‘Tell Me It’s Cool, I Just Don’t Believe It’

Why "Sell-Out" Could Make A Comeback

‘Tell Me It’s Cool, I Just Don’t Believe It’
‘Tell Me It’s Cool, I Just Don’t Believe It’

By Samarth Kanal

Feb 5, 2015 11:00

'Sell-out' is a beat up, overused relic of a word and it's evident why people don't use it any more. I'll stop short at saying that the word has lost all meaning though, and it'll become clear why in a second. Punk has always been under fire for one thing or another as a genre, and that's fine because when introspection is constructive, it can be a force for good. Labelling certain bands as 'sell-outs' in the past has largely been a hollow exercise, but here's a case as to why it could well make a comeback very soon.

Firstly, making money isn’t bad. It’s one of the many criticisms launched at punk bands which really is flimsy and poorly thought out. Bands need money to live and to produce records and as a listener, you aren’t entitled to consuming music while the people in the band struggle to make ends meet. It’s surprising how many times people complain about paying for music or how easily a comment of that nature slips out. However, there is a limit. Profiteering is fine but doing it in a way that is insidious and cynical runs parallel to the problem that is the ‘entitled fan’.

Let’s take an example from Punktastic’s very own Rob, who wrote about ‘meet-and-greet’ packages. Those who can afford to do so pay sizeable amounts to meet their favourite bands, and that itself might seem like an awful thing to do; the fact that it’s done half-heartedly is even more painful. This is a case of bands exploiting the fact that people admire and want to meet them, thus creating a barrier between them and the majority of their fans.

Here’s another example which is beginning to grate: bands are taking it too far with their merchandise. The Descendents released a watch a while back with Vannen, who also collaborate with Blink 182 and other pop-punk bands. This is a blatant case of a band using its image to flog something that has no coherence with the music they release. Furthermore, some of these particular instances weren’t sold alongside a tour or a release to keep the band going – rather, they were made purely to squeeze something out of a brand or a logo.

Bands are commonly called ‘sell-outs’ because their style or tone has changed. This isn’t fair as they’re not making music solely for you. Criticising their integrity for this reason is another poorly thought out and tired trope within the punk scene. Yet, if a band insists on releasing merchandise more frequently than it tours or releases music then it is problematic. Surely we’re all in this for the music, not the shoes, incredibly sexist merch, or whatever other terrible piece of clothing you can stick your band’s name on.

‘Tell Me It’s Cool, I Just Don’t Believe It’

This does beg the question as to whether Green Day were justified in releasing a trio of albums in quick succession in 2012. Perhaps it seems like the band shied away from releasing a collection of B-Sides, but at least they released music rather than the aforementioned tat. Oh.

It’s been fun playing moral arbiter over the punk scene for a day, but even if a band has ‘sold out’ recently, ignoring the group’s impact on music as a whole isn’t necessary. Yes, Green Day perhaps lost sight of the old adage ‘quality over quantity’ but they’re formative and incredibly important to lots of music being produced now. That goes for the recently troubled blink-182 as well, those of you who are committed to scoffing loudly at pop-punk bands. Whether you like the bands or not, their influence is tangible.

So, the word ‘sell-out’ could well make a comeback – perhaps less in its use as a term to sum up an irrational dislike of a musician – rather as a term to show that a group is indulging in some cynical profiteering. Some criticism would go a long way at deflating burgeoning egos within the punk scene. Also we might be able to avoid hearing about stuff like this.

In light defence of selling random merchandise to fund production, the punk scene does naturally suffer from under-exposure, which is something that now threatens the sustainability of musicians. Yet, merchandise itself isn’t the problem, it’s the cynical nature of merchandising that is. The term ‘sell-out’ may seem dated but its validity could gain some traction soon if bands continue to exploit their fans in such a way. If ‘sell-out’ makes you sound like too much of a surfer dude, consider using some carefully selected swear words, unintelligible yelling or just saying NO to whatever greedy scheme you see a band trying out throughout these coming months.