Monday, October 26, 2009

Selling out.

I don't use the above epithet too often when describing an artist; after all, if you're a professional artist, isn't it better to sell your work (paintings, music, poetry, sculpture) than to not sell it?

However, when an artist clearly alters what they do for the specific purpose of selling more of their work, that is a clear example of selling out. Consider Nathan Followill, drummer from Kings of Leon, in response to their song "Use Somebody," from their latest (and most commercially-successful) album, Only by the Night, hitting Number One on pop radio:

Some people say we sold out, some people say we're taking the easy road. We don't get caught up in that. We're more interested in gaining new fans.

What an interesting quote: Followill doesn't deny actively changing the band's sound (as opposed to letting it evolve naturally). But hey, when your first album (Youth and Young Manhood) is somewhat critically-acknowledged, and your second album (Aha Shake Heartbreak) gave those same critics boners and sold just enough to give you a little taste of the good life (women, booze, fame)... it's hard not to want to shift into a different gear — now that the critics know who you are and are salivating in anticipation of your next release, you're going to get a lot of press — so why not rake in a lot more bucks by appealing to the masses?

Problem is, they did so by actively changing the type of music they play. Aha was a fantasic record precisely because it didn't buy into all those mainstream verse-chorus-verse conventions; whenever I listen to it, I can't help but be reminded of Songs from Big Pink, which is as offbeat an album as you'd ever get from a group which was within spitting-distance of mainstream success. Their next album, Because of the Times, sounded very different and received an extremely mixed critical reaction: some called it mature, some called it misogynist, and others plain-ol' didn't know what to think. At any rate, it sold a lot of copies, topped three overseas charts, and got them a lot of press for their next album, the aforementioned Only by the Night.

Now, it would be easy to paint me as one of those, "Oh, you only like stuff if it's obscure" music-snobs... and yeah, that's somewhat true, insofar as I like a lot of bands that are a bit, well, out-there. But my CD collection is well-stocked with tons of Beatles, Hendrix, Zeppelin, every David Lee Roth-era Van Halen album, and even a Tragically Hip album (Trouble at the Henhouse), so I hope that shoots a hole in that caricaturization.

But, like Sloan and Treble Charger and doubtless countless others before (and after) them, Kings of Leon changed their art to sell more albums. I liked them before the change, and I don't like them after.

They have sold out, and they are probably never coming back.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hate the latest stuff released by critically acknowledged band Kings of Leon.