Never mind the dollars, here's the sell-outs

Alastair Chatters examines that awkward moment when musicians sell out and get sucked into the world of advertising.

22nd October 2015

“Growing up means watching my heroes turn human in front of me” screams Soupy, the jaded front man of punk outfit The Wonder years, on the track 'Hoodie Weather'. Whilst this may initially appear as ego-stroking and name dropping, I felt that this particular line holds some relevance to the recent criticism folk-hero Bob Dylan has faced after appearing in the new IBM advert. Now if you haven’t seen the advert it’s pretty much the exact cheese-fest you’d expect, in it a computer and Dylan have a strained conversation in which the computer explains how it had analysed all of Dylan’s lyrics and could summarise the entire catalogue of 400 something songs into “time passes and love fades”. Queue a smile of agreement from Dylan, some quirky fun joke about them collaborating and then Dylan slinks off screen guitar in hand leaving the audience, well in particular me, wondering two things. One, why is Dylan wandering around the IBM HQ with his guitar? And secondly, by appearing in this advert, along with the Chrysler and Apple ones too, has Bob Dylan ‘sold out’?

"if you’re in it for the money or fame then you’re in the wrong business"

Bob Dylan has not been the first artist to be labelled as a "sell out", in fact stretching from the early 70’s through to the 90’s ‘selling out’ was the very worst thing any credible artist could do. From preaching anarchy to then signing to a major record label (cough Anti-Flag cough), moving away from musical roots, all the way to appearing in adverts, artists have faced the wrath of hard-core fans unhappy with their favourite artist selling out. In recent years those who have felt it worst are John Lydon, member of legendary punk group The Sex Pistols, for appearing on a Country Life advert for the tune of £8 million and Iggy Pop for his cringe inducing insurance adverts. I think the main problem music fans have with this is that it offers nothing to them. In my opinion music should be about the listeners, if you’re in it for the money or fame then you’re in the wrong business, creating excellent albums and expressing yourself creatively should be at the forefront of your mind as a musician. In this respect I can give some lenience to Lydon as much of the proceeds from the advert actually went to pay for Public Image ltd. to tour again, offering something to his fans.

The other problem I have with these acts is that in their day, and to some extent even now, they were bastions of anti-commercialism and the “stick it to the man” attitude of early rock and punk. By appearing in advert this view seems fairly hypocritical as they are buying into what they previously condemned. Arguably watching our heroes turn into humans more obsessed than wealth than artistic credibility. From this alone I believe Dylan has at least sold out on his ideals, although perhaps not his music. Here’s hoping Soupy never sells out.

Alastair Chatters

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