This edition of Artworld Roundtable appears in collaboration with Chris Richards, the pop music critic for the Washington Post. Over the next several weeks, we’ll present a series of roundtable discussions based on Richards’ “five hardest questions in pop music”: “cultural appropriation, problematic lyricism, selling out, the ethics of posthumous listening, and … separating the art from the artist.” AFB has rounded up several thinkers working in these areas to see what they have to say about each question. Richards has provided AFB with key examples to draw out the problems and complexities of each debate. First was cultural appropriation. Second was how to respect the wishes of dead artists. Today we ask whether it’s still possible for musicians to sell out.
What does it mean to sell out? In today’s commercialized, social media, sponsorship-driven world, can musicians still sell out in any meaningful way? Or, in an era where people are unwilling to pay for music, is selling out just getting paid?
Whether today’s artists can still sell out is the third of “the five hardest questions in pop music”, as described recently in the Washington Post by pop music critic Chris Richards. Below is the guiding question accompanied by a few examples that Richards finds particularly salient, followed by our contributors’ responses.
Question #3: Can today’s artists still sell out?
1) Kendrick Lamar has been heralded as one of the most uncompromising, social justice-minded artists in popular music. Do his advertisements for Reebok, (including this 2015 clip where Lamar speaks about “a wind of change” amidst a street protest), compromise the political messages in his music?
2) U2 released its 2014 album, “Songs of Innocence,” during a starry product launch for Apple, who inserted the album into half a billion customers’ iTunes libraries without asking them first. Was this an infringement of privacy, or as U2 put it, a gift?
3) As more and more young listeners turn to YouTube as their primary platform for music listening, watchful eyes have noticed an uptick in corporate product placement in new music videos. Is this sponsorship tactic – where the advertising content stealthily becomes a part of the art itself — more or less troublesome than the inverse, i.e. an artist licensing their original music to be used in a commercial.
Our contributors are:
- Roy Cook, professor of philosophy, University of Minnesota [website]
- Javier Gomez-Lavin, postdoc in philosophy, University of Pennsylvania [website]
- Shen-yi Liao, associate professor of philosophy, University of Puget Sound [website]
- Erich Hatala Matthes, assistant professor of philosophy, Wellesley College [website]
- Claudia Mills, children’s book author and emeritus professor of philosophy, University of Colorado – Boulder [author website, philosophy website]
- Mary Beth Willard, associate professor of philosophy, Weber State University [website]
On the simplest understanding, a band has sold out if they have compromised their personal values or musical integrity in exchange for financial gain. Examples include allowing one’s music to be used for purely commercial purposes (e.g. advertising), or altering the kind of music one produces in order to reach more consumers (either voluntarily or at the behest of a major label).
So Kendrick Lamar clearly sold out. But is there anything wrong with this? Well, sure: compromising one’s personal values or one’s musical integrity is an inherently bad thing. But that is a relatively local notion of “bad” – if an artist violates their personal values, then that is bad for them, but is it bad for us, or bad overall? In general, I don’t see any convincing arguments that it is.
On the contrary, selling out can (and, I would argue, often does) lead to good consequences. Consider Lamar’s promotional work for Reebok. Even if this leads to socially conscious fans buying Reebok kicks based on their association with Lamar’s politics, no one is likely to think that the purchase of these products is likely to lead to a more just world. But – and this is the important point – Lamar’s connection to Reebok just might inspire fashion-conscious Reebok consumers to learn more about Lamar’s social justice work and engage in some world-improving of their own.
Lest one think that this example is silly, it is useful to consider the origins of thriving, politically active punk scenes in places like Indonesia, South Korea, and Russia. These scenes did not arise because fans travelled to the West to see punk shows at CBGB or The 9:30 Club. Instead, fans were exposed to radio-friendly major-label punk bands like Green Day and Bad Religion, and then constructed indigenous punk scenes via their own interpretation of these imports (see Kevin Dunn’s Global Punk for a nice discussion of this phenomenon). In short, selling out can (and often does) bring wider exposure to the culture and values that the sell-out artist is supposedly betraying.
