July 4th, 1995. AFI releases Answer That and Stay Fashionable on Wingnut Records.
The style they had at the time was an upbeat west coast hardcore punk that was accentuated by the songs like “I Wanna Get a Mohawk (But Mom Won’t Let Me Get One)”, “Cereal Wars” and “Two of Kind”. On May 18, 1999 the band releases the critically acclaimed album Black Sails in the Sunset and adopts horror punk, goth and death rock influences with songs like “Malleus Malificarum”, “God Called in Sick Today”, and “Midnight Sun”. In 2006, Decemberunderground is released, a radical new direction for the band that is more alternative, emo and pop. In 2009, Crash Love is released and again takes the band in new directions with a more pop flair and alternative rock persona. Their latest album, Burials, sees a return to a more gothic, foreboding feel. These were points in history for AFI fans, whether you parted ways or continued to explore the myriad of different artistic expressions with the band. This natural evolution is a maturity that comes along with age and experience, but there is also reinvention.
It’s no secret that I am a huge AFI fan. I heard “High School Football Hero” in the same car ride home from basketball practice that I heard the song “Bullets with Butterfly Wings” by The Smashing Pumpkins. As I began to delve more into the punk scene I found a strange culture that followed weird social rules of conforming. This was odd considering the ethos of punk was to be against conforming. To me, in the 90’s, all punk bands sounded the same. You had your tough guy hardcore bands, your UK punk purists, your NY punk movement built on the legacy of The Ramones and your weird retro 80’s pseudo punk/new wave…and over time, many have kept the same sound, same general attitude. Now there is something to say for being a paragon of stability, but as you grow and want to explore different avenues (or music) you begin to simply branch out.
AFI isn’t the first or even the most successful band to reinvent themselves as they grew, but it’s one that has stuck with me the longest and has made a huge impact on my life.
Reinvention seems to get a bad rap and that’s mostly due to people who try and reinvent themselves without really being in touch with themselves in the first place. But let’s call it like it really is…it’s when people try to be something they are not. When this happens, you lose your authenticity. You get labelled a “sellout”, “joke”, or “fake”.
When brands reinvent themselves, the repercussions can be just as reactionary.
When Google made the business move to reorganize operations and structure, making Google a holding under Alphabet, you can see this as part of their reinvention to continue to grow and relevant. The news about this reorganization was largely seen as a positive change. Procter & Gamble reinvented their brand Old Spice, shifting focus away from product performance towards shifting focus on young men who wanted something different from their personal care products. Suffice to say, their advertising campaign worked like a charm…starting with the ever suave Bruce Campbell kicks off the new direction and currently with the leading the Isaiah Mustafa and Terry Crews with their on air charisma and even successful Imgur campaign. Truly great reinventions can be see with Victoria’s Secret, Marvel, Kelly Blue Book, IBM, National Geographic, and Lego.
The brands that got it wrong, got it very wrong. When the Sci-Fi Channel rebranded in 2009 as the SyFy channel, they missed the mark in several ways. One, they didn’t actually improve anything about their service offerings and foolishly didn’t do enough research when it came to their new name, as Syfy itself is synonymous with syphilis. SyFy used to the be the bastion for great science fiction movies, documentaries and specials, but has now relegated their business to cheap, formulaic made for TV movies with one runaway hit: The Sharknado movies…which are seen just as laughable and brainless as the Scary Movie series. In short, they missed the mark.
Once a highly profitably and household name, Blockbuster failed at adapting to the digital world. Even with the early opportunities to buy Netflix and literally change the on-demand video rental business landscape their failure to change and adapt cost them their throne as the king of video rental content.
The most recent company who has failed at reinvention (and has a long history of failed reinvention) is Yahoo. After years of strategic and financial missteps, Yahoo lost relevancy due to lack of direction, poor management, lack of strong developer culture, lack of technology innovation and hap-hazard acquisitions. Most importantly, Yahoo lost sight of its users and acted almost solely to work against their users. In 2000, Yahoo was valued at $255 billion, now it’s worth $34 billion (value where most of which is in its shares of Alibaba). Yahoo is now considering offers for a buy out.
Change in general is a hard thing to do. It doesn’t come easy and natural for people, but it’s a necessity for growth. It’s part of maturing. For brands, reinvention is key for survival and growth. When you look inward and find what makes up your core beliefs, strengths and ideas and utilize them to reinvent what you or your brand is all about, that’s begun truly great reinvention.
All of this has made me think about the next AFI album and wonder what the next sound will be like.