When Selling Out Isn’t Selling Out

January 21, 2014 § 2 Comments

I was sitting on my couch watching football on Sunday and a Nike ad came on.  The music was familiar.  Then it hit me.  It was one of my favourite bands, the Montrealers Suuns.  It was their track “2020,” the second song on last year’s excellent album, Images du futur.  I was a little stunned.  Suuns are, for the most part, pretty obscure, even for a Montréal band, many of whom gained attention just due to the simple fact that they were from the same city as Arcade Fire.

I was a little stunned also because Suuns had sold their music to Nike, a multinational corporation, for advertising.  Then I realised the massive generational difference at work here.  When I was in my 20s, I would be sickened and appalled at any of my favourite alt.rock banks “selling out” to the adverstising industry.  Nirvana wouldn’t have done this.  Smashing Pumpkins wouldn’t have done this.  But the Dandy Warhols did.  In 2001, their track “Bohemian Like You” was used in a Vodafone ad.  But, that was easy to discount, the Dandys never attempted to claim any alt.rock or indie rock purity.  Life carried on.

But the Black Lips did the same thing with T-Mobile.  I wasn’t sure what to think about this one, either.

Earlier this weekend, I was having a conversation with a friend on Facebook about the band Neutral Milk Hotel, and she was commenting how she wished music could still be as honest as this band was.  We were also talking about the band makes us nostalgic for the 90s.

But still, it’s one thing for M.I.A. to sell her song to Nissan for a car ad, it’s another thing for Suuns to do it.  But, of course, the times they are a-changing.  For Suuns to sell their song to Nike only works to increase their exposure, to increase record sales.  In her brilliant The Gentrification of the Mind, Sarah Schulman talks about this process.  She cut her teeth as an artist on the fringe in New York City in the 80s.  But today, she notes, artists are all tied into the matrix.  For them, it’s not selling out, it’s just the way it is.  Skrillex sells his music.  So if The Black Lips and Suuns do so, does it make a difference?

I’m sure if I asked my nieces and nephews what they’d think if one of their favourite bands had sold their music for an ad, they’d shrug their shoulders and think I was out of touch.  And so, I guess so.  Bully for Suuns for selling “2020.”

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