Coldplay and celebrity suicide

"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. 

Coldplay’s 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.

10 thoughts on “Coldplay and celebrity suicide

  1. Johnny

    Interesting article on this, apparently from the Evening Standard carried on

    “It came after EMI, the world’s third-largest music company, warned that profits would be lower because the band took longer than expected to finish their first studio album in three years.”

    “Martin told reporters at Manhattan’s Beacon Theatre that the band was uncomfortable that they sell so many albums they can affect a major corporation’s stock price.

    “It’s very strange for us that we spent 18 months in the studio just trying to make songs that make us feel a certain way and then suddenly become part of this corporate machine,” Martin said backstage.”

    It sounds like the guys at EMI are a bit behind the learning curve. I gotta admit, I expect the rock star to be, but EMI? It sounds like they don’t much like the business they are in…

  2. Steve Portigal

    The Sex Pistols, E.M.I.

    Ther’es unlimited supply
    And there is no reason why
    I tell you it was all a frame
    They only did it ’cos of fame

    E.m.i. e.m.i. e.m.i.

    To many people had the suss
    Too many people support us
    An unlimited amount
    Too many outlets in and out

    E.m.i. e.m.i. e.m.i.
    And sir and friends are crucified
    A day they wished that we had died
    We are an addition we are ruled by none
    Never ever never

    And you thought that we were faking
    That we were all just money making
    You do not believe we’re for real
    Or you would lose your cheap appeal?

    Don’t judge a book just by the cover
    Unless you cover just another
    And blind acceptance is a sign
    A stupid fools who stand in line

    E.m.i. e.m.i. e.m.i.

    Unlimited edition
    With an unlimited supply
    That was the only reason
    We all had to say goodbye

    Unlimited supply e.m.i.
    There is no reason why e.m.i.
    I tell you it was all a frame e.m.i.
    They only did it ’cos of fame e.m.i.
    I do not need the pressure e.m.i.
    I can’t stand the useless fools e.m.i.
    Ulimited supply e.m.i.
    Hallo e.m.i. goodbye a & m

  3. Grant

    Johnny, yeah, blaming a band for small profits doesnt seem quite fair, does it. It’s up to EMI to have enough acts signed up that when one goes fallow , there are others to fall back upon. Thanks, Grant

    Steve, beauty, thanks, I think Ani DiFranco has some choice words for the labels. as well. The ony one that springs from memory is “It’s a wonder you can see where you are going with all those dollar signs in your eyes.” Thanks. Grant

  4. Peter

    As both a fan of the music and band, and an avid reader of this weblog (and the Plenitude texts), I have to make a remark.

    It’s true to state that bands for the sake of ‘artistic credibility’ ‘re-connect’ with ‘their roots’ or however one wishes to call it (look at the whole ‘grunge’-scene), but in this case, as with Radiohead, R.E.M.’s Micheal Stipe, and many other famous and lesser famous bands, musicians and artists from the late nineties until now, it seems clear to me that they are simply seizing the opportunity that many of us get to voice their concerns and opinions, in weblogs or otherwise. Which incidentally works out well for even famous bands like Coldplay that we have so many fast and easy accessible information distribution channels.

    Therefore I find it a harsh criticism to so easily dismiss the fact that they are using their popularity as a vehicle to convey an important message (whether that be stated in a crude and simple manner is another discussion).

    To continue…One could criticise and say the same for U2 and their interest in the economics and politics of the poor countries in Africa, but as a matter of fact Paul O’Neill (the former US minister) when on a trip with Bono through Africa, stated that he had rarely met someone with such drive towards and thourough knowledge of the matter.

    So, my point is basically why we would criticise such people for their involvement in matters that politicians conviently seem to want to forget about? Whether working in a continuum or not, the popular is used to convey the credible, what is bad about that?

  5. Grant

    Peter, thanks, I don’t object to artists taking a political position (though sometimes I think listening to a band talk politics is a little like listening to Kofi Annan play the piano. Might be interesting but is that what we “pay” them for?) But what is driving Coldplay and Martin these days is that old fashioned notion of artistic integrity…the one that says you can be a real artist unless your work is inaccessible and indeed your claim to seriousness is proportional to how difficult your music is. As I say, I think artists can now have their cake and eat it too. The most interesting bands are the ones that work the entire continuum. Political integrity is another matter. Thanks! Best, Grant

  6. Jochem D. Donkers

    Well Chris Martin remark is compariable to a situation where Coca-Cola starts selling cars. “Specialization” that is the right term for it. Some people might have more specializations (e.g. Bono), but many don’t!

  7. Peter

    Hi Grant, in the face/wake of the discussion here, I came across another, very similar statement to (y)ours, albeit a very much less subtly phrased one.

    Interesting thought, nonetheless!
    Wanted to share this, and think back with a smile to the ‘good old days’, when this exact same discussion was happening concerning the success of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam.


  8. Ben Bargagliotti

    Accessibility is a thorny topic because it can’t be objectively measured. The best definition I can give is that the emotional “pay-off” of the work of art comes sooner rather than later. Does that really affect the quality of the art? Some of the most difficult albums are widely regarded as the best (White Album, Kid A, Dark Side of the Moon), but is that just a reaction by the people who had to work so hard to “get it.” Is the album perceived as better as a compensation for the effort spent to understand the album. For those who believe in the objective value of art, this brings forth an inflation in the worth of the album. For those who believe in the subjective value of art, this means that making an album “inaccessible” increases the artistic quality of the album.

  9. Drew

    I’m wondering why we should be concerned about celebrity burnout at all… Who cares if Chris Martin steps away from the spotlight? Maybe he’s tired of pop, ready to explore, and has more than enough money to forsake mainstream media for the rest of his days. Personally, I can’t imagine why he should continue to cater to anything other than his artistic intent.

    As for walking the continuum between acceptance and art, it seems that calling out this balancing act only shows why so-called ‘art’ tends not to be mass market material. If an artist is creating something with one eye to acceptance, is he/she not compromising a work? Additionally, “art” doesn’t lend itself to mass markets. Let’s borrow from the Frankfurt School and look to Adorno who discussed the difficulties that arrise in creating art in today’s society, the loss of any deep reading (“accessibility”), and the loss of most negative values.

    Art is not something that should be largely surface-level. Yes, art is not always easy to engage with. It requires thought with regard to context (history) and personal-intro(intra)spection.

    Our current lives have made any serious interaction with artistic works the exception rather than the rule. “Inaccessibility,” it seems is a product of our times. Simply put, we don’t deal with art in the ways we used to…

  10. Grant

    Jochem, sorry, not following you, exactly. Thanks, Grant

    Peter, thanks for the link, and yes, its funny how these debates repeat themselves! Best, Grant

    Ben, I think that’s a very nice point, we are sometimes grateful that our investment of time and attention was rewarded with comprehension and I sometimes think this is because we believe the art in question has conferred new insider status upon us. And then the question arises: why do we give extra time to some works of art and not others, and I think this is often a collective decision, one we make collaboratively. Thanks! Grant

    Drew, but surely that’s what has changed, we no longer have the mainstream and the avant garde as mutually exclusive categories, with artists forced to choose, that most agonizing decision for the artists of the 1950s say. And that’s why it’s interesting to watch what martin is doing. It’s like he is caught in the 20th century dream. Thanks, Grant

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