"I think shareholders are the greatest evil of this modern world." Chris Martin, Coldplay
Chris, buddy! What about terrorism? AIDS in Africa? Military dictators in the third world?
Shareholders? Dude, take a course at LSE.
We’re not surprised when rock musicians don’t understand economics. But Chris doesn’t even get the anthropology. For an author of contemporary culture like Chris Martin, this shouldn’t be so hard.
Chris and the guys are locked into the developmental cycle that controls a good deal of contemporary culture. A band comes up. They are eager to be included. They listen to management and their fans. They are interesting and accessible all at once. Then, they decide that they are not being artistic enough, that they are not "pushing the envelope" hard enough. This makes them a little like medieval merchants. Once you’ve made your fortune, you start thinking about your soul.
In the Coldplay case, it was time to get the "popular" out of culture. This is especially ironic because Coldplay rose to stardom because Radiohead went through the cycle. The latter committed celebrity suicide by releasing albums that were suddenly difficult, cryptic, and inaccessible. Coldplay stepped into the breach. They were the new Radiohead.
Coldplays debut album Parachutes sold 5 million copies, and A Rush of Blood to the Head, released in 2003, sold 10 million. Chris is on the verge of a new album, X&Y. He is making those artistic noises that Radiohead made before they took their leave of the spotlight. Now that they have their capital, they are beginning to worry about their credibility.
Clearly, Coldplay is entitled to do anything they want. But it is sad that they will forsake their celebrity because they are captive of those nutty avant garde notions of what the artist should do. Ours is no longer a dual world that distinguishes artists into two mutually exclusive camps: popular and credible. It’s now a continuum and we have seen artists learn to work the continuum in a variety of ways. One of these is to release a stream of albums, some of which are frankly popular, others frankly difficult. The career of Stephen Soderbergh is a good case in point for the film world. So, for the matter, is the career of Martin’s wife, Gwyneth Paltrow.
Contemporary culture has opened up. The audience is no longer either clueless or hip. Everyone, I think, is a good deal more sophisticated than we used to be. That means that new multiplicity rules apply and we are interested in a variety of music. More than that, we are interested in artists who are sufficiently mobile to work the creative continuum. The last thing we want is to witness celebrity self destruction that comes from the anxiety that they are not "serious" and "artistic" enough.
Chris, dude, you don’t have to choose anymore.