Is there such a thing as ‘selling out’?

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Johnny Rotten does a butter ad and some punk bands sell millions of records- everyone screams ‘sell out’ but does that term have any meaning any more Nina Cresswell wonders…

Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.

The words of MTV, as it erupted onto our square boxes back in ’81. It was the dream goal for any band to even dip a toe in (unless you were Rod Stewart, whom the music station hammered out ceaselessly). Thirty years on the same story lies: you’re on MTV, you’ve made it. Back of the net, two thumbs up, lay down the royal carpet. Unless you’re a punk, apparently. Then you’re a Judas; a corporate slut. All moral loyalties and principles down the drain. Lost the key to your anarchistic veracity forever.

What a load of bollocks.

Too often have I heard that ridiculous expression ”“ sell out. So you’re only a true punk if you’re poverty-stricken now? Most rockers are in it for sole love of the music they play, surely there’s nothing wrong with hankering for that radio airplay, recording contract, number one hit? Fans should support the triumphs of bands they relish, not slate them for gaining popularity. Green Day gained international success, won four Grammy awards and sold 65 million records worldwide. Green Day are accused of selling out. The Misfits produce truck-loads of consumer products, and bam! Sell-outs. I’m sure Jerry Only has to pay bills too, he’s gotta keep the flow of devilock hair products coming in after all. If he can make money selling hats, pencil sharpeners, Misfits bloody dildos for all I care, it doesn’t mean he isn’t the musician he was when the horrorpunkers began in ’77. He hasn’t compromised his artistic integrity, it’s just a natural evolution for a fucking good band.

When original Pistol John Lydon agreed to star in Country Life ad a few years ago, comments like this one, from a Guardian forum, ensued:
“Very disappointed to see such a worthy, principled, morally upright man stooping to this. It’s a Swindle!”

Exactly. A great rock and roll swindle. Who would’ve thought young nihilist Johnny Rotten would ever dress in tweed and sell butter? That to me screams punk rock. He’s not taking it seriously, he’s got orange bloody hair and a load of piercings for god’s sake. Even if he didn’t, he’s still an individualist, still a fucking punk. If he wanted to exchange his punk rock values for dollar, status or power, surely he’d seize a more prosperous self-promotion than butter.
I even heard this utterance at a Koffin Kats gig in Durham. They’re no colossal MTV chart-busters, but they had a hefty merch stall, and their success is rocketing. “They’re close to selling out, look at all their merch their flogging”, one archaic-minded bloke grumbled. These are just three lads from Detroit, playing the music they love, and that money, they told me, gets them from one venue to the next. They’re skint. If that band hit it bigtime, I’d be chuffed to bits. Not moaning about them sucking the tit of the commercialist ladder and other nonsense I’ve picked up from old-fashioned botherers.

This ludicrous sell-out notion needs wiping, and people need to back the dying music industry. Doctors get money for making people better. Music breathes happiness into everyone’s lives, and those with acknowledgeable talent deserve the imbursements they work for. I think Billie Joe Armstrong hit the nail on the head when he said: ‘You can take us out of a punk rock environment, but you can’t take the punk rock out of us.’

Nina Cresswell

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4 comments on “Is there such a thing as ‘selling out’?”

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  1. If you can make a living out of being a musician without having to sell your music to advertising then more power to you. I’d rather just make money from writing, recording and performing. I’m sure any musician would, but the reality is that you have to make a living. OK maybe the purists have a point when it comes to greedy bastards who have already got a fortune and are just sucking satans cock for more but to say the same about anyone who does what they have to do, especially in this economic and musical climate is just ignorant.
    Go ahead be a purist pauper yourself and when you discover that it is no longer viable to make music your life then scratch your big dumb head and shout at someone with brains.

  2. I recall seeing the pistols reunion gig at brixton (on DVD, couldn’t afford to get there…) and I recall John Lydon at one point (inbetween his excellent crowd hectoring and other repartee) mentioning the butter ads, and how they had bankrolled the reunion tour…
    just my butterly 2p’s worth!

  3. Im all for bands being successfull as thats the aim of the game, that goes from manufactured boybands to punkrock garage bands… Nearly everyone who is in a band may say im just in it for the music, the creativity, the artistic romanticism, fuck money, fame and success but that’s bullshit.. If they are truely, truely honest with themselves they will also tell you they want to be recognised for it and be successfull at it.

    In my opinion all bands in order to remain sustainable should be selling as much merchandise as they can, should try to get as much airplay on the radio and tv and if they achieve that – Great. I personally do not believe that constitutes selling out. However, being a fake, a fraud and a liar representing an image of yourself in the public to sell records, merchandise and then completely contradicting that image to get more money….That is a sellout…

    Step forward John Lydon….. He sold out by taking the money for Im a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and The Butter Adverts…If he wants to do that then fine, he may need the money but he still plays this ridiculous anti-establishment character. He then completly contradicts this image and goes on that show which displays everything that is wrong with the bullshit celebrity culture which exists in the mainstream media..

    He may have just got older, his perspective on life may have changed and if that is the case he needs to stop pretending its 1977 and that he is still the punk rocker he once allegedly was….People would respect him a lot more for it…To quote my Nana “honesty is the best policy”…..

    Shaun Ryder is currently following a simliar path although is making no bones about it…He is clearly saying he needs the cash….Although when i saw him sing Step Off with Stacey Solomon (X Factor and Im a Celebrity) on the TV awards show i kind of felt a sad empty feeling.

  4. Obviously it’s all deeply, deeply ironic.
    It was better when people just thought about making music and ‘career’ was an afterthought but people are less idealistic now.
    I guess the price of the ‘alternative’ world being part of the mainstream culture is that you have to be visible and that occasionally means compromising.

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