A band that sells out is never cool. Well, that probably depends on how you define “cool” — swimming in a pool filled with gold coins or leaning back against a chain link fence, cursing at everything that moves. When it comes to the music industry, we tend to be more impressed with the latter, despite how nice doing the backstroke in a pool of money sounds.
From refusing to be a cog in the record company machine wheel to straight-up verbal take-downs of the industries pop-music cash cows, we’ve compiled a brief history of bands who flipped the commercial world and its minions the bird, 1990-present. These guys make Dave Grohl’s refusal to license the Foo Fighters’ music for Glee look like child’s play. (Still, we won’t lie: refusing the glorified Kidz Bop treatment the show’s peddling is undoubtedly a noble decision.)
Pearl Jam’s Ticketmaster boycott
With the explosion of their popularity, Pearl Jam put a cap on their ticket prices in an attempt to prevent scalping, but Ticketmaster nonetheless added a service fee — and that really pissed off the band. They were so pissed off, in fact, that their unadulterated rage led the Department of Justice to start investigating Ticketmaster’s practices. They came up with nothing, but Pearl Jam continued the Ticketmaster boycott and refused to play venues that had contracts with the ticketing service. But their idealist dedication to their fans and the non-commercial music enterprise ended when, in 1996, they started working with Ticketmaster again “to better accomodate concertgoers.”
Kurt Cobain’s fight from the grave
How did Kurt Cobain get dragged into a Dr. Martens endorsement deal from beyond the grave? The brand’s ad reps dreamed up a campaign that paired dead rock stars from Cobain to Sid Vicious and Joey Ramone wearing Docs in heaven with the message “Dr. Martens. Forever.” Ick. Thankfully, Cobain’s widow Courtney Love squashed the plans before the ads could be distributed.
Tool and April Fools’
Tool’s long been the target of commercial censorship. Hard to believe when you remember their songs “Prison Sex,” about child abuse, and “Stinkfist” about, well, you know. As luck would have it, “Stinkfist” was renamed “Track 1” by MTV and “Prison Sex” was removed from the network’s playlist entirely. Tool had the last laugh on subsequent April Fools’ Days, leaking to the commercial press in 1997 that three of their members were in critical condition after a car accident and in 2005 that lead singer Maynard Keenan had “found Jesus” and was abandoning Tool. Both were false, they soon revealed, and repeatedly promised to not mess with the mass media and their fans like that, but the April Fools’ jokes keep rolling.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot without Reprise Records
The release of Wilco’s fourth studio album, 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, was so controversial that there’s a documentary about it (I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco, which is streaming on Netflix). Their label Reprise paid Wilco to record the album, Wilco recorded it, and Reprise rejected the album and dropped the band because they didn’t see a single and consequently had no idea how to market it (or how to get the band to make the album they wanted). Wilco streamed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot directly on their website and, in an ultimate stick-it-to-the-man success story fashion, it became their best-selling and most acclaimed album.
Thom Yorke to Miley Cyrus: Grow Up
So, back in 2009, Miley tried to get an introduction to Radiohead, one of her totally most favoritest bands, backstage at the Grammys. Thom Yorke declined on behalf of the band, and Miley’s manager threw a fit. Cyrus publicly responded, “I left ’cause I was so upset. I wasn’t going to watch. Stinkin’ Radiohead! I’m gonna ruin them!,” to which Yorke replied, “When Miley grows up, she’ll learn not to have such a sense of entitlement.” A Disney Channel gig will do that to you, we guess.
Girl Talk’s mashup free-for-all
DJ Gregg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, takes dozens of copyrighted singles and mashes them up to make his full-length albums without any sort of permission. He’s become the poster child for fair use, because if he did go through the red tape to authorize all of his samples, it would take years to release one song and he would owe thousands of dollars in royalties (and the cost of each album would be astronomical, as a result). Instead, he gives all of his albums away for free and makes a living touring heavily with improvized sets and a rave-like atmosphere.
Kings of Leon to Glee: You guys are a joke, and, BTW, our drummer is homophobic
Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” is perhaps the most Glee-ready song we know. Global popularity? Check. Anthemic vibe? Check. “Edgy rock” feel that’s still not threatening to moms and grandmas? Check. But, like the Foo Fighters after them, Kings of Leon, serious musicians that they are, gave show runner Ryan Murphy a red light instead of their permission to cover it. “F— you, Kings of Leon,” Murphy replied, in an impressive show of self-importance. “It’s like, OK, hate on arts education. You can make fun of Glee all you want, but at its heart, what we really do is turn kids on to music.”
Nathan Followill, the band’s drummer, wrote in a now-deleted tweet, “Dear Ryan Murphy, let it go. See a therapist, get a manicure, buy a new bra.” The world got enraged at his homophobia and he apologized, but they hardly stuck the landing on this one. One giant step too far, KoL.
LCD Soundsystem: The Final(ish) Show
After the announcement that James Murphy would make sweet, sweet love to his fans for two hours at Madison Square Garden for LCD Soundsystem’s final show, the entire world freaked out and snatched up tickets within seconds. Seconds later, they appeared on Stubhub at a tremendous markup. (We’re talking hundreds of dollars.) Murphy took to the LCD Soundsystem blog and announced, in a post titled “fuck you, scalpers. terminal 5 shows added.,” that they’d be playing four extra shows at Terminal 5 in New York to hopefully drive down the prices of MSG’s 50,000 seats and open up many more with the new shows for true fans and not scalpers looking to make a quick buck.