Lamar’s Reebok-shilling involves one kind of selling out (a compromise of personal values), but doesn’t obviously involve the other (a compromise of musical vision or integrity). But even in cases of this second sort, where an artist produces music that is different from the music that they would have produced without corporate interference, it’s still not obvious that this is necessarily a bad thing. Presumably, when this kind of selling out works as intended (and, to be fair, it often doesn’t), the music that is produced reaches a much wider audience, in two senses: the music reaches more consumers, and the music is enjoyed by more of the consumers that are reached. And, again, such wider exposure can lead to fans later seeking out less accessible, more “authentic” music – music they might remain unaware of otherwise (again, consider the global spread of punk).
Some readers will no doubt object at this point: “But surely the less personal, more accessible music produced by the sell-out artist is inferior to the work they would have produced toiling away in obscurity!” But even this is not clear: surely, there is at least some reason for thinking that music that is enjoyable by many people is, all else being equal, better than music that is only enjoyable by a few. Intuitions to the contrary probably trace, at least in part, to one (or both) of the following thoughts:
- Work by an artist who has resisted selling out enjoys a special sort of authenticity.
- The more complicated, and less accessible, a work of art is, the better it is.
The first thought just seems vague and unhelpful: it is notoriously difficult to spell out exactly what authenticity is, and even harder to defend the claim that authentic works are automatically superior to non-authentic ones (e.g., the recent trendiness of autobiographical comics, due to their perceived authenticity, led to the publication of a lot of boring-ass comics by creators who had lived boring-ass lives). Hence the scare quotes in an earlier paragraph. The second idea, it seems to me, is just false, and its acceptance pernicious, reflecting class-based prejudices running throughout the history of fine art (including music).
Richards hints at a more complex phenomenon, however, when he asks us to recall “the ’90s, back when a mere whiff of corporate affiliation could permanently vaporize a musician’s good public standing”. The explanation for this is easy: popular music in the ‘90s was deeply influenced by two distinct (but in some ways similar) subcultures: punk rock (filtered somewhat via college/alternative rock) and hip-hop. And the punk scene was (and continues to be) characterized by values that are explicitly anti-corporate and anti-consumerist: the DIY, independent label movement pretty much originated within the 1970s punk scene.
Why does this make a difference? Because punk is not, strictly speaking, a musical genre. Rather, punk is a multifaceted culture (or ‘scene’) within which a particular kind (actually, many different kinds) of music is made. As a result, when punk bands sell out, they are not just merely compromising their personal values or changing the way that their music sounds. Arguably, they are compromising the very values that make their work punk rock in the first place – that is, they are abandoning the anti-corporate/anti-capitalist values that are essential to the punk scene. As a result, the music might sound like punk but it (and the artists who produce it) are, arguably, no longer punk.
Can we make a similar argument regarding Lamar’s selling out – that is, does his involvement with Reebok in any way throw doubt on his work being “genuinely” hip-hop? After all, hip-hop is similar to punk in some relevant respects: it is a wider culture or scene, and rap music is but one of four distinct forms of expression associated with hip-hop (the others being breaking, DJing, and graffiti). But the explicit rejection of capitalist or corporate interests is lacking in hip-hop – on the contrary, economically aspirational themes of “getting paid” have been a central theme of rap music since its origins. As a result, it seems like hip-hop artists selling out doesn’t threaten the very identity of themselves or their work as hip-hop in the way that punks selling out threatens their very identity as punk.
I have a confession to make: I’m pretty sure that my own appreciation of music serves as a kind of immaterial fossil record of pop music in the mid-Bush years (there’s quite a bit of literature that supports this finding of musical ossification), and that everything below will likely bear witness to that along with the fact that while I love music, I’m no musicologist.
Despite my own ossified musical tastes I do want to take a crack at this concept of selling out, which as Chris Richards points out in his original WaPo piece is a loaded but fuzzy concept, one that thrives off its dense links to the broader issues of consumerism, late capitalism, social and individual identities, and race. But! We only have a few paragraphs here, so I’ll restrict myself to something like the following claim: Most musicians, but especially pop musicians can’t sell out in a narrow sense anymore, but some musicians can sell out in a broader sense. Easy! But now comes the hard part, just what do I mean by narrow and broad versions of selling out? Perhaps producing music—engaging in the generative practice of music-making—with a primary, commercial aim, could constitute a narrow reading of selling out. This would apply to monetizing your SoundCloud© stream or signing with a corporate label. Let’s then identify a broad reading with violating certain group or community norms related to a generative art practice, generally. Naturally, there’s a lot of refining left to do, but if we move into a few examples we might just see how far this distinction gets us.
