Buying In to Selling Out
So there's been this enormous brouhaha about Wilco "selling out" because the band's members are letting songs from their new album, "Sky Blue Sky," appear in ads for Volkswagen. Some people are just losing their minds that the band has gone all commercial. The feedback has gotten so intense and negative that Wilco has released a statement defending its credibility on its website, and frontman Jeff Tweedy's brother-in-law has posted a lengthy defense of the band on his blog.
I think the in-law's blog post does a fine job defending Wilco, so I won't do that here. But what I would like to consider is this notion of "selling out." I mean, I can completely understand why fans of a lesser-known band would be up in arms about their beloved rockers (or rappers or folkers or whatever) suddenly making themselves available to wider consumption. Surely the possibility of mass appeal will also result in the dulling of whatever edges made the band so cool and appealing in the first place, right? Lose your soul to make a buck and get played on Disney Radio. To me, that's what "selling out" means.
And because that's what it means to me, I don't think signing to a major label--or even letting your songs get used in commercials--necessarily constitutes selling out. To me, you've only truly sold out if, once you've broadened your exposure, the sound of your music fundamentally changes in ways that seem designed to court a new mass audience.
Take Liz Phair: She's like the queen of selling out. She went from slash-and-burn post-punk goddess to glitzy rocker to pop princess.
Or did she? Her approach to pop stardom always struck me as really intelligent, and this article articulates why.
Okay, okay. So if you can't say Liz Phair sold out without using some po-mo asterisk to explain yourself, what about the country group Sugarland? Total sell-outs. Jennifer Nettles used to be this indie folk-rocker from Atlanta who sang all these dark songs about her broken home and burning sexual desire. Now she's in a group that makes fun ditties with power chords. And you know what? That total, unabashed selling out upset me for a minute, because there's no denying that Sugarland's music is pretty vapid when compared to Nettles' solo work (or her work in the duo Soul Miner's Daughter).
But as I've written, I've gotten over it. The old Jennifer Nettles is dead, but the new one is great in her own way.
The other major sell-out I can think of is Nelly Furtado, but god knows I've written about her enough on here.
So apparently, I can't get that upset about an artist selling out, nor can I be quick to accuse them of having done so. How about you guys? Any artists that "sold out," thus forcing you to drop them forever? Or have you made the journey with them, perhaps embracing them as a mass market act and then replacing the indie hole in your heart with another obscure sensation?
(I feel like I've only brushed the surface of this topic here. There are so many more questions to ask and consider... but a blog post can't be a term paper. I'll think more about it and get back to you. But I'd love to hear all your thoughts. Anything you've think I've overlooked on this topic?)