunk into luxury travel, limos, professional hair and makeup, elaborate clothes, and an entourage whose purpose was to, say, pick all the blue M&Ms out of the bowls in said star's dressing room. The value of an on-camera performance, the labels reasoned, was still cheaper than taking out an ad.

A check for $250,000 feeds a lot of hangers-on and hairstylists, but the music companies are following the general American corporate flow and slashing expenses. Entertainment Weekly reports that Universal, which backs acts like Bon Jovi, Ne-Yo, and The Pussycat Dolls, has capped the bill for each appearance at $50,000. For just fifty grand, artists now have to figure out how to look like a million bucks. That's not much when you're Lil Wayne and your big single is called "Got Money."



Budget sobriety like this isn't too common in the American public relations biz. Cindy McCain herself got a lot of guff for wearing an outfit at the convention that tallied $300,000, and that didn't include paying the brush-wielding experts who helped her put it together. She's hardly the only public figure, male or female, to spend (or borrow) as much as a house to score the desired P.R. But in this era of new-found fiscal responsibility (or, as Tina Fey called it during the Emmys, our "turkey burger economy"), she won't be the last to called out for it.

I think that most of us could figure out how to look stunning for $50,000, with plenty left over for airplane tickets and a hotel room. Even for a first-class ticket and a deluxe hotel room, plus a limo. Heck, knock two zeros off that and a skilled stylist could triumph--hey, they do it each week for around $100 on Project Runway. I even think that kind of cash could fund some pretty memorable set pieces, such as that thicket of clear umbrellas that Rihanna, another Universal artist, hung from the rafters during her song on The View.

For the next little while, though, it looks the tight expenses policy may bring us back to the '90s "unplugged" trend, in which overproduced talent had to rely on their musical chops and their charisma more than on bells and whistles. Which may not be such a bad thing for pop culture.

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