Richards mentions that in the 90s a “mere whiff of corporate affiliation” could damn a musician’s career. The periodization that Richards uses naturally leads to a follow-up question: While it’s clear that in the heyday of grunge a narrow reading of selling out was the norm in western Europe and North America, has that norm generally prevailed? Clearly not in the years following the death of grunge. Richards points out that entrepreneurial rap pioneered the blending of commercial and musical aspects, ultimately leaving us with our current cultural moment where Kendrick Lamar is selling us Reeboks, wrapped in platitudinous prose all set amidst a beautiful LA skyline. This reminds me of a throw-away scene in Season 2, Episode 7 of the Sopranos where one kid scolds Tony Jr. in school, telling him “You still listen to rap? It’s all about marketing now.” In any case, for a whole host of reasons that others may touch on and that Richards has gestured towards, we live in a world where Beyoncé’s motto rules: the “best revenge is your paper.”
Taking stock then, we have two cases. The first, where the narrow reading certainly applies, is a musical moment—from metal through punk to grunge—tied to the pursuit of authenticity in post-Reaganite America. At that moment, women, people of color, and poor people weren’t even in the institutional position to sell out in the narrow sense. Contrast to the second case, our present situation, where not only the very generative mechanics of music production are geared towards commercialization, but where the content of the music itself echoes this. Cardi B offers a fantastic testament to this practice where no norms against commercialization are violated in the creation and consumption of music.
Let’s assume this reductive narrative is roughly right. What would it then look like for musicians or artists to sell out in the broad sense? What norms apply to the generative art practice of pop music? Perhaps it’s prudent to begin with a clearer example. Recently, in Berlin, I met a friend of a friend who is learning the kora—a complex, 21-stringed instrument—which hails from west Africa and the griot oral tradition. This friend introduced me to complex sociological role that griots have played and continue to play in many countries with links to the former Mali and Songhai empires.
Briefly, a griot is someone who occupies a whole host of roles—from genealogists to journalists to musicians—that cascaded from their prior status as a social caste in these empires. However, for our purposes we should focus on the oral component of this oral tradition. As Cornelia Panzacchi points out in her paper on the subject, the most traditional roles of the most traditional griots are praise-songs, which pull their content from family genealogies that are learned entirely by heart and passed down among griot families. In Senegal, for instance, many griots will leave their traditional roles behind for “showbiz,” becoming something like pop musicians in their own right—but just as often these popular musicians come from “noble families” set apart from the griot class. What noble kids will never have access to are these genealogies, since it’s only with this knowledge that a traditional griot can sing their praise-songs. So, what would it be for a griot to sell out in the broad sense? Well, to give up the keys to their generative practice—that is, to write down these genealogies, to render this information lexical rather than oral.
(It’s interesting to ask whether griots could sell out in the narrow sense. I think perhaps, but only if they become “showbiz” musicians, since qua griot, many don’t consider their role—which involves compensation—to be work in a sense that we might use in our late capitalist moment.)
What similar norms can pop musicians violate if not the narrow ones confined to commercialization? In conversation with a friend of mine, the journalist Alice Hines, she synthesized a series of tweets about Grimes’ recent defense of Elon Musk’s corporate practices, claiming that “selling out in the 90s was getting a major label, selling out today is defending your billionaire boyfriend as he tries to union bust while deleting old socialist tweets from your feed.” (Some good internet sleuthing has been done on this.) At first glance, something about this is right. But it’s also unlikely that Grimes’ defense of Musk, though pithy and petty, violates any norms of making pop music; in fact, the opposite feels more apropos 2018. We’re left with a scene in which Grimes defends contributions to GOP superpacs, Lamar functions as a spokesperson for Reebok, and we all watch while Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato and other Disney alumni snowball on paths of self-destruction. Are there any norms to violate in the realm of pop music? Short of quitting the business—and here I’m reminded of Cat Stevens, now Yusuf Islam, who took a three-decade retreat from music—as long as it sells, it doesn’t seem so.
Some concepts are straightforwardly descriptive. For example, a cashier is just someone who handles a point of sale. Other concepts include some descriptive features, but also some defining values. For example, a scientist is not just someone who works at a university and publishes in academic journals; a scientist is also someone who impartially searches for truth.
Suppose that a person works at a university and publishes in academic journals, but only does so to vindicate their dogmatic beliefs. It is natural to say “that person is not a true scientist”. By contrast, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which a person handles a point of sale but it is still natural to say “that person is not a true cashier”.
