You Can't Have Your Indie Cred and Eat it Too

Julian Casablancas takes a jab at the success of popular music

 By Lola Olvera Lead Copy Editor

In a recent interview with Vulture, The Strokes’ frontman Julian Casablancas bemoaned “how money ruined pop.” Well congratulations, Jules, welcome to capitalism. It’s not fair but we’re stuck with it.

Casablancas laments that the internet, which he felt would democratize music and allow talented but obscure artists to receive more attention, is instead being used as a pop marketing tool.

Hit songs are manufactured, and their chances of success boiled down to a science. I can understand the aversion to that homogeneity, but am still deeply suspicious of people who claim to be completely unmoved by it.

“The music world is the one place where commercial success seems to imply artistic quality,” he complained, while trying to convince the interviewer they were brainwashed into enjoying Ed Sheeran.

I’m pretty sure everyone knows that Katy Perry is not the height of artistic quality, just like everyone knows McDonald’s is not cuisine. But it’s fast, simple and easy to swallow.

Not everyone is looking to engage in artistic appreciation when they listen to music. In fact, in an increasingly high-strung whirlwind of a society, people are often just looking for something distracting. Pop music serves its purpose, which is to give the ol’ brain cells a break. It may not be quality, but it sure feels good. People pay money for things that feel good.

It’s the obscurity and sense of discovery that make finding “new” artists so exciting and it’s a feeling that quickly fades once fans decide their favorite artist is now “selling out.”

Popular music is literally engineered for mass consumption. The music industry targets our most basic needs; in many cases, it’s the need to tap our foot and sing along to simple, often shallow lyrics. Hit songs are manufactured, and their chances of success boiled down to a science. I can understand the aversion to that homogeneity, but am still deeply suspicious of people who claim to be completely unmoved by it.

Underground artists and their fans, whether they admit it or not, are proud of their do it yourself, outsider image. It’s the obscurity and sense of discovery that make finding “new” artists so exciting and it’s a feeling that quickly fades once fans decide their favorite artist is now “selling out.” Like toxic friends, some fans resent bands when they succeed.

If you want to be a real artist, you have to get comfortable with the fact that your art won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.


Commercial success comes at a cost. Your label will shape you and your music into whatever watered-down version makes them the most money. If you want to be a real artist, you have to get comfortable with the fact that your art won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Isn’t artistic freedom what makes being poor and unappreciated kinda worth it?

Besides, Casablancas’ concern that small artists will forever be unrecognized doesn’t seem to match reality. Affordable and accessible technology has allowed artists like Grimes and St. Vincent to produce albums, share their work and assemble a fanbase, without having to compromise their music by signing to a mainstream label. I’ve watched artists rise up from performing to 15 teenagers in a tiny room to headlining festivals.

Casablancas’ insistence that the quality of art is objective is nonsense. Jules, honey, don’t be mad that your experimental work with the Voidz is so hard for people to listen to. I love you, but your superiority complex is showing.