Independent genres using major record labels, John Lydon selling butter, and Iggy Pop selling insurance.
Punk rock is arguably the style of music most aligned with maintaining personal ethics and taking a stand against oppression and control from the powers that be. It’s no surprise that when artists decide to compromise their ideals and engage themselves in mainstream business they are criticised for “selling out”. While fan reaction can range from completely negligible to full-blown controversy, let’s take a look at some of the genre’s best.
Green Day Releases Dookie On a Major Label
In 1994, Green Day was a well-respected and established punk band that recorded for the iconic independent label Lookout. Coming from the Berkeley CA scene based around the 924 Gilman venue, the band and venue were synonymous with the punk rock scene in California at the time. In the wake of Nirvana becoming huge, almost any band was given a major label deal. With the band already experiencing a strong following after the release of their second album Kerplunk in 1992, the change came as a shock to the scene that had fostered and supported them to that point. Still to this day the band is not allowed to play at 924 Gilman because they’d signed a major label deal. Yet clearly for the band this decision worked out well for them, with Dookie selling over ten million copies, and kickstarting a stadium-filling career that continues to this day.
Anti-Flag Signs to RCA
One of the most popular and politically outspoken punk rock bands of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag shockingly announced that they’d be signing to RCA Records. While the idea of punk bands being on major labels was nothing new at this point, the fact that the band’s strongly anti-corporate ideology and lyrics completely contradicted what the band was doing, and left the whole situation incredibly confusing. While the band tried to play it off as wanting to spread their message to the masses, any cred the band once had was now lost to the multinational corporation they’d just signed to. Their music sure as hell didn’t get better either.
Jawbreaker Changes Sound and Signs to DGC
While the band’s lyrics were never specifically anti-corporate, the scene and culture the band had come from was extremely DIY-focused and against anything resembling mainstream culture or business. Either way, the band’s raw, unpolished sound wouldn’t have been marketable anyway. This all changed in 1995 when the band signed with Warner subsidiary DGC. Fan backlash was immense. Not only had one of the most popular cult favourite bands of the time signed with a major label, they’d completely polished their sound for 1995’s Dear You. While the legacy of the band has largely forgiven them for the now critically-acclaimed Dear You album, the change wasn’t received well by either the band’s fans or the greater buying public, with the band breaking up less than a year later.
Iggy Pop and John Lydon Selling Butter and Insurance
The early 2000s were an interesting time with advertising. While both Iggy Pop and Sex Pistols/Public Image Limited frontman John Lydon had recorded for major labels and occasionally crossing over into the mainstream, both still maintained a level of credibility in the punk world. This all came into question around the time Iggy Pop appeared in a series of car insurance ads, while Lydon appeared on TV and billboards advertising butter. Perhaps the most “uncool” and “sell-out” of these cash-ins was the shortlived Sex Pistols decorated Virgin credit card, because nothing says anarchy and punk rock like crippling debt and exorbitant interest rates. By this time this kind of behaviour was normalised and no one really cares anymore. Long live punk rock.
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