Aaron Meskin, Joshua Knobe, and I hypothesize that art concepts come in these two varieties too. Some art concepts are straightforwardly descriptive, like musique concrète. But other art concepts include some descriptive features and also some defining values. For example, DC postpunk is arguably defined by the ethos of do-it-together. If so, then a band might play angular and dissonant guitar riffs and be physically from DC, but still not be true DC postpunk because it did not embody the ethos of do-it-together. (Along the same lines, Jesse Prinz argues that what unites the disparate forms of punk are three ideals: irreverence, nihilism, and amateurism.)
Our point is only about the two distinctive structures of different art concepts. It is an empirical question which art concepts are straightforwardly descriptive, and which art concepts include also defining values. And it is an empirical question what the respective defining values are for the concepts that have them. (These empirical questions, we think, are best resolved by the methods of experimental philosophical aesthetics.) But, returning to the question of selling out, let me offer some conjectures just based on this limited point about the two distinctive structures of different art concepts.
To sell out, an artist needs to make a kind of art that has some defining value. Take the pop artist Carly Rae Jepsen. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which she sold out. What would that even mean? It seems to make little sense to say something like, “Yes, Carly Rae Jepsen sings infectious melodies over classic synths, but she is not a true pop artist.” Since pop has no defining value, pop artists cannot sell out.
What about Kendrick Lamar? By the time he did the Reebok advertisements, he already had two major label albums. In my view, he already crossed over to the pop side of hip hop. If we viewed him as a pop artist, then no, that wasn’t selling out—because Kendrick Lamar the pop artist cannot sell out.
What if we stick the label “conscious” on him (even if he is not so keen)? Can Kendrick Lamar the conscious hip hop artist sell out? That gets complicated quickly. Unlike pop, conscious hip hop does have defining values. But, of course, those defining values are highly contested. Even if we could reach some consensus on the defining values of conscious, it remains similarly contested whether appearing in Reebok advertisements is concordant or discordant with those values. For example, someone might argue that raising social awareness is the defining value of conscious, and that the reach of Reebok advertisements makes Lamar’s appearances concordant with that value. That is not what I would argue, but someone else might. (I see you, Roy Cook!)
Can today’s artists still sellout? It depends on the kind of art they make.
Erich Hatala Matthes
In her recent paper “Artistic Integrity,” Claudia Mills argues that artists lack artistic integrity, or in other words sell out, if they place “some other—competing, distracting, or corrupting—value over the value of the artwork itself in a way that violates his or her own artistic standards.” Mills repeatedly emphasizes that it is violation of the artist’s own standards that should serve as the relevant benchmark when it comes to judging whether they have sold out: her paradigmatic case concerns an artist who themself believes they have intentionally made their work worse due to non-artistic motivations, such as fame or fortune.
I believe Mills’ focus on the artist’s owns standards misses an important aspect of our thinking about sellouts. Often, judgments about whether an artist has sold out are made from the third-person (or, more accurately, second-person) perspective, rather than the first-person perspective. While an artist could very well reflect on whether they themselves have sold out, selling out is paradigmatically a charge or accusation made against someone else. Viewed in that light, the idea that selling out is essentially concerned with the artist violating their own standards appears puzzling. Imagine a conversation between Kendrick Lamar and a fan who accuses him of selling out.
Fan: “Shilling for Reebok is bullshit: you’re woke-washing a subsidiary of Adidas, infamous for their labor violations. It’s completely antithetical to the political spirit of your music. You sold out.”
Lamar: “Eh, I don’t feel like I’ve made my art worse for this commercial, so my artistic standards remain intact.”
Let’s just assume that the response is true, that Lamar hasn’t compromised his artistic standards. Why does that still sound like a hollow reply to the fan? I think the answer is that selling out has less to do with an artist compromising their own artistic standards and more to do with their violating the trust of their audience.
Following Annette Baier’s pioneering work on trust, we can think of trust as involving, among other things, making ourselves vulnerable to another person (my thinking about trust in an artistic context is inspired by this recent paper by Thi Nguyen). When we become fans of a particular artist, come to value their work and identify with their art, we also place our trust in them—we rely on their commitment to a set of artistic values, which can include aesthetic, moral, and political ideals. This is especially true for what Nick Riggle has called our “aesthetic loves,” those artists and artworks to which we are deeply attached and which constitute meaningful parts of our lives. Because we love these artists, we see our attachment to them as expressing something about our selves, about who we are and the ideals we aspire to. We wear their t-shirts, share their music with friends, and (at the risk of dating myself) quote them in our AIM away messages.
