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Old 06-14-2006, 09:13 AM   #1
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Art vs fan-pleasing records?

Ok, so this is a debate that started with some friends of mine over a few pints, but nonetheless, it's worth thinking about. We were talking about Radiohead and a friend suggested that he had loved the band and loved OK Computer but was bitterly disappointed when Kid A came out as it was so far from what he had been used to. While he admits now that Kid A is a good album, he feels that Radiohead shouldn't have alienated their fans that much and should have thought about who they were selling their records to as they made it.

I, on the other hand, as a recent Radiohead convert, rate Kid A as by a long shot their best album, and one of my all-time favourites. Plus I have absolutely no time for the argument that they should have pandered to the fans and made a more accessible album. My own feeling is that as artists and as musicians who were made financially safe enough to be in a position to do so, they should be given the creative space to push the boundaries of their own music and their own approach rather than be held back by what they think the fans want. Only in that way can bands push the boundaries of music beyond. Witness perhaps the backlash against Dylan in the mid-1960s when he made the greatest album of all time - Highway 61 Revisited - or, to bring it closer to home, the difference in opinions between the members of U2 (i.e. Larry's comments about it being pretentious, contrived, etc) over the Passengers project.

The question therefore is do bands owe fans anything? Should they make the album that THEY want to make or should they pander to the broader market of making music for those who made them rich enough to be able to experiment in the first place? Or is it, as was suggested in our debate, simply a case of falling somewhere in between? In my own opinion, and going back to the Radiohead example, Kid A is not that distant from OK Computer as many fans might have thought at the time (witness Optimistic, How to Disappear Completely, Fitter Happier, etc). So should bands push the boundaries while simultaneously making their albums relatively accessible and open and, perhaps, 'marketable'?

Any opinions? (And apologies for the long-winded explanation!)

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Old 06-14-2006, 09:29 AM   #2
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I think bands should play what they want to play. Pandering to fans ruins a band, and then they all end up sounding the same.

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Old 06-14-2006, 01:04 PM   #3
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I believe bands should make the best music they can possibly make, for themselves. some may lose fans, others may gain fans. It's a gamble, and only the most ballsy bands do so.

Radiohead is a prime example of a band that makes the music they want to make, and it's much better than pretty well most anything out there. (Including U2, who chose the opposite direction in 2000 when they decided they were losing their fan base and released ATYCLB. A good album BTW).

I think radiohead felt they could crank out an easy pop song in their sleep after OK C, and really wanted to push themselves for what they're worth. The result couldn't have been better for them, as they have placed themselves on a plateau as one of the BEST rock bands ever (even though they are far from the most popular).

It bugs me when people think Popular = Good.
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Old 06-14-2006, 01:29 PM   #4
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Radiohead had the opportunity to be one of the biggest bands in the world after OK computer; however they chose not to be. They are doing what they want, some people like it some don't. If you dislike Kid A, Amnesiac fuck off, and listen to something else. The band is not going to change just because some people don't like their music.

Thom said this after Radiohead released Amnesiac “I have no desire to alienate people deliberately, its good fun and I can see the point.”

Bono once said this and I think he is right "Radiohead just looked at the pop machine and the machinations of pop and just said, we don't have it in us, we don't have the energy, to have our way with that."
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Old 06-14-2006, 01:49 PM   #5
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I could care less what the artists motives are.

It is irrelevant to my enjoyment of a piece of music.
"If you needed my autograph, I'd give it to you." Bob Dylan
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Old 06-14-2006, 03:49 PM   #6
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Re: Art vs fan-pleasing records?

Originally posted by PookaMacP
The question therefore is do bands owe fans anything?
They owe their fans the best album they are able to make at the time they make it.
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Old 06-14-2006, 04:34 PM   #7
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Art vs fan-pleasing records?
I think the important thing for a band is to not concern themselves with either of those tacs when going into the studio.
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Old 06-14-2006, 04:42 PM   #8
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Do bands owe their fans anything?

In short, NO. I know a lot of people think they have a "relationship" with their favorite bands, but they don't. There is a bond but no relationship. It's not a relationship because there is no give and take or compromise between the two.

An artist should do what moves them. If they can't be moved then they can't move the audience.

There are bands that cater to what they "think" their audience wants and end up killing the art. But then there is another extreme where a band can become so self indulgent they can destroy the art.
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Old 06-14-2006, 05:57 PM   #9
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(and then Kid A was the song selected by my computer to play next)
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Old 06-14-2006, 06:23 PM   #10
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Artists owe it to themselves and the community they hope to share their art with to create the best art they possibly can while remaining true to themselves. Art and fan-pleasing are not mutually exclusive things. Pandering and pretentious bullshit are, on the other hand, exclusive and should both be avoided. Good art is good whether it sells or not.
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Old 06-15-2006, 05:05 AM   #11
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Excellent thread!!!

I imagine that the answer varies from artist to artist. For instance, I think that if the Backstreet Boys suddenly went from pop to heavy metal, they would probably lose 50% or more of their regular fan base, so in their case perhaps it's better to stick to the tried-and-true least till their fan base grows up.

Another great example is Darren Hayes' solo work following the break-up of Savage Garden.
From 1996 till 2001, SG were a true powerhouse of pop, becoming the most succesfull Aussie act in U.S. chart history with sales of over 20 million copies of their two albums "Savage Garden" (1997) - with the hits: "To The Moon And Back", "I Want You", and of course "Truly Madly Deeply" which went #1 in the U.S. and, like it or hate it, has become a classic of contemporary pop and the longest-running song in Billboard A/C history, and "Affirmation" (1999) - with the hit "I Knew I Loved You" which also went #1 and replaced TMD as the longest-running song in billboard A/C history.

