Thoughts On Stylistic Changes & “Selling Out”

Recently, I was having a music related discussion with someone over the internet and they mentioned my most hated phrase, referring to a band that I absoutley aodre : “They’re sell outs”. Now, what I should have done was ended the conversation right there and put that person in their place. How can you tell me, someone who activiley engages in the understanding and analyzing of music, who is a sell out and who’s not? I wasn’t upset about that, more so was I bothered by the reasoning behind it: a stylistic change.

However, what I actually did do was keep calm (surprisingly) and respond back with “I understand” although I completely didn’t. I won’t even reference the band that was mentioned because that’s beside the point; this isn’t about one artist in particular but something I’ve been seeing especially with groups or artists that have been around for ten, fifteen or more years. And that got me thinking about what constitutes a “sell out”. The term stands for someone who moves in a more popular direction to stay relevant or make more money. But if a band or artist is decently talented, meaning they write good lyrics, make fun music or are even slightly interesting, they’ll stay relevant and gain fans for years to come. Think about it: after fifteen years or so, how many fans would they have? Probably a lot, like I said before, if they make good music.

Now, in terms of stylistic changes, there are no boundaries that I am afraid of crossing. I don’t care what genre an artist started out in; I will always give them props for expanding and experienting with their sound. Change is good and change is what keeps music from getting repetitive and recycled. Maybe I understand that a little more than others because I grew up playing music, and playing the same four chords over and over again will make you stir crazy, trust me. But nonetheless, that brings us to an interesting statement. If you’ve ever said the words “I lked them better when they were (insert genre here)”, then you’re a fan of the genre and not the artist.

Is that clear?

Let me repeat it. There is a distinction between being a fan of the genre and being a fan of the artist. That is exactly where I find most of these “sell out” complaints coming from. It’s not the stylistic change that’s a big issue; it’s more so now that the artist isn’t appealing to your specific musical preferences. And if your musical preferences are that slim, then honey, you need to expand your horizons.

I have rather strong opinions about this topic because it’s simply incorrect. If the words “sell out” means anyone who changes the style or genre of their music to gain popularity, almost every single artist would be considered one. Pop music nowadays takes on may forms and the lines between pop and everything else are becoming more blurred by the day. To further that point, there are also plenty of musicians out there who have had hit songs or albums early in their career. But once they stray away from their “signature” sound, they become considered a sell out. That’s almost ironic, isn’t it? To move away from the thing that made you popular, yet, it’s exactly why fans are now upset that they’re “trying to get popular”.

In my opinion, the words “sell out” are coming from people who can’t accept change or acknowledge that they don’t enjoy their favorite artists as much as they used to. It comes from a place of anger and I find it impossible to call someone a fan if they are willing to ignorantly trash an artist like that. Musicians don’t only have to appeal to your tastes; they themselves need to create what they have a desire to create. And by no means does that mean that they are a sell out no matter which direction they happen to head in.

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