No wonder, then, that if an object of our aesthetic love acts in ways that are inconsistent with the aesthetic, moral, or political sensibility that they cultivated through their art, we feel betrayed. By identifying with something outside of our control, we make ourselves vulnerable, just as we do when we love another person and trust them with the shared cultivation of a relationship. We often feel that our aesthetic loves in particular have a unique ability to eloquently express our deepest values and commitments in ways that we, less artistically talented folk, are incapable of. When we judge that artists have sold out by compromising those values, it cuts because we feel like they’ve sold us out, earning our appreciation by expressing a commitment to values that they don’t actually endorse. An account of selling out that focuses solely on an artist’s own artistic standards can’t explain that. Mills does ultimately add that artistic integrity can be viewed as a social virtue, because of the importance of good art for society in general. But still, this kind of generic social dimension of artistic integrity doesn’t capture the more intimate betrayal that seems to attend concerns about sellouts.
Now, whether artists have any obligation to be artistically trustworthy is a separate question. Perhaps their only allegiance should be to their own artistic standards, and fans are fooling themselves by placing their trust in the artists that they love. That’s certainly a possibility. But if I am correct that paradigmatic charges of selling out are a response to a perceived breach of trust, then our theory of what it means to sell out needs to take account of that fact. If it turns out artists have no obligation to be artistically trustworthy, it may just mean that fans with sellout grievances have sold themselves a bill of goods.
Can today’s artists still sell out? Well, of course they can. Why would ours be an age in which selling out is no longer a possibility?
I have claimed elsewhere that artists lack artistic integrity if, in the process of creation, they place some other – competing, distracting, or corrupting – value over the value of the artwork itself, in a way that violates their own artistic standards. Selling out would thus involve placing the value of making money over the value of realizing one’s own artistic vision. Mere selling is not the same thing as selling out: artistic integrity does not require utter indifference to all financial considerations; artists need to live just as much as the rest of us do. But an artist sells out if concern for the making of money compromises the making of art, relative to the artist’s own standards.
Now, this means that in order to stand convicted of selling out, one must actually have distinctive artistic standards that do not reduce to the achieving of non-artistic goals. As Lynne McFall memorably wrote, “In order to sell one’s soul, one must have something to sell.” So perhaps ours is an age in which we no longer distinguish the artistic from the commercial sufficiently to understand what it would mean to compromise the former for the sake of the latter. If the artistic and the commercial are inextricably intertwined, the notion of selling out disappears. But it would take considerable romanticizing of history to see the present moment as appreciably different from the past. As a children’s book author in my other life, occasionally tempted to decry today’s insistent marketing of kids’ books paired with junky toys, I have to remember that the pioneering children’s bookseller John Newbery, whose name has been given to the most prestigious award in American children’s literature, marketed his Pretty Little Pocket Book in 1744 with the tie-in of a ball for little boy customers and a pincushion for little girls. It is not a new idea to use other products to sell art, or to use art to sell other products.
Did Kendrick Lamar sell out when he used his artistry to sell Reebok shoes? If he prioritized realizing his own artistic vision in the making of his central body of musical work, he did not sell out there. But what about using his artistic gifts, in addition, to market shoes? There does not seem to me to be anything in itself problematic about working in advertising; indeed, advertising jingles are some of the most memorable and beloved tunes of my own childhood. In Lamar’s case, however, there is something unsettling about his deploying the rhetoric of revolution to promote a particular brand of footwear. It’s hard not to respond to his stirring words, “We can no longer sit idly by while the powers that be tell us how to live, how to think, how to act!” with: “But it’s fine to sit idly by while the powers that be tell us what shoes to wear? And for you yourself to be well paid to become one of these dictatorial powers?” So I do find myself less inclined to take seriously calls to arms from someone whose summons to insurrection culminates in our marching together toward the barricades in brightly colored Reeboks.
