Monday, 5 October 2009

Did the Red Hot Chili Peppers sell out?

Among the many terms that should be considered cliché and overused, “selling out” is a phrase that is often abused by vindictive and selfish music fans. Bands are frequently labeled “sell-outs,” because their original fan base felt they became too famous. More often than not, this tends to be an inaccurate accusation. Not every famous band betrayed their fans and their principles for fortune and fame.

One could debate whether or not being famous is a good thing, but I don’t believe that every band that achieves mainstream success can be considered a sell-out. Nevertheless, no matter the band, the CD, the situation, someone will inevitably criticize them and apply the dreaded sell-out label, especially if he or she is a die-hard fan. This is something I cannot understand.
Bands that play together for an extended period of time slowly form their style and undergo an organic transformation, in many cases eventually sounding completely different than their initial music. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are considered a staple rock band in today’s music industry and have come a long way to be considered such. They gained a very loyal fan base in the late 80s for their rap lyrics and psychedelic funk sound, culminating in their breakthrough album Blood Sugar Sex Magik in 1991.

This album gave them some big hits, but the one everyone is most familiar with from this part of their career is “Under the Bridge.” The song was written as a personal poem about Anthony Kiedis’ drug use, and he didn’t intentionally write it for use as a song. Almost twenty years later, it is still considered one of their greatest songs. It also broke the mold for them. When they had their comeback in 1998, the softer side of the Chili Peppers allowed them greater mainstream success. You can bet the original fans gave them a hard time about it. However, so many other fans were able to appreciate their new music direction.

No one would ever make the mistake of calling a one-hit wonder a sellout. After all, a group defined by one big song and nothing more cannot be accused of changing its style to find success – success found them. How is this different from how other bands become famous? One day they get lucky and one of their songs becomes a hit, and that’s the start of the next phase in their career. The original fans may grow to dislike the very song everyone else likes, as they now have to share their secret discovery with everyone else. These fans get bitter, and as a result they start throwing that dreaded label around.

Courtesy of New University

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