In October 2001, Daniel Jones (the musician and second half of the duo) decided to call it quits and so they split up and Darren Hayes (lead singer) went out on his own.
In 2002, he released his first solo album called SPIN - a pure pop album that received massive critical acclaim (honestly...) and was accompanied by a whole new image change: he reverted back to his original blonde hair colour (after having it dyed black for years (inspired by Bono he, changed his wardrobe to reflect his new "pop star" status. The standout songs on that album were "Insatiable" (with his distinct falsetto voice and VERY raunchy lyrics....), "Like It Or Not" and "I Miss You" (a love song reminiscint(sp?) of a teenage crush.

Four years later, Darren himself has mixed feelings about this album and I think that perhaps it WAS a little too soon for him to go solo, but he felt that he was ready and he recorded an album that he felt the fans would like - some did and some didn't.

In 2004, apparently he still had some professional and personal issues to work out because he did a total 360 and released his second solo album called "The Tension And The Spark" - a dark, brooding album that was as different from SPIN as Britney Spears is from Pink Floyd. This album sounded NOTHING like either Savage Garden OR SPIN. The lyrics were totally autobiographical, with him writing about love gone wrong, suffering in childhood at the hands of an abusive, alcoholic father (who has since reformed and become his hero), sexual ambiguity, hero worship by the fans, etc. The music was electronic and distorted in some places. In short, this album was a TOTAL and UTTER departure from SG and his previous solo album.

Because Darren Hayes has such a close relationship with his fans, both in person and particularly on his website, he prepared his fans in advance for this change in direction.

When the album was released, music critics ran out of superlatives to describe this album and even NME lauded Darren Hayes as a "genius" (when, previously, the mere mention of him or Savage Garden would send them into convulsions). Darren himself said that it was recorded in his bedroom under the starkest conditions and that he absolutely didn't care about chart performance this time. This album acted as major group therapy for him.


Now to the point:

I've been a Darren Hayes/SG fan since 1997 and enjoyed the songwriting skills of Darren (lyrics) and Daniel (music). I'm a sucker for a good love song and they came up with the goods time and time again.

When SG split up, I wasn't really concerned because I knew that I would still be enjoying Darren Hayes' songs because of the beautiful lyrics and melodies that he wrote and that I had been accustomed to for all those years - regardless of who he collaborated with.

When SPIN came out, I was very happy to find that he was still in the "pop" mode and still writing those songs that I love to hear.

When I heard about the direction of the next album, I became a little concerned. I knew that he was delving into very dark reaches of his soul and I was afraid that I probably wouldn't like the end result. When I'm feeling blue, I rely on my music collection to pick me up and pep me up - how was this going to happen if my favorite singer is depressed HIMSELF??

When the album was ultimately released in 2004 I was expecting a deep, soul-searching song for first single and instead I got the ultra-pop "Popular" (which is a self-deprecating song about the lengths a popstar will go to be famous) - needless to say I was taken aback and a little dismayed, to say the least. When Darren was being interviewed on radio and they played another song from the album called "Unloveable" that was IT for me. I had decided that this was not the album for me, that I would "sit this one out" and that I would stick with my memories of the two SG albums and SPIN.

Lucky for me, a pen-pal of mine gave me the opportunity to listen to the entire album and before you can say "jumping to conclusions" I discovered songs on there that totally blew my mind both lyrically and musically (even though I'm not a big fan of electronica). Darren REALLY opened his veins on this record but among the pain and sorrow were songs that are absolute gems.

In short, do popstars "owe" anything to their fans? In some respects they do, because its the audience who "made" them popstars in the first place, but on the other hand, after a while when the artist becomes more and more established, they earn the right to experiment and try to break the mold of their previous work without painting themselves into a corner and compromising their artistic integrity.
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Old 06-19-2006, 03:45 AM   #12
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Originally posted by MrBrau1
I could care less what the artists motives are.

It is irrelevant to my enjoyment of a piece of music.
I actually don't think it is irrelevant. If you like it, then maybe you could say that it doesn't matter how it was made, but if a band deliberately goes too far in either direction, then it surely affects the nature of the music that they have made.

Canadiens1160 Quote:

I think the important thing for a band is to not concern themselves with either of those tacs when going into the studio.

But how can they? Although the record-making process might not be contrived, surely they can but think about what they're doing. So, for example, they can but concern themselves at least subconsciously with the music they are making. They might not concern themselves with either of the tags, but in the end they might end up coming out weighted to either of the two sides.
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Old 06-19-2006, 09:02 AM   #13
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I do agree with MrBrau1 about it being irrelevant

I've heard both great and bad albums by bands who wanted to 'please the fans' (an impossible mission anyway) and by bands who reckoned they were creating art

on a complete sidenote: I also don't give a toss about whether a band is innovating itself or not
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Old 06-19-2006, 12:06 PM   #14
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It is kind of irrelevant, simply because fans have the choice to listen or not listen. If you don't like Kid A... don't listen.

Bands don't have to please their fans, thats why they are considered artists (even if wrongfully so sometimes).

The thing is, only a few of these "artists" are strong enough to go full force into a project, and create something for themselves, without any influence from the fans.
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Old 06-19-2006, 12:11 PM   #15
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That depends on what you mean by 'art'. Some music can be very artsy, like say, Yes. Or 'art' can be a sawed up rusty trash can in the town square labeled as 'art'. It's in the eye of the beholder.

So, my answer is:

a band can do whatever they damn well please in their basements, but if they are going to put it out as an official release it has better be marketable, because no record company is going to take a chance on losing money in the name of 'art.' Now, if the band wants to start their own label and take a chance on losing their own asses when their 'art' doesn't sell well, that's their business. But would they? So how can they expect their record companies to? Like it or not, money is a big factor.

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