Thursday, 9 September 2010
Kings of Selling Out
The music blogosphere has gone crackers this afternoon as the KINGS OF LEON unleashed the new music video for RADIOACTIVE, the first release from their new album COME AROUND SUNDOWN. As expected, the elitist UK music press has been unfavourable to the new song, throwing particular disdain on the 'pastors-green' themed music video. The immediate reaction shouldn't surprise anyone, especially not the KINGS OF LEON themselves who were a few weeks ago forced to abandon a show after they were hit by pigeon droppings. It seems the shit just keeps on coming as The Guardian called RADIOACTIVE "[the] worst video we've seen in ages". No doubt the coming hours will welcome similar vitriolic sentiment from the NME et al, but is this a fair criticism?
COME AROUND SUNDOWN is the fifth studio album by KINGS OF LEON and is produced by the producers of all their previous albums, Angelo Petraglia and Jacquire King. The album will be released October 18, 2010 and is almost guaranteed to be the biggest album of the year. The genesis of KINGS OF LEON is a peculiar one. They came on to the music scene in 2003 with Youth and Young Manhood which was followed by Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004), Because of the Times (2007) and Only by the Night (2008). The UK took an immediate shine to KoL and remained hugely loyal to the American rockers. They were the darlings of the music press who proper dug their hideous facial hair and barn-burning 3 minute songs. While KoL were quintessentially an American by-product of religious fervour and country music (elements that are certainly in opposition to the secularly decadent values of British youth), the band were embraced in a way their own country failed to reciprocate. That was until 2 years ago when Only by the Night went Platinum with US sales of 1,961,828-plus. It was at this point the UK music press started accusing lead singer Caleb Followill and his brothers (and one cousin) of selling out. The once devoted 30-something followers of the band got real ugly when KoL fashioned a new clothing line called KOLxS2A in which a patented leather jacket cost the princely sum of £720. The Daily Telegraph's retail editor, James Hall, said "The [KOLxS2A] clothes were crappy, beaten-up, cheap, and invisible." It seemed fans were none too preleased either, accusing KoL of transforming into teen pin-ups, no longer musicians of integrity. KoL retorted in last month's NME by saying they turned down having their music used in television shows such as Glee, as well rejecting a cameo in Ugly Betty. Bassist Jared Followill said: "We got an offer to appear on an episode of Ugly Betty. They wanted us to play ourselves. We were supposed to come in and help [Ugly Betty] out with some problem or other." Jared went on to say: "We could have sold out so much more. We turn stuff down constantly." The key phrase here is 'sold out so much more', which denotes a level of culpability regarding the wholesale prostitution of the band.
But is this a big deal? Does anyone have a go at Dizzee Rascal for creating the poppy pigshit called Tongue N' Cheek and contributing to Playstation's SingStar videogame? Likewise, when indie-kid Johnny Depp starred in Pirates of the Caribbean no one accused him of selling out. The same goes for director Doug Liman who has gone from atypical indie American comedies like Swingers and Go to making silly big-budget fare like Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Jumper. Nobody has rebuked Liman's commitment to cinema. Christ, even Craig Brewer is following Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan with Paramount Pictures' unexciting remake of FOOTLOOSE.
KINGS OF LEON have sold out: I admit it, you admit and, to a degree, the band does too. The video for RADIOACTIVE is shit and the song is pretty crap too. It's a radio-friendly confection designed to get played endlessly, feature in adverts and appeal to the masses who'll like the harmless sonic melody of it all. It's geared to make money. It's no different to what Coldplay has done, and what U2 and R.E.M has been doing for decades. KoL want to be the world's biggest band. Noel and Liam Gallagher (who also has a fashion line) had similar unashamed ambitions for Oasis and none of us waved a finger at them. It pays to sell out. Nevertheless, one can never accuse huge bands like Radiohead or Portishead of having ever made music to get famous. With each album they've taken greater risks, eschewing conventional melody in favour of tracks that demand work on the part of the listener. They've proved that sometimes it pays even more being true to one's self.