Still, I’m not sure I want to accuse Lamar of selling out here. I’m more bothered by the persistent introduction into music videos of product placement, which does seem to be a direct interference with an artist’s own creative vision, a distortion of the art itself. If artists choose to license their work subsequently for commercial purposes, the work itself was still created in the first place, one assumes, without commercial corruption. This kind of licensing might signal a lack of respect on the part of the artist for the artwork. But just as athletes license the use of footage of their greatest athletic achievements for commercial purposes, artists might equally see nothing wrong about licensing the use of their artistic achievements for commercial gain as well. If ours is an age in which we are awash in advertising – as, I would argue, so many ages before ours were as well – perhaps we should welcome ads that deliver some artistic pleasures and at least reward our often under-rewarded artists.
Mary Beth Willard
Well I know you can’t work in fast food all your life
But don’t sign that paper tonight
She said but it’s too late
Cue the montage. The band, threadbare, coming together at open mic night down at the club, the one near the state university, coming together, developing a sound, drinking all night, scraping the cash together to get the bass player a new amp, change in the ashtray, playing bigger gigs, developing a following, finding a studio, recording some tracks, getting airplay on the station, the one near the state university, the parties, the drugs, getting noticed, getting bigger, finding love, getting a real recording contract, getting greedy, getting famous, changing their sound, selling out.
1995 called. It wants its montage back. Look, in 2018, the band just gets together, edits their own music in an app, posts it on YouTube, works hard, gets an Instagram account, goes viral, gets sponsors, gets money, places product, gets contract, and gets money. They’re not selling out. They’re making it. Lindsey Stirling can make millions playing geek music on her violin.
What does it mean to sell out? Merely being a brand isn’t sufficient to be a sellout, even if the record company gives you lots of money. Part of the reason is exactly what Richards identifies. Our sympathy lies with the artists. They rightly don’t want to be exploited by the record companies, and if there’s money to be made on their work and image, shouldn’t they be the one collecting it? In that light, Kendrick Lamar didn’t sell out to Reebok. He’s collaborating to make shoes that signify equality. The human connection stays intact also because the artists can directly speak to fans without appearing to go through a publicist or journalist or PR firm. More to the point, Lamar looks like the natural extension of all the bloggers and influencers and trendsetters who write about what they want and throw up the occasional sponsored post about product that they assuredly would have liked even if it hadn’t been given to them for free.
You’re gonna go to the record store
You’re gonna give ’em all your money
Radio plays what they want you to hear
They tell me it’s cool but I just don’t believe it
But there’s something deeper here. With the caveat that generational divides are mostly nonsense, selling out is a Gen X thing. Selling out isn’t just linked with making money, but with having changed your sound in order to get past the gatekeepers to make a lot of money. It’s losing what was unique, what made the band cool, what allowed the band and the fans to adopt the wry and Morissette-ironic pose that said that they didn’t really care about money or fame, but authenticity. Selling out meant that the band had caved to corporate forces and popular tastes, and liking a band that had sold out meant that you could now be identified. But that’s not cool, and cool was coin. Selling out means you leave behind Feeling Gravity’s Pull in favor of Shiny Happy People.
Sell out, with me oh yea, sell out, with me tonight
The record company’s gonna give me lots of money and
Everything’s gonna be all right
In the 90s, that fact that something became popular made it reasonable to assume that it had changed in order to become popular. Social media undercuts what popularity and marketability means. We are already aware that what we see can never be authentic because we curate our own self-presentation online all the time. The artist doesn’t work for a brand—they are the brand, and the products they consume just get folded into their image. They’re successful enough that the illusion is that they’ve won. Unlike the rest of us whose identities and tastes are mined by all of the tech companies in order to sell us more stuff, these musicians have flipped the script. They’re selling the music they want, and the advertisers are so desperate for their blessing that they’re giving them money and even more stuff. We’re all products, but unlike us, they’re in demand.
So can an artist still sell out? Sure. Kanye made a soundtrack for a data miner. U2 made an album for a product launch, and then Apple bizarrely put it in everyone’s iTunes. They wanted to call it a gift of music, but because the music was seen as supporting a product launch, it was taken as akin putting an advertising jingle into your playlist. Artists can sell out, but only if they’re seen as compromising their artistic vision, if the fingerprints of their corporate overlords are visible. What’s changed is that being popular or making money is no longer sufficient to sell out, because an artist can make a lot of money without necessarily compromising their artistic aims. Or at least that’s the perception when it’s not the radio plays what they want us to hear, but the algorithm that apparently just happened to suggest something we’d like.