The politics of the “sell out”

Today, one of my co-workers asked me how I felt about Grizzly Bear having a song on the upcoming soundtrack for the new Twilight movie, New Moon. I confess most of my popular culture news comes either from Leslee or from a casual glance at one of NY’s two free newspapers, so I wasn’t even aware of the news, but it got me to thinking… what exactly qualifies as ‘selling out’ these days?

twilight soundtrack 2

Taking a look at the artists signed on for the Twilight soundtrack, I’m actually moderately impressed. Sure, they have some obvious names like Thom Yorke, The Killers, and Death Cab for Cutie, but they also have some decent artists from the recent indie world like Lykke Li, Bon Iver with St. Vincent, Sea Wolf, and of course the aforementioned song with Grizzly Bear and Beach House’s Victoria Legrand.

So how do I feel about the potential proliferation and mass marketing of some of my preferred artists, you ask? Well, I think it’s tricky. I admit I did initially recoil at the idea if for no other reason than because I don’t really want to share the floor at a show with a horde of 15 year-olds (1). But of course, I also realize how hard it is to be a musician these days. Even artists that are fairly well known in the indie world still hold onto their day jobs to make ends meet.  And it would be nice to get some decent artists some (commercial) radio play–especially if it means turning even a handful of listeners over to the joys of listening to a wider array of artists and finding good music for themselves instead of relying on a radio personality or MTV dj to simply feed them the same ten songs on repeat throughout the day.

But the question remains: What constitutes a sell-out? Is Of Montreal a sell out since they had a jingle in an Outback Steakhouse commercial?

To me, when a band makes decisions motivated solely by money, then that band is a sell out. If, however, their decision is motivated by wanting to spread their music or reach a wider audience, wanting to make a better product, or wanting to expand their horizons, well then perhaps they’re not really sell outs at heart even if they are releasing a song on a movie that will most-likely be completely heinous. Of course, part of me is still a little sad when one of my favorite bands all of the sudden starts playing at a larger venue , and I’m no longer the only cool kid who knows their name… but that’s just because I can fall into the trap of being an elitist music snob.

But what do you think? Are those hordes of adoring teenagers and pre-teens really ready for the hazy, hypnotic melodies of Grizzly Bear and Victoria LeGrand?

(1) Especially if it means they’re going to chase poor Ed Droeste or Daniel Rossen into the path of a moving vehicle like they did with Robert Pattinson.


3 Responses to “The politics of the “sell out””

    • 2 echtster October 6, 2009 at 10:29 am

      It seems like contribting to a blandly commerical enterprise like Twilight is ‘selling out’, as Twilight has no ‘artistic’ merit…

  1. 1 It’s getting wild in here « Sonic Smörgåsbord Trackback on October 7, 2009 at 8:38 am

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"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being


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