"Selling out" refers to the compromising of one's integrity, morality and principles in exchange for money, 'success' (however defined) or other personal gain. It is commonly associated with attempts to increase mass appeal or acceptability to mainstream society. A person who does this, as opposed to continuing along his or her original path, is labelled a sellout and typically disregarded. Selling out is often seen as fickle; gaining success at the price of lost credibility.
In various political movements (usually communists and anarchists), a "sellout" is a person or group pretending to adhere to a genuinely pro-working class ideology, only to follow these claims up with actions directly contradicting them, often (whether actually or implicitly) supporting capitalism. It could also apply to any revolutionary group originally claiming to fight for the people of a country, but acting rather differently upon coming to power, mostly because the covert goal of the revolution was not to benefit the people of the nation, but for the national government to be overthrown so that the revolutionary leaders could themselves have the perks and prestige of being in power.
A classic example of an artist being accused of "selling out" by his fans was Bob Dylan's well-documented "electrification". Dylan outraged folk music purists by (in their view), selling out their acoustic music for rock and roll when he first played an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. One fan's exasperated cry of "Judas!" is immortalized on the album The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert. Most modern critics, however, view Dylan's move to electric as part of a creative progression, and his 1965 and 1966 albums Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde are frequently considered his best albums. Dylan was not accused of selling out when he later went to Nashville to record the country and western album Nashville Skyline.
Nirvana made repeated references to the act of selling out (including thanking their audiences for "pretending we're still punks"). One popular T-shirt produced by the band features the slogan "Flower Sniffin', Kitty Pettin', Baby Kissin' Corporate Rock Whores". Frontman Kurt Cobain also proposed the titles Verse Chorus Verse (in reference to the formulaic structure fans had come to expect of their songs) and Radio Friendly Unit Shifters as possible titles for the album that eventually became In Utero . Cobain further lampooned ideas of Nirvana's new commercial appeal by appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine wearing a T-shirt reading "Corporate Magazines Still Suck" . The first Nirvana item to be released following Cobain's death was the perhaps satirically titled VHS tape "Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!".
The Who Sell Out is a 1967 album by The Who with mock endorsement advertisements on the cover. The album pretends to represent a radio station that plays nothing but Who music, including mock commercials and radio-station promotions. The Who became very prolific at selling their work by the end of the 1990s, including "Love Reign O'er Me" for 7-Up, "Bargain" for Nissan, "Overture" for Claritin, "Happy Jack" for Hummer, "Baba O'Riley" for Hewlett Packard, "I Can See for Miles" for Sylvania Silverstar headlights and "Sparks" for Gatorade's G2. More recently, their songs have been used as themes for all three CSI series.
Selling out is a controversial topic within both hip hop music and hip hop culture, with two wholly opposite views on the matter. Traditional "underground" hip hop artists and fans decry "selling out", and heavily criticise artists who change their style just to reach the top. The hip-hop community also considers performers to be a "sell-outs" when they shun hip-hop's traditional African-American and Latino communities and appear to be pandering to a mainstream (usually white) audience. For example, MC Hammer was accused of being a sell-out during the 1990s, and many rappers during the 2000s. In Living Color specifically attacked MC Hammer's "selling out" in a fake music video called "Too Sold Out to Quit", a spoof of "Too Legit 2 Quit". The sketch, though, was focused on MC Hammer landing endorsements with Pepsi, Taco Bell and the like.. Another example is Will Smith: the traditional "undergound" hip hop artist have accused him or selling out and producing "wack" and "fake" songs. However, Smith objected and even mocked it in his album Lost and Found in the song "I Wish I Made That Swagga". Mainstream hip-hop music, on the other hand, is stereotyped as embracing materialism and a "bling-bling" mentality. Such visual representations of wealth are seen as status symbols and things to be aspired to, as opposed to the attitude of traditional "hip hop heads" and punk or metal artists. Mainstream artists such as Master P and P Diddy have achieved vast personal fortunes and business empires, and often revel in musical references to their affluence.
Hip-hop's lyrical content has also changed much. New hip-hop is now more popular and the artists are wealthier. Today, the lyrics in hip-hop seem to reference more the wealth and lifestyle of the rappers, whereas in older hip-hop the lyrical content was more about the ghetto and anti-establishmentarianism. Long time hip-hop fans express dissatisfaction with this change.
Mainstream hip hop music's fixation on bling and other material and luxury goods has led to criticism from media pundits, musical critics, and the non-mainstream hip-hop community. They charge that the phenomenon promotes consumerism and materialism, and strengthens racist arguments that young black men are incapable of higher or more virtuous or spiritual goals than material gain.
Tool released an ironic track entitled "Hooker with a Penis" on their album Ænima dealing with lead singer Maynard James Keenan's encounter with a fan that accused the band of "selling out". Maynard sings "all you know about me is what I sold you... I sold out long before you ever heard my name", then concludes the song by telling the fan to "buy my new record, send more money".
The American satirist Tom Lehrer released a song called "Selling Out", in which he criticizes commercialization, stating "[he] always found ideals don't take the place of meals".
In Wayne's World, Wayne breaks down the fourth wall, mentioning he would never sell out; in this case, to make his public access television show more successful. To humorously contradict himself, as he talks, he displays several products, with the corporate logos highly visible. Such as Pizza Hut, Reebok, Pepsi, and Doritos. Wayne and Garth also spoof a Nuprin commercial where it is black and white, save for the signature little yellow Nuprin pills.
George Carlin has been accused of being a sell-out for appearing in television commercials for MCI's 10-10-220. Carlin had previously spoke of his dislike for MCI's commercials in his album Back in Town. In his album You Are All Diseased, which contains rants against advertising and business, Carlin admits the dichotomy but makes no attempt to explain himself, stating "You're just gonna have to figure that shit out for yourself". In interviews, Carlin revealed he appeared in the ads to help pay off a large tax debt to the IRS.
In the dawn of Dave Chappelle's highly anticipated third season of Chappelle's Show and approached with a huge salary, Dave Chappelle fled his show, leading many to believe that he feared the "sellout" moniker.
Other times, artists resent the term on the grounds that the perceived desire for material gain is simply a result of the band seeking to expand its message. For example, when questioned about signing to a major label, Rage Against the Machine answered "We're not interested in preaching to just the converted. It's great to play abandoned squats run by anarchists, but it's also great to be able to reach people with a revolutionary message, people from Granada Hills to Stuttgart".
Other bands (including those without politically-oriented messages) may also reject the term, on the basis that not going mainstream or signing to a bigger label -- in order to prevent "selling out" -- (a): limits a band's ability to address their wider audiences, regardless of whether or not there is any real artistic change, and/or (b): arbitrarily hampers the artists' course of mainstream success, with the assumption that mainstream success must be against the artists' intentions. When confronted with the accusation of selling out in 2001, Mike Dirnt of Green Day claimed:
"If there's a formula to selling out, I think every band in the world would be doing it", he said. "The fact that you write good songs and you sell too many of them, if everybody in the world knew how to do that they'd do it. It's not something we chose to do."
"The fact was we got to a point that we were so big that tons of people were showing up at punk-rock clubs, and some clubs were even getting shut down because too many were showing up. We had to make a decision: either break up or remove ourselves from that element. And I'll be damned if I was going to flip fucking burgers. I do what I do best. Selling out is compromising your musical intention and I don't even know how to do that".