Bob Dylan’s Controversial 2004 Victoria’s Secret Ad: His First & Last Appearance in a Commercial

Bob Dylan’s been piss­ing off his fans since he went elec­tric at the New­port Folk Fes­ti­val in 1965, leav­ing scores of bit­ter folkies with feel­ings of betray­al. But he’s also tak­en many a prin­ci­pled stand, walk­ing off The Ed Sul­li­van show ear­ly in his career in 1963, for exam­ple, when he learned that CBS want­ed to cen­sor his “Talkin’ John Birch Para­noid Blues” for being poten­tial­ly libelous to the far-right group. Then there are those episodes that have sim­ply baf­fled his admir­ers, like his release of the almost uni­ver­sal­ly panned Self Por­trait and his con­ver­sion to evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian­i­ty. What­ev­er pos­sessed him to appear in the 2004 Victoria’s Secret ad above, how­ev­er, is anyone’s guess. While it may not have the same geopo­lit­i­cal juice as his con­tro­ver­sial appear­ance in Chi­na in 2011, aside from the gen­er­al weird­ness of once coun­ter­cul­tur­al fig­ures sell­ing prod­ucts, it’s a move that espe­cial­ly trou­bled fans of Dylan, to say the least.

There were, of course, cries of “sell out.” Then there’s the trou­bling sta­tus of Victoria’s Secret, a com­pa­ny that has accu­mu­lat­ed no small share of con­tro­ver­sy since the ad aired, and which at the time was not espe­cial­ly known as a social­ly respon­si­ble enti­ty.  Though Dylan had already licensed the song “Love Sick” from 1997’s Time Out of Mind to the com­pa­ny (and in 2000 licensed “For­ev­er Young” to Apple), this is the first and only time he’s appeared on screen in a com­mer­cial, with the excep­tion of a 2010 Google ad that recy­cled clips from the ’65 “Sub­ter­ranean Home­sick Blues” film.

While ad agen­cies may have replaced A&R for hun­gry young indie bands, the phe­nom­e­non of wealthy, aging rock stars shilling for major cor­po­ra­tions seems to defy rea­son. Most peo­ple assume it’s always a cash grab. Dylan him­self joked in 1965 that the only thing he’d sell out for would be “ladies under­gar­ments.” In a per­haps unfor­tu­nate­ly titled arti­cle for Slate, Seth Steven­son sug­gest­ed that Dylan and those of his gen­er­a­tion took the cor­po­rate bait in attempts to remain rel­e­vant and “remind the world that they still exist.” In the case of the Victoria’s Secret ad (see a “behind the scenes” video here), this is a lit­tle hard to swal­low. Not even the bale­ful­ly timed release of his Love and Theft in Sep­tem­ber of 2001 could over­shad­ow the enor­mous suc­cess of that album, which, All­mu­sic writes, “stands proud­ly among his very best.” 2006’s plat­inum-sell­ing Mod­ern Times was not far behind. Unlike his online response to the Chi­na con­tro­ver­sy, Dylan him­self revealed noth­ing of his inten­tions, leav­ing fans with the unset­tling image of one of the 20th century’s most icon­o­clas­tic artists (and one nev­er espe­cial­ly known for his sex appeal) hawk­ing lin­gerie on nation­al tele­vi­sion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie Appears in the “Director’s Cut” of a New Louis Vuit­ton Ad, Nods to Labyrinth

Ker­ouac Wore Khakis: Ghost of the Beat Writer Stars in 1993 Gap Adver­tis­ing Cam­paign

Nev­er Mind the Bol­locks, Here’s … John Lydon in a But­ter Com­mer­cial?

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (11)
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  • frankie lee says:

    hi, nice entry but i’d like to make an addi­tion; as far as i know dylan also appeared in a cadil­lac escalade com­mer­cial in 2007 (

  • Elijah_M says:

    As you point­ed out, Dylan said in 1965 that he would sell out for ladies under­gar­ments. 39 years lat­er, an ad agency called his bluff. Iu2019m pret­ty sure thatu2019s the whole sto­ry right there.

  • scottwarmuth says:

    In the 1965 inter­view Dylan does not say “ladies under­gar­ments” — he says “ladies gar­ments.”

  • EDLIS Cafu00e9 says: this not anoth­er appear­ance in a com­mer­cial? nnnAp­ple iPod+iTunes ad fea­tur­ing Bob Dylan — Accoustic (2006)

  • EDLIS Cafu00e9 says:

    Why do you not con­sid­er the Pep­si Ad (Bob Dylan & Will I Am) to be an appear­ance in a com­mer­cial? nn

  • EDLIS Cafu00e9 says:

    nKaiser Per­ma­nente? nnCoop­ers & Lybrand?n n Bank of Mon­tre­al? n n The Co-oper­a­tive Group? nnThe Turkey Chase Greek beer adver­tise­ment in 1979?nnetc., etc., etc.

  • jump61 says:

    Mr Jones does­n’t have his facts straight, but nei­ther have sev­er­al of the peo­ple react­ing here. The key word here is ‘appear­ance’. So Kaiser Per­ma­nente, Bank of Mon­tre­al etc do not have an ‘appear­ance’ by Dylan. Nor does the Pep­si thing (the mate­r­i­al is from archives). The Apple/iTunes add is an add with an appear­ance by Dylan of course, but bot­tom line it’s an add for him­self and his own record, not for an ‘off top­ic’ prod­uct that has no rela­tion what­so­ev­er with what Dylan does him­self. How­ev­er, Mr Jones should have known about the Cadil­lac ad. As Dylan him­self once said to a schol­ar he acci­den­tal­ly bumped into (not know­ing pre­vi­ous­ly what the per­son looked like): ‘You can write about me any­thing you want but make sure to check your sources. So many things are writ­ten about me where even the facts are wrong’.

    • Josh Jones says:

      Thanks. Yes, I did com­plete­ly miss that Cadil­lac ad. And yes I did mean to refer only to per­son­al appear­ances, not the licens­ing of music or old footage (or ads for Dylan’s own prod­uct).

  • m320753 says:

    Dylan appeared in a Cadi­lac ad around the same time, and rece ntly let Kohl/s depart­ment stores used the lyrics to For­ev­er Young in a Christ­mas Ad. I’m sure oth­er com­pa­nies are stand­ing in line with open check­books for Dylan to an ad for them. he does what appeals to him at any giv­en time. you can do that when you are Bob Dylan.. Sell out ? NO ! peo­ple could­n’t or did­n’t want to progress with Dylan in the ’60s, which is where those words should remain

  • Scott Clifford says:

    What the hell does ‘sell out’ mean? When did Bob Dylan insist his music only be giv­en away for free to fans and wor­thy caus­es? Like every oth­er music artist (and damn near every artist in his­to­ry) he has sold his work for a vari­ety of rea­sons. So what? It’s how a man can devote his entire life to music instead of work­ing in a fac­to­ry and play­ing his gui­tar on week­ends. Only those who hold up musi­cians to some ridicu­lous stan­dard (even though the artists fre­quent­ly play up to these stan­dards) are dis­ap­point­ed. To the rest of us it’s a bit weird, a bit fun­ny, but hard­ly a tragedy.

  • Tam D says:

    Should have wait­ed a cou­ple of months before pro­claim­ing it his last.

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