There was a time when leveling the word “sellout” at a band was the equivalent of pinning a scarlet letter to a musician's leather jacket. For some of those bands who made it big in the '90s, fame was ostensibly a lamentable state of being, the equivalent of living with an incurable STD–wretched, but inescapable.
How many stories attribute Kurt Cobain's suicide to his antagonism with
stardom? After winning an MTV Video award for the single “Jeremy,”
Pearl Jam, disgusted by the commercialism of videos, stopped making
them for several years. Remember when Ticket Master's compulsory $3 to
$6 service charge enraged Eddy Vedder & Co. so much that the band cut
ties with the promotions juggernaut, used a complicated phone service to
sell concert tickets and took their complaints about monopolies to
Congress? Bear in mind that a lot of these bands grew up idolizing punk
acts such as the Dead Kennedys who mocked terminal preppies, jock
culture and the mindless ingestion of beer.
Oh, how times have
changed. Boy and girl bands soon emerged in conjunction with a swell in
the popularity of reality television. Soon everybody was clamoring for
that 15-minute spotlight. Cue ominous music, enter Ryan Seacrest, then
witness musical conviction and artistic integrity swirl down the toilet.
You see where I'm going with this. Now we have a generation of indie
bands so far removed from the fundamentally rebellious aspects of rock
culture, that even though many have created cutting-edge sounds, they
cheapen their product by selling products. Here's a short list of
otherwise good artists who have been led astray by the shimmering
promise of big cash payouts in exchange for a little harmless shilling:
1. The Dodos
With images of Miller Chill bottles swirling and clanking
against the frenetic tribal soundtrack of the San Francisco
indie-outfit's song “Fools” off 2008's Visiter, hip music takes
itself down a few pegs.
2. M. Ward
Not to be outdone, in 2009, folk-rock troubadour and songwriter
extraordinaire M. Ward offered a tune off his third album, Hold
Time entitled “Never Had Nobody Like You” for a Budweiser
commercial. Seriously? What hipster worth his salt drinks Budweiser? The
song featured Ward's ingenue, Zooey Deschanel. Check out the bro-grabs.
3. Zooey Deschanel
Speaking of whom, did anybody catch her commercial
promoting the Cotton industry? In it, she whimsically thumbs through the
vinyl bins at the local thrift shop and writes songs on an old upright
piano while she sings laconically about the fabric of our lives. Did we
mention she's married to Ben Gibbard? Didn't see that one coming.
4. Rilo Kiley
Jenny, say it ain't so! After years of making thoughtful and
well-crafted folk-rock songs, you decided to appeal to the lowest common
denominator and made an entire album about sex. It worked, everybody
loved 2007's Under the Blacklight. The people at Carl's Jr. loved it
too and felt your song “Moneymaker” would be a great for soundtrack to
feature with some meat slinging. The spot starred no less of a
“symbol” than The Hills' Audrina Patridge.
5. The Flaming Lips
This is a heartbreaker. Yoshimi and the Pink Robots
tops my list of favorite albums, yet this band with such incredibly
poignant and heartfelt lyrics leased one of its best songs, 2002's “Do
You Realize?” to a Land Rover commercial. In this age of geographical and
political instability fed by oil and gas addiction, can you imagine
anything more globally offensive than a Land Rover? Does this band stand
for anything? I guess the lyric “Do you realize/ that everyone you know/
someday will die?” is an expression of the band's fatalistic philosophy
and perhaps nothing they do matters anyway.
I know what you're thinking. This is America. In America, it is our
right, nay, our duty to accrue as much financial wealth as possible and
anybody that would begrudge another for exercising this right is a
no-good communist. After all, who is going to provide for us when we're
old and infirm? The government? Our children? Ha! Maybe you have a
point. And I'll even take you one further.
Maybe all those musicians in
the '90s were just pretending to be outraged by commercialism in a
twisted attempt to maintain credibility with the Gen-Xers buying
albums who had become disillusioned by their own parents' failed
societal aspirations. Pearl Jam has certainly changed its tune in the
past year. Reference their recent collaboration with retail giant
Target. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.
So here's the question: Does a well-crafted
song about love, loss, excess or redemption retain its significance when
it is used to sell a product that for many leads either to addiction
and death, or, less seriously, serves to needlessly separate schmucks from
their money? In the process, do artists run the risk of becoming
products in and of themselves? Does it matter? I need a beer–it's