Converse and the Long, Slow, Possibly Unfortunate Death of the Sell-Out

02/23/2012 10:15 AM |

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Let me get this out of the way right off the bat: I don’t care very much about the decisions artists make in regard to licensing their music or signing to major labels or any of those other formerly hot-button issues we used to talk about all the time. This might be a massive intellectual failing of mine, I realize, but I happily accept that everyone needs to create their own set of rules and their own methods for determining when something becomes truly tasteless. There was a time when I felt a bit differently (though never quite as strongly as I felt like I was supposed to) and I’d like to think my softening on the issue has had more to do with changing tides within the music industry than it does with the careless abandonment of youthful ideals. Who knows if that’s really the case, though.

The funny thing about that paragraph, of course, is that by writing it at all, I’ve implicated myself as something of a relic—the music critic equivalent of that embarrassing old relative who still says things like, “Well, I don’t have anything against gay people.” I go on record as not caring what artists do with their music because my stance on the matter is still complicated and gray enough that it feels like something worth clarifying. Yesterday, though, the internet reminded us once again that it truly is not.

The people at Converse have just released “DoYaThing,” the most recent installment of their “Three Artists, One Song” series, where well known musicians, in this case Gorillaz, André 3000 and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, collaborate on an original track which is then spread all the fuck over the internet with the sneaker company’s name displayed prominently in places it would otherwise have to pay to appear. It’s an exceedingly clever bit of marketing that has actually produced some pretty enjoyable music as well: “DoYaThing” is a perfectly pleasant and strange little slice of electro-soul that happens to feature one André 3000’s most enjoyable verses in years. I don’t know for sure, but it seems like that last part—about the music being good—is probably immaterial to the public’s reaction.

Within hours of the song hitting the internet yesterday, I read probably around 6-8 blog posts about it, as well as an endless stream of Twitter commentary (remember, my feed is comprised almost exclusively of total rock-crit jerks, too), and I don’t know that I came across a single snide comment, let alone any real, indignant outrage. We’re talking about a really big corporation paying a bunch of artists a presumably substantial amount of money to write a song that will exist for the sole purpose of selling sneakers, and these are facts that now go pretty much unmentioned. We didn’t arrive at this point overnight, but it certainly feels like we’ve gotten good and settled in.

One may have wondered what sort of guidelines the artists were given, or what say Converse had in how the final product wound up sounding. I don’t know the answer to either of those questions, and I’m not even 100% sure they matter all that much, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish people were just a little more curious, a little more conflicted about the whole thing. It may not matter what side of the debate we come out on, or even that we’re able to choose sides in any absolute way, but there still may be some value in the conversation.

For more, follow Mike Conklin on Twitter @LMagmusic

6 Comment

  • But are you super excited for the 12-minute LCD freakout version, Mike??? (I am!) I’m not sure that, outside of straight up product placement inside the song, there’s really anything to be conflicted about. Getting these three guys together in a room was a really good idea. Does it matter if Converse had it? Some record company should have had it, but they are toxically safe and cynical these days. If corporate boards have better creative ideas, shit, I’m with them.

  • But Jeff, you just really, really hate Fugazi.

  • Well, I guess piousness about corporate money in a commercial art form is one of the things I find really unattractive about them. Of all the things I think about music when I’m listening to it, “Is it stringently ethical that this song exists?” is pretty low on the list. I mean, maybe that’s a character defect (and I’m sure some people would think so). But isn’t the thing itself the much more important? This thing is silly, but good, and I’m pretty psyched for the extended version. (Also, James Murphy just gets really inspired by shoes. Don’t question his process!)

  • Michelangelo was paid to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling in order to sell Catholic doctrine. Converse is no Catholic church, but its shoes and aesthetic are well-loved. I mean, I think the capital for art has to come from somewhere, and the real issue with the idea of “selling out” isn’t where it comes from, but more about the potentially destructive relationship between the creative process and selling shit. If Converse approached someone to do this, I imagine a person might have one of two attitudes. The first: “I wanna make this $$$, so I guess I’ll just throw something together.” The second: “Haha, these suckers are giving me money to make music. I’m gonna do my thang-a-thang anyway and get PAID.” The first, I would think, yields empty, “commercial” crap.

    But, underneath it all, where does good music come from? Is the source some mythical, magical, creative force that aligns with good energy and is allergic to capitalism? Or does it come from skilled people, good attitudes, as well as a creative verve? In the act of creating, money should be irrelevant. But in order to create, a person needs money. I don’t blame Albarn or Murphy or Andr

  • rewrote this a bit:
    “Converse and the Long, Slow, Possibly Unfortunate Death of the American Dream”:

    “We’re talking about a really big corporation paying a bunch of artists a presumably substantial amount of money to write a song that will exist for the sole purpose of selling sneakers, and these are facts that now go pretty much unmentioned: IN THE MEANTIME, THE WORKING CLASS PEOPLE ARE GETTING NICKLED AND DIMED TO DEATH. We didn’t arrive at this point overnight, but it certainly feels like we’ve gotten good and settled in. “

  • ah. your first paragraph is an instance of apophasis. dont worry about it. musicians are not artists. there is no ‘selling out.’ get over it.