A very wise man once said, “I spent my high school career spit on and shoved to agree/so I could watch all my heroes sell a car on T.V.”
For almost 10 years these words sung by Gerard Way in My Chemical Romance‘s 2006 track “Disenchanted” have rung in my ears. At first I thought I was so attracted to these lyrics because they were the words of my hero telling me how life gets disappointing as you grow up. It’s emo, and a fact we hear constantly as we get older, but I took it to be more of a thematic message, rather than a literal one. Who knew that by 2013 I’d watch my hero allow my favorite band to break up in order to actually sell his own botched image of David Bowie-meets-David Byrne not only on T.V., but on billboards and bus stop benches like some forgettable basketball player on a box of Wheaties. To me, Gerard Way, like so many artists before and after him, had sold out. And now, in a post-My Chem world, I am forced to sit back and watch the rest of my musical heroes follow suit.
When it comes to selling out one must ask two things: First, what exactly is selling out? And second, who actually does sell out?
Selling out is a common idiomatic pejorative expression for the compromising of a person’s integrity, morality, authenticity, or principles in exchange for personal gain, such as money. —Wikipedia
Selling Out: To compromise one’s values and/or aristic [sic] vision in order to gain fame and/or monetary profit. Commonplace in today’s musical society. It is rare to find a successful musical artist who has not “sold out”, however, this is not to say that they do not exist. —-Urban Dictionary
Sell Out: To betray one’s cause or associates especially for personal gain—Merriam-Webster
As many of you may have heard, it was recently announced that the deathcore-turned-alternative-rock band, Bring Me The Horizon has left the independent punk label Epitaph and signed to Columbia Records, a major corporation of a music label. By the definitions above–having altered their sound to reach a wider audience and appeal more to the levels of rock being released today while leaving their small time, more avant garde sound in order to do so– BMTH have seemingly sold out.
With the release of their upcoming record’s first single “Happy Song,” fans can see that the transition from deathcore found on staples such as Suicide Season and There Is A Hell… is no longer rooted in the same artful direction as their clean vocal heavy Sempiternal. It is now almost exclusively pop rock with an accented aggression on several musical notes. Gone are the days of frontman Oli Sykes screaming “Crucify me!” and in place are those of him melodically encouraging us to “sing a happy song,” because sometimes rainbows and butterflies make your day much better than well thought out religious imagery used ironically in songwriting.
Okay, so maybe I’m a little biased. However, the proof is in the pudding. With the release of (what is technically considered) the first purchasable single off of the upcoming record, old school fans were even more blasted by the change of BMTH’s direction with”Throne.” Though it upholds strong connotations image-wise to their deathcore days, it is almost a direct rip off of mid-2000s Linkin Park. With accented screams, electronica highlights, and catchy, melodic vocals, metalcore fans were left in the dark and feeling almost betrayed by BMTH.
Sure, many bands “evolve” or “mature” and change up their sound, but it seems as if the introduction of keyboardist Jordan Fish is what really did BMTH in. Though his efforts greatly helped bring BMTH out of their shell on 2013’s Sempiternal, his continued presence in the press when concerning this record is rather alarming. Rolling Stone labels him as the “keyboardist and primary songwriter” in their latest and only article ever concerned with BMTH, ineptly (yet maybe appropriately) titled “Ditching Metalcore.” As Fish upholds himself as the voice of BMTH after his work with the band for only one released full-length, it becomes worrisome. Oli Sykes has not been present for the majority of interviews since the release of “Happy Song.” So, is Jordan Fish taking over the band and corrupting it into a commercialized redundancy of old school alternative rock or is this actually Sykes agreeing to sell out and abandon all that he stood for previously?
But it’s not necessarily fair to blame Bring Me The Horizon for selling out. We cannot blame a band for going against all that they were when we, the public and music consumers, are the ones who potentially could have forced them into the environment that led them down this path. With a decline in record sales and the need for radio-publicity to spark interest in artists, major labels can expand the horizons (no pun intended) for a band confined to the minute exposure and monetary limitations of an independent label. This generation’s need to consume music for as cheap (or sometimes as free of cost) as possible is what is deteriorating musicians’ abilities to live through their work on smaller labels. But is it worth an artist’s musical integrity? Let’s look at some examples.
Exhibit A: Fall Out Boy.
For many, Fall Out Boy is the poster child of modern day “punk” or “alternative” selling out. But when exactly did they get flack? Somewhere in between the release of their chart topping full-length From Under The Cork Tree and the release of “Take Over, The Break’s Over,” a fun single off of their follow up Infinity On High where they call out all of their haters. People were angry at the guys in FOB for at the time signing to a label like Island Records (a sub-label of Universal Music Group). Though in retrospect, it is safe to say that while fans may have been disappointed with their signing to a major label and slight departure from their original underground sound, they still remained in the vein of the sonic aesthetic presented on the lesser known Take This To Your Grave. Even while boosting their careers on major labels, it wasn’t until their latest record American Beauty/American Psycho came out that they truly departed from all forms of rock or punk in favor of commercial pop. As of right now, it took them their entire musical career (and a four year hiatus) to actually sell out artistically.
Exhibit B: Breathe Carolina
Not really punk or hardcore, but still relevant. Breathe Carolina left their minor label in order to sign to *DING DING DING* Columbia Records, just like Bring Me did. Now, how did that work out? After one album, Hell Is What You Make It, the electro-duo had a top radio hit with “Blackout” and a self-proclaimed total loss of creative freedom. Eventually they would depart early from the label to return to a minor league with Fearless Records and even lose founding member Kyle Even. The sole remaining member, David Schmitt, luckily just decided to grab a backing band and continue on his own with the release of the highly successful record, in both the alternative and EDM scenes, Savages.
So what is it about Columbia Records that was so daunting? Why haven’t bands like PVRIS or A Day To Remember chosen to find major labels when their sounds are actually marketable to the mainstream? PVRIS purposely chose to sign to the metalcore label Rise Records, even though they are a pop-synth trio. A Day To Remember opted to self-release their latest record Common Courtesy rather than be tied to or bought out by any label, even though half of their careers they have gotten flack for “selling out” despite remaining decently in the underground. Why can All Time Low‘s hit singles and chart-topping records go platinum while they perpetually remain on Hopeless Records? There is an element to selling out rooted in the very base definitions above, but there is also a more personal element of selling out that rests on whether you compromise the artistic integrity of your music in order to gain a profit. Whether Bring Me The Horizon will entirely sell out is still yet to be determined, though unfortunately it seems that with “Throne” and “Happy Song” the band that I loved for being so harsh and out of the box will now be known to the general public alongside old Muse tracks and new Arctic Monkeys on top rock radio. But only time will tell.