Archives for : Authenticity

The Sin of Selling Out: Is It Such a Bad Thing?

(Sell Out: noun, adj, verb-is the compromising of integrity, morality, or principles in exchange for personal gain, such as money)

Linkin Park 1920x1080 Wallpaper # 10

If one thing is certain in our society, it is that we as a culture take our music very seriously. With each artist we add to our playlist, we find ourselves able to relate or define ourselves. We share our tastes across a broad array of social media in the attempts to meet fellow community members and establish bonds not just with the artists, but the other supporters themselves. An artist’s work is in essence an extension of ourselves and we become defensive should someone choose to criticize the songs we’ve come to love. But there is no more profound an affront than if the artist themselves should change their style. For an artist to enter the mainstream and alter their musical style in the slightest is to betray themselves, their reputation and authenticity, and of course, their fans. It is as if by changing their work, they expect their fans to change their own views, their own identity, to accommodate their newfound success. This “Selling Out” is viewed, more often than not, as a corruption to the true artistic industry and even carries with it to corrupt the moral character of the artist whom we have followed and chosen to trust (wikipedia). But why do we carry such an extreme prejudice against artists who change their ego and style to make a better living? Is “Selling Out” the worst outcome for an artist and should they limit their aspirations to meet the desires of their purist fans? In this essay we will attempt to understand the reasoning of “sell out” culture and balance the potential dilemma and sense of betrayal of the fan bases with the potential gains the artist makes.

One prominent band that seems to epitomize this fear and stand as an example to harsh criticism over the years is one of my personal favorites and the group that got me started into music as a whole: Linkin Park. Though their work has been considered by some as sell out from the beginning, they have reached across many genres of music and reached a diverse audience at the same time. Combining elements of Nu metal (a subgenre of metal that incorporates an array of musical types(wikipedia)), rap, hip hop, hard rock, pop, and in their later works, electro and synthesized, their records were renowned for relating to nearly everyone in at least one way. They are by no means the only band to receive such heavy backlash for their experimentation and alterations in expression. In fact, many groups still popular today have received the term “sell out” on a common basis. Bands such as Green Day, Muse, My Chemical Romance, Metallica, Korn, Nickelback, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Nirvana have all been accused of being sell outs. Solo artists such as Eminem, Snoop Dogg (now Snoop Lion), and 50 cent are even considered as sell outs. Ironically, the more you search, the larger the list, and it does not stop there.  Chances are, if there is an artist you adore, to someone else they are a “sell out“. So from a philosophical point of view, if everyone is a “sell out, then does the term serve any real function? It certainly doesn’t seem to act as a deterrent to the myriad fans that comprise each artist’s base.

So how then do we view the process of selling out. Some argue that it is simply the natural course or evolution of an artist. Of course, this could be a good or a bad thing for the fans and especially for the artist. Each new song, if viewed as an extension of themselves, acts to make them vulnerable and risks their career if the content consistently disappoints fans. But it is difficult for the modern artist to orient themselves when there is such a broad range of reactions elicited from the fandom. While some fans are indifferent, others make wrathful protests on public forums. While some are sad or disappointed, others simply boycott the group that betrayed them. How then is an artist to act if certain failure is inevitable? I believe Korn’s Jonathan Davis said it best, “We’re always ever evolving, and we always piss fans off and we’re gaining other fans and it is how it is.” (wikipedia)

Linkin Park continues their long road to this day and provides such a unique example in the sense that they have evolved across so many genres of music in this period. Since their start in the mid 90s and initial surge in popularity, they have received increasingly negative reviews. Their first albums ‘Meteora’ and ‘Hybrid Theory’, both aptly named for their hybridizing style and meteoric rise into the industry, have both received exceptional amounts of praise for their creativity and ability to redefine music, with ‘Hybrid Theory’ receiving a diamond certificate from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for selling over 10,000,000 units (wikipedia). But upon entering the market, their 2007 album, ‘Minutes to Midnight’ received criticism for incorporating pop-like music and lacking the same “hardcore” components as its predecessors. And it is from this album that argument begins to escalate, as their single “What I’ve Done”, is played widely over the radio. For whatever reasons, as soon as an artist’s singles become widely distributed and played prior to the release of their album, warning signals are sent up among fans. This first indication then leads to a slippery slope, for as the band now increases their levels of viewership/audioship, they also formulate a more successful marketing strategy.

Another point of contest in the uncertainty that comprises the definition of “sell out culture is the point at which a band officially “sells out“. The case of Linkin Park is no exception, setting public forums ablaze with comments. To some (particularly metal purists) it may have been from the very beginning as they were inducted into the mixed style of Nu metal. Or perhaps it was when singles from their album ‘Minutes to Midnight’ reached the radio more readily with the song “Shadow of the Day” becoming prevalent on many pop oriented stations. Others contend that it was finally their contribution of “New Divide” to the blockbuster megahit, Transformers, that sent them over the invisible line that divides authentic and “sell out artists (Woods). Devoted fans clung to hope that in time, they could learn to love the “new Linkin Park”, yet some fell out at the release of their latest album “Living Things”.  And it is this moment that seems to be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Some of their later work also began to be showcased in trailers for video games like Medal of Honor, as well as shows such as NBC’s “Revolution”, and Discovery’s “Yukon Men” and “Get Out Alive”. Their song “Catalyst” developed the entire Medal of Honor trailer around it, and in a sense, epitomizes a transition that Linkin Park had been undergoing for quite some time. And this was the incorporation of CGI and digital laden effects into their work. This exposure in mainstream media is the final straw for many fans and herein lays the majority of fallout. Fans are forced to forsake their artists and move back to the underground roots from whence they originated and the tragedy of “selling out” may begin anew.

