Thursday, February 23, 2012

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

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2012 at 10:15 AM

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

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