Music: a hobby, a study, a combination of vibrations, a business, a product or an emotional refuge. Depending on how one chooses to view this “thing” at any particular given time, the next statement I am about to to make is debatable.
Genuineness is what people look for and attach to in music and the artists that make said music.
Yes, there are songs that reflect more outward emotional depth or weave more complex lyrical prose but, nonetheless, even the most repetitive of “four on the floor” club tracks can have an element of sincerity to them if the writer in question explains something about it and what about the track(s) connects with their individual feelings about the song(s). Of course though, you might be asking yourself, “Well, how many artists are liable to openly admit to making a song, album or image for profit, with no genuine interest. Everyone is going to claim some kind of inspiration, even if the story is completely made up to save face…”
This could very well be the case for some people but for argument’s sake, let’s just say that when it comes to the music itself, everyone has something that grounds them to the material they put forth to the world. What then, becomes of the phrase, “selling out?” Do we only have business bringing up “sell outs” if they stretch beyond to things un-musical? Maybe, but maybe not.
Plenty of artists have backed and subsequently publicly endorsed, products and or services that fall definitively outside of anything that would apply to the music industry. However, could it be said that if such a product were truly something you used everyday in normal life and that it actually helped to improve your life, that you are not selling out your integrity but rather simply, genuinely telling others about a good product, like anyone would, who is not a celebrity? Sure, there’s probably some money or other perk involved for giving a good word to boost a company’s brand awareness but again, at this point, have we reached the ceiling of undeniably selling out?
Fairness first, the two scenarios I have postulated thus far are mostly rooted in subjectivity. If one person’s view of “selling out” means doing anything but recording albums and giving concerts, then a lot of artists would be considered sell outs. If another threshold gives way past “products or services that don’t involve music,” the count would shrink at least a little in size. Contemplating the limits of artist integrity myself, this is where I see signs of a straight up sell out:
It is one thing to support and publicly approve of a product you use, even if you are a celebrity, but, are you not an undeniable sell out if:
- The product or service you endorse is both not related to your primary means of living
- You make no attempt to even connect with the product or its majority consumer base
- There is no explanation why you decided to make this decision and change
Now, there is also the matter of when an artist ventures into creating their own version of a non-musical product or service. Serving as an almost case study-esque example, this particular choice of action is one seen taken repeatedly as of late, by Maroon 5 frontman, Adam Levine. His recent business choices seem to reflect a man straying away from any kind of defendable integrity –especially if one looks at the types of non-recording related ventures he has undertaken in the last few years. The purpose of each has devolved further and further from the position of band member and artist both.
Adam Levine has helped conceptualize or endorsed the following:
- First Act Musical Instruments
- Record label “222”
- “Adam Levine” men and women’s fragrance lines
- Proactiv Skin Care Solutions
- Kmart clothing line
As you go down this list of endeavors, the gradual shift to everyday, non-musical projects is obvious and apparent. Sifting through some of the promotion and press for each one, Levine starts out quite vocal, sharing his thoughts and reactions to a project’s completion and how its development went along. First Act has him quoted on their website, getting right to the heart of his hopeful objective with the line:
“[First Act and I] worked together to develop a line of gear that would inspire new players. We hope it takes you to great heights.”
The starting of a record label certainly connects with the music business, so moving on to the fragrances, while there is always going to be that hypocritical sounding irony between Levine’s tweeted disdain of celebrity fragrances in 2011 and his eventual choice to make his own in 2013, that aside, the eventual promotional video still provides openness from Levine and gives consumers and fans insight to what the project meant and was intended to convey in relation to who Levine is and how he views the world. During the video, he even touches on this very idea that if there is zero connection to what one promotes, that is where things turn sour:
The move to start an endorsement of Proactiv Skin Care products starts to feel like more of a stretch since the target demographic for this kind of product is typically reserved for teenagers and early 20 somethings struggling with acne and general hormonal fluctuations that make for unpredictable blemishes and Levine is clearly no longer in either of those age brackets. It remains passable with regard to integrity simply because he is willing to share photos of himself that are relevant to Proactiv’s intended purpose and to make mention of previous struggles he had with his skin. The instant humanizing and humbleness factor is there with one adolescent, blemish-faced Levine.
Okay, so the last venture on the list is Levine’s new clothing line with Kmart. If an acne solution does not push Levine past the point of “sell out no return,” then what is so striking about wanting to have clothes made and sold in your name? A big issue stems directly from a consumer’s very first encounter with the line’s promotion. Here is the video ad for the clothing line:
Consumer relation problems right from the outset:
- How do I know which pieces of clothing, shown in the entirety of the ad, are part of the line? Is the underwear Levine has on in bed part of the collection, or just the stuff he picks up off the floor?
- There’s “average person friendly/relatable” advertising and then there’s visually unappealing. Why are the clothes thrown about the rooms? Should I regard these as cheap enough to not care whether I at least drape them on the back of a chair or lose them under the bed (and then subsequently throw them on dirty?)
- There is no mention of the clothing line itself or any visual aid of logos, (at least in the form of tags on the clothing if they are going for a natural narrative ad,) or even any mention of Kmart, until the very last seconds of the ad and if I have not been able to figure out what clothing I’m supposed to be looking at, by the time 10 seconds has gone by, I have probably already changed the channel.
Furthermore, is there something to be said about the irony of the items and flow of the way this ad is designed, based on the fact that Kmart is geared toward middle class consumers but Levine is depicted in an upscale apartment, running out to a vehicle that is clearly of upper class expense? If the possible idea is to have the clothing and Kmart’s brand connect Levine back with “the average fan/consumer,” it comes off forced and patronizing when there is little else to go on; no direct reference of the products to where you can even necessarily tell what’s in it and ultimately a reliance specifically on closeups of Levine’s aesthetic looks? This is the point where it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to glean any personal intentions or emotion from Levine about his line, since the ad lacks that completely.
At least some viewers who might catch the ad will see it through, even if they have no idea what it is for, but, those individuals are more than likely focused entirely on enjoying the ad for Levine himself; potentially forgoing trying to know what the ad is for at all.
Then there is the interesting facet in the Maroon 5 single, “Love Somebody” being used as the only background music in the entire ad. This decision, in a way, supports the idea of further sell out mentality and seems even a touch exploitative. Since this product line is intended to relate back to Adam Levine alone, and not Maroon 5 the band, isn’t a reliance on the band’s music for an ad “hook in” factor and reliance on the overall Maroon 5 fanbase for additional product security, while doing still nothing to help illuminate “the other 4 guys in Maroon 5,” in somewhat bad taste? If Levine is so capable of functioning as his own popular and powerful celebrity, enough to have done all these “solo” endeavors and to have clearly established an identity kept separate from the band, why utilize work done by the band as backing in the ad if not just for convenience of business boosting?
This kind of endorsement makes all musicians, regardless of genre, seem disaffected, unattached and far removed, even if the end result is intended to connect with a majority demographic. In turn, the people who rush out to purchase any such product or use any such service come across equally as disaffected, and zapping around equally as blind for something, because by default, they are attracted merely via an existing name and or sex appeal. Failure to connect those last two things with an additional layer of intentional substance and to me, particularly in the case of Levine, an artist has sold themselves right out. That’s not to say Levine’s practiced musicianship has gone away too, but, it might have quite the stay on the back burner ahead of it. Knowing that at one point Levine regarded disconnect with a promoted product as something to be avoided and then essentially seeing that very effect play out to the contrary, just reinforces the mental imagery of a very noticeable and contextualized decline in artist integrity.