The process by which a band chooses to progress, and by association the fan base that follows a group, is anything but static.  And perhaps it is this shift that is a point of contention for many “original” fans. A band may use stylistic changes in content or message to reach a larger audience. Or perhaps they may change their fundamental “sound”, meaning a change in chord progressions, instrumentations and ensembles, or simply incorporating new elements or vocals. Among these changes in sound is the ever growing field of synthetic and digital music. They may even present original art work or graphic displays and covers to feature and represent their creative process.

In the case of Linkin Park, we see examples of each of these phenomena and we can start to understand why so many fans consider them among the worst “sell outs of modern music, for if each of these actions are seen as an affront to creativity and authentic representation, then all of them combined could be a borderline atrocity. In this way, Linkin Park allowed themselves to be featured in popular culture, which could devalue them in the eyes of some. Another interesting factor is their use of digital imagery and effects; not just in the case of video game trailers and movies, but also in the case of many of their more recent music videos. This shift in graphics from the traditional music video style paves the way into a more modern era. But in music, the aesthetic of sound still reigns supreme to any of these other criteria, and from this, Linkin Park receives it harshest backlash. They have chosen to pioneer a path into the territory of synthesized music. By incorporating dubstep, synths, and electronic elements, they have forsaken or morphed their sound beyond their traditional rock/metal roots. This bold move shows a willingness to experiment and a bold embrace of coming changes, but also leaves many fans disinclined to pursue this venture with them. Ironically when Linkin Park joined the Nu metal genre, it was this ambition and boldness that lifted them to stardom, and yet, the negativity surrounding a continuation of this venture is ubiquitous among the music community. The messages portrayed in the lyrics also have grown and developed through time, shedding their angst-filled tracks and taking on an almost political transformation, perhaps in search of a more a meaningful and developed musical concourse (Stewart). The coarse tone of songs, like “Breaking the Habit” or “Bleed It Out” have been replaced with the more heartfelt or political messages of “Castle of Glass” or “Shadow of the Day.” Videos like “Bleed It Out” show rebellious energy, while “Castle of Glass” depict the more somber message of a child losing a parent in the line of duty. Arguably the only consistencies that can still be found in Linkin Park’s image are the vocals of many songs.

The ultimate question then is whether or not all this is such a bad thing and what then are the repercussions of fan perception of artists. Should we continue to support artists or is it distasteful for them to get any vestige of success and lose authenticity? And does it not seem a tad childish to think that fans understand music industry and the dictation of an artist affairs better than the artists themselves? So without any issues in moral conduct or unethical handling of artistic property, a band is performing in a venue in the hopes of being appreciated and making a living. If the fans do not admire the work of an artist, then the artist may have to change their style to garner respect. If the fans do enjoy the product then the artist will promote that work and try to duplicate their success. Making these decisions and adjustments in how to proceed naturally alters fan perception for better or worse and all bands must face these crossroads.

“What I’ve Done” is perhaps the crossroads between the “old” and “new” Linkin Park and even falls in the middle chronologically. It provides evidence of a more comprehensive worldview and awareness of the larger issues of society and destructive tendencies of mankind. Showing scenes of ecological destruction at the hands of industry or clips of bombings and warfare, it aligns with the message and repentance present in the lyrics. If viewed from a less internalized perspective it applies not just to individuals but the choices of men in general. This marked change allows following productions to continue along this trend as well, as they address larger issues and allowing for societal struggles to take precedence over the prior emphasis on individuals. Perhaps this abstraction did not appeal to fans, though it is hard to say in the convolution of the many complaints.

While many do not condone such ready change and could view it as fickle, I would argue and applaud the effort of Linkin Park’s and other artist’s to expand across new horizons of music. As has always been said, “Fortune favors the bold”, and without such aspirations or alteration in expressions, much of the musical archives available to us today would be lacking. With so many variations of the definition of what it means to “sell out” and the idea that every band is a “sell out to someone, the term seems moot. It holds no weight and is simply a word expressing opinion, not a set term. All that can be said then, is that if the music does not align with your musical tastes then that is simply the case and nothing more (McMartin). But can an artist be justifiably condemned for their pursuits and choices in styles shifts? To this I would say no. In the words of Reel Big Fish’s song “Sell Out”: “And I don’t think it’ll be so bad. And I know it won’t be so bad.”

Works Cited

• Woods, Don . “Linkin Park: The official band of Transformers.” First Signs of Trouble.  N.p., 10 July 2011. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <>.
• Bellino, Vince. “Editorial: On Selling Out |.” Rise Above the Anchor. N.p., 7 Aug. 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <>.
• Stewart, Allison. “Linkin Park: Complicated, interesting, nu again.” Chicago Tribune. N.p., 23 Aug. 2012. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <>.
• “Selling Out.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Nov. 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <>.
• “Linkin Park.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Nov. 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <>.
• Angel. “Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda On Dealing With Brutal Criticism & Fighting Tooth And Nail For Your Vision.” Subvert Magazine. N.p., 28 Aug. 2009. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <>.
• Harper, Amina. “Is every successful artist a sellout?.” Twin Cities Daily Planet. N.p., 8 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <>.
• Lopez, Michael . “Top 10 Sell-Out Songs: You Can Actually Hear Artistic Integrity Disintergrate.” Up on the Sun. N.p., 26 Oct. 2010. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <>.
• “Nu metal.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Nov. 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <>.