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The marketing of Marky Mark

An inside look at a multimedia commodity — from rapper to model to actor, Mark Wahlberg hopes to do it all

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You would think it would be easy to photograph Marky Mark in his underpants. You would think wrong. It is two in the afternoon on a beige winter Saturday in a bare New York City apartment under renovation, and this is who is involved in snapping a picture of the exceptionally well defined 21-year-old rapper in the brand-name undergarments he has come to represent in advertisements plastered generously throughout the cosmos these days:

1. Himself, in Calvin Klein briefs and jeans, Roots boots, and a baseball cap.
2. His road manager, Miguel.
3. His bodyguard, ”Boom.”
4. His stylist, Patrick.
5. The photographer, Mark.
6. The photographer’s assistant, David.
7. The photographer’s other assistant, Tony.
8. The makeup artist, Amber.
9. The model (supplied for inspiration), Rochelle.
10. The model’s stylist, Joseph.
11. The downtown person Tabboo!, who, in addition to his career as a painter, performs in drag.
12. The photo editor, Ramiro.
13. The reporter, Lisa.
14. The guy whose apartment has temporarily been turned into a studio, Arthur.
15. Arthur’s neighbor Fran. Comments to Marky include ”Lookin’ good! Great! Great!! One more! Gimme more! Move around more! Take off the hat! Put on the hat! Do that thing with your hand! Ooooh! That’s it!”

Comments from Marky include ”Cheese. Man. Huh. Unhh. Yo. Yo. Yo.”

Marky’s mother, Alma Wahlberg, has said that her baby, the youngest of nine, was always posing, looking at reflections of himself in the toaster, even when he was a scrawny pip-squeak growing up in Dorchester, on the raggy edge of Boston. But who knew her boy’s poses would someday become an industry? Never has a career been propelled so far so fast by the power of pecs and the impact of pictures as that of Marky Mark Wahlberg, he of the marble chest and low- slung baggy pants and peekaboo undies waistband and rap-label contract.

A few years after a brief gig with older brother Donnie’s own phenom of music marketing, New Kids on the Block, Marky emerged in 1990 from Donnie’s shadow with his own group, the Funky Bunch. (Donnie continues to advise him, producing his albums and writing much of his music.) The fully hatched Marky Mark is a B-grade rapper — an inner-city kid with a speaking voice like mashed potatoes and an artistic sensibility fueled more by strutting, kinetic ambition than by any intensity of message or burning need to communicate. But he’s an A-plus presence, an MTV VIP by way of some mighty dope management.

Following the jump-start success of Marky’s first Interscope Records album, 1991’s Music for the People (with its hey-let’s-party message, its chart-making single ”Good Vibrations,” and its shirtless video), his second, more street-sound album, You Gotta Believe, has had only mediocre sales since its release in 1992. Yet the Marky Mark machine is booming. Def. Phat. The star and his Bunch tour frenetically — Japan, France, New York, London, San Francisco in the last two months. Thousands of teenage girls recently queued up for 10 seconds each of quality book-signing at the Manhattan launch of his new photo-bio, Marky Mark, with pictures by rock photographer Lynn Goldsmith and commentary more or less by Marky. (Sample message to adoring fans: ”You can mother-f—in’ snake and connive any shit you want in life if you got education. Then you know how to use that shit to your advantage and trick motherf—ers and shit, you be the man.”)

And then there are those ads. Which have taken on a drama of their own: They’re taped off MTV, ripped out of magazines, stolen from bus shelters by people who advertise their loot in Southern California classifieds for $50 a print. Buffed and worked out (with his third nipple discreetly airbrushed away), the Calvin Klein Marky Mark is a marketer’s fantasy composite: a boy in a hunk’s torso, a street-tough young man with a sweet smile. Young girls love him, of course, but so do older women. So do gay men.