I get a lot of emails from people hoping I will cover their doodads, and mostly I just delete them so I can see the important things in my inbox. But the subject line “Taylor Swift used my casket in her funeral-themed music video” made me click.
I’ve watched the music video in question, for her new song “Anti-Hero,” several times, and listened to the song many more. The video is not exactly funeral-themed—it’s about pop stardom, as well as the more relatable issue of feeling weird and monstrous when everyone around you seems happy and cute—but a casket does play a key role. In a scene partway through, the music pauses and Swift’s imaginary children fight over her will, in which she has left them a mere 13 cents. Swift watches the dream scene take place from inside her own casket.
As with anything in Swift’s orbit, the casket is now ripe for attention itself, and has been cataloged on an Instagram grid that sources Swift makeup and clothing items so that fans can own a simulacrum of something she’s touched. It was made by a company called Titan Casket, and co-founder Joshua Siegel is eager to talk up his product’s cameo, as well as the broader casket context. It turns out there’s some controversy over pricing opacity in the funeral industry, although that could be changing soon. As someone who sells caskets under the “direct to consumer” model, Siegel hopes that folks buying caskets won’t just go with the option that’s available at a funeral home, but instead will shop around online, and perhaps purchase one of his caskets instead. (You can also buy caskets at Costco!) We got into it. Our interview has been condensed for clarity.
How did you realize that it was your casket in the music video?
We were just coming off of a very big week already because we had presented in front of the Federal Trade Commission the day before, which was a milestone for the company. Then we woke up Friday and one of our employees who’s up very early, because we’re there for customers around the clock, she was watching the new video and she saw what looked like one of our caskets. She sent it out to the company and we all said that looks like our Orion Copper. And my co-founder and wife, Liz, knew we had sold one to a production company in July. She reached out to the production company, who confirmed that it was. There was a lot of excitement.
Looking at your website, it looks like a casket will run you a little over $1,000. That’s less than the median price of a casket, but—it’s still a lot! What is so expensive about making a casket?
It’s steel, labor, transportation, those are the main items. You just add those up and something that’s that size, there’s not a lot of margin in the product that we sell because you both are shipping, also, the items I mentioned to a manufacturing plant and then shipping that casket to a funeral home. There is a lot of care that goes into these.
You’ve been corresponding with Taylor Swift fans about the casket on Instagram, what’s that been like?
Fans are either saying nice things or making casket puns, both of which I’m happy to engage with because you have to have a sense of humor in this space. Somebody asked for a discount code and we created a Swiftie discount code for $50.13.
Do you get production companies buying caskets from you often?
We do. Part of the funeral space is that there aren’t brands, and so when production companies or producers needs caskets for props or for shoots that they’re doing, they’ll search online. And when you do that, you often find us because there just are not that many manufacturers. So we have a growing roster of these that they’ve built relationships with. The Interview With the Vampire series that just came out on AMC had us build a custom one for their series.
If I’m planning a funeral for someone and I order a casket from you, do I have to make sure to be home on the day of the delivery, or how does that work?
So 9 out of 10 customers have us deliver to the funeral home, and because of the FTC’s “Funeral Rule,” the funeral home has to accept the casket. They can’t charge a fee, they can’t burden the customer or make them be there. And so that’s why we’re able to sell for half the price of the ones you find at funeral homes.
Tell me a little bit more about the FTC’s Funeral Rule, which was created in 1984. What do you hope will change about it?
If you walk into a funeral home and start discussing price, they have to hand you an itemized price list with everything they sell, including low-cost items. It also mandates that funeral homes have to accept which beds you buy outside the funeral home.
But that rule has not been updated in decades. We found out a week and a half ago that the FTC was holding hearings last week on whether they should modernize the Funeral Rule. So we submitted a written statement, we got invited to speak, and we spoke and what we said is, every funeral home should be required to post prices online because by the time you get to a funeral home, it’s too late. Your loved one’s already there. You don’t have time to go to multiple funeral homes at that point and ask for price lists.
According to a statement from the FTC that you sent me, the commission found that over 60 percent of funeral home websites “provided little to no price information whatsoever.”
Customers need to be able to price compare online. The FTC voted 4–0 to modernize the Funeral Rule. There’ll be a series of meetings and over the next few months where they’ll be taking about how to try and strengthen these consumer protections.
I was looking at the rule online and it noted that one of the pieces of the rule as it stands now is that you only have to buy the funeral arrangements you want. And that made me curious, do you have to buy a casket to bury someone, or can you just put your loved one in the ground?
Many funeral homes often do offer a cardboard box. They often have an entry-level one, but I probably am not the right person to speak to that option because it just varies so much.
Have you seen sales of the particular casket that Taylor Swift came out of go up?
We haven’t and it’s not surprising. You either need a casket or you don’t. And the audience is a younger audience, and so for us it’s a very long purchase cycle. For us it’s about the slow raising of awareness that we think will lead to a larger business in helping more families. But we don’t expect it to be a flood of sales as a result.
One more question. Seems kind of dangerous that Taylor is peeking out of the casket in the video. What would happen if it slammed shut—can you get locked in a casket?
No, you cannot get locked inside the casket. The locking mechanism is a long metal screw that can only be engaged by using a casket key and physically locking the casket. The casket does not lock automatically when closed.