Benjamin's KISS: A Perspective on Music, Spectacle and Aura

Rob Ahlers


This article explores the ontological significance of spectacle and imagery in rock music. The examination illuminates how the construct of a larger-than-life fantasy and a live performance spectacle creates a sense of auratic presence; in other words, how live performance creates a present-moment experience and a sense of being in the here and now with an authentic and original work of art. Such characteristics, as encapsulated in Walter Benjamin’s concept of “aura”, have been considered problematic or even no longer relevant. However, I will argue here that in our age of digital reproduction the aura persists and is not irrevocably lost in reproduction. Moreover, the aura is transportable and present in the 21st century live music economy, as the case of the American rock group KISS will illustrate. By analysing KISS’ marketing strategy in the 1970s and how it evolved from there into the branding, licensing, and merchandising franchise that it became during the late 1990s, this article will show what a music group can do to auratically appeal to an audience by using (and leveraging) media strategy, mysticism, and the appearance of success.
Keywords: KISS, Benjamin, aura, liveness, spectacle, live performance


KISS; Aura; Liveness; Performance; Spectacle

Full Text:




Adorno, T. W. 2002. Essays on Music, edited by T. Leppert, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Attali, J. 1985. Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Auslander, P. –

Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture. London and New York: Routledge. Second edition.

Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.

Barfoot C. E. 2011. Rock Brands: Selling Sound in a Media Saturated Culture. Plymouth: Lexington Books.

Benjamin, W. –

a. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. London: Penguin. Translated by J. A. Underwood.

b. Het Kunstwerk in het Tijdperk van zijn Technische Reproduceerbaarheid. Amsterdam: Boom. Translated by Henk Hoeks. Third revised edition.

Caulfield, K. 2009. Kiss, Buble Battle for no 1 on Billboard 200. Billboard, 10 August.; Accessed: 14 September 2016.

Bolter, J. D., Macintyre, B., Gandy, M. and Schweitzer, P. 2006. New Media and the Permanent Crisis of Aura. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 12 (1): 21-39.

CNN. 2011. The Most Recognizable Band on Earth? Inside the world of KISS inc. CNN.; Accessed: 14 September 2016.

Davis, D. 1995. The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction (an Evolving Thesis: 1991-1995). Leonardo 28 (5): 381.

Dome, M. and Wall, M. 1985. World View: Metal Crusade in Global Gear. Billboard, 27 April: 12.

Frith, S. 2007. Live Music Matters. Scottish Music Review 1(1): 1-16.

Global Licence 2011. Kissonomics. Global Licence!; Accessed: 16 September 2016.

Gooch, C. and Suhs, J. 2002. Kiss Alive Forever. New York: Billboard Books.

Holt, F. 2010. The Economy of Live Music in the Digital Age. European Journal of Cultural Studies 13 (2): 243-261.

Kahn-Harris, K. 2007. Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge. New York: Berg.

Larkin, J. 2006. Live Boom Raises Data Questions. Music Week, 11 March: 10-11.

Leaf, D. and Sharp, K. 2003. Kiss: Behind the Mask: The Official Authorized Biography. London: Warner Books.

Lendt, C. K. 1997. Kiss and Sell: The Making of a Supergroup. New York: Billboard Books.

RIAA. 2016. Gold and Platinum. RIAA.; Accessed: 16 September 2016.

Rolling Stone. 2014. Kiss Forever: 40 Years of Feuds and Fury. Rolling Stones.; Accessed: 14 September 2016.

Sharp, K. 2013. Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975). New York: HarperCollins.

Simmons, G. 2003. KISS and Make-up. London: Arrow Books.

Something Else. 2012. Beatles on Steroids. Accessed: 14 september 2016.

Stanley, E. n.d. Alive and Well. Epic Rights.; Accessed: 4 January 2016.

Stanley, P. 2014. Face the Music: A Life Exposed. New York: HarperOne.

Waddell, R. 2009. The Billboard Kiss Cover. Billboard, 10 July.; Accessed: 7 January 2016.

Walser, R. 1993. Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Weinstein 1991. Heavy Metal. New York: Lexington Books.


Aerosmith. 1978. Live! Bootleg. Columbia Records, USA.

Cheap Trick. 1978. Cheap Trick at Budokan. Epic Records, Japan.

David Bowie. 1970. The Man Who Sold the World. Mercury Records, USA.


KISS Alive! Casablanca Records, USA.

Destroyer. Casablanca Records, USA.

Rock and Roll Over. Casablanca Records, USA.

Love Gun. Casablanca Records, USA.

Dynasty. Casablanca Records, USA.

Psycho Circus. Mercury Records, USA.

Peter Frampton. 1976. Frampton Comes Alive, A&M Records, USA.


Stanley, P. 2012 Interview Paul Stanley with WSJ Celebrity Business Reporter Lee Hawkins.; Accessed: 15 September 2016.

Shakur, T. 1996. Tupac Presenting The Grammy 1996 With Kiss.; Accessed: 2 September 2016.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.