On Jan. 8, Graceland observed what would have been Presley’s 67th birthday. But the celebration was hounded by the dogged economic climate: In November, following a two-year decline in tourism (down 15 percent in 2001 to about 600,000 visitors), Graceland laid off 50 from its full-time staff of 350. And worse, Presley’s fans aren’t getting any younger. To survive, the estate must figure out how to make a King-size ransom from the MTV generation.
Since it’s now or never, here’s the plan: This fall, RCA plans to release a single-disc collection of 30 chart-topping Elvis songs modeled on the Beatles’ ”1,” which has sold 8 million copies since its 2000 release. The new Elvis compilation is part of a yearlong marketing campaign to lure chart-swaying youngsters. ”Clearly if we want to see a level of success that’s similar to the Beatles’, then we have to reach the 14- to 25-year-old consumer,” says RCA general manager Richard Sanders.
An Elvis relaunch may be more overdue than that Lisa Marie solo album. In an EW survey of 100 ”TRL” fans in Times Square, 82 recognized Britney Spears’ recent Las Vegas rhinestone getup as an Elvis homage — though only a handful admitted to being devotees. ”I guess he’s timeless,” says Venancia Cruz, 20, of Boston, ”but I don’t like him that much.”
According to Vince Szydlowski, director of product for Virgin Megastores North America, Elvis sales spike after movie marathons on cable. But for the most part, he says, ”what RCA has done more is cater to the collector.” The demands of Elvis aficionados explain why the estate keeps refurbishing his work, usually in time for anniversaries. Next year should bring expanded video versions of two TV concerts, his 1968 comeback special and 1973’s ”Aloha From Hawaii.” And with 2004 marking the 50th anniversary of the start of Presley’s musical career, Graceland is hoping to finally begin production on a long-delayed multipart TV documentary.
What could really lure younger listeners is this summer’s animated Disney musical ”Lilo & Stitch,” about a Hawaiian girl who befriends a troublemaking alien. In addition to a Presley-packed soundtrack and numerous references to the King — including a cartoon trip to Graceland — the film boasts a toy tie-in with McDonald’s. Just wait till kids get their hands on those fried peanut-butter-and-banana Big Macs.
Additional reporting by Malcolm Venable and Kelly Woo