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Kings of Leon: A Case Study of Why Indie Music Fans Resent Bands that Achieve Mainstream Stardom


I remember the day I stopped liking Kings of Leon.

I was sitting in my office when a middle-aged female coworker entered to ask a question.  As she entered, a song from the Tennessee southern rock quartet began playing on my computer.  She noticed it and asked, “Oh, I just love Kings of Leon, don’t you?”

I wanted to answer, “No, you don’t love Kings of Leon.  You love that one song they’re playing over and over again on the Top 40 radio station.  You’ve never heard of Aha Shake Heartbreak or listened to Because of the Times.  You’re jumping on a bandwagon with everyone else who’ll love whatever corporate radio tells them to love.”

But my actual response was, “Yep.”

She left my office right then – the very moment I stopped liking Kings of Leon.

I’m what some would call a musical elitist.  My iTunes is full of indie bands most people have never heard of and most radio stations would never play – and I derive a snobby satisfaction from what I perceive as evidence of having better taste than the general public.  For years, Kings of Leon was one of “my” bands.  While they initially gained a huge following in the U.K., Kings of Leon never found a big audience in the U.S., despite releasing brilliant critically-acclaimed albums and steadily building a cult following.  I prided myself in knowing and loving this band that was big in England, but relatively unnoticed by American audiences.

All that changed with Only by the Night, Kings of Leon’s fourth full-length album.  Mainstream radio stations picked up the ridiculous, yet catchy “Sex on Fire” and the stadium-ready anthem “Use Somebody.” The album went platinum and made the band an American household name, much to the chagrin of their long time fans who now resented them for “selling out” and going mainstream.

Indie music fans can be pretentious snobs who thrive on self-professed uniqueness and wouldn’t dare admit liking a band as popular as Kings of Leon, despite singing the band’s praises when they were up-and-coming.  I’ve been as guilty as anyone of such pretentiousness, regularly dismissing big name bands and the people who listen to them.  I even stopped talking to an old friend after he told me he attended a Nickelback concert and that they “****ing rocked!”

However, disliking a band just because they’ve become popular is a ridiculous and self-serving notion.  Every band’s goal is to reach the level Kings of Leon reached, yet my fellow indie snobs and I resent them for the success we once hoped they would achieve.  We wanted them to be the southern version of Radiohead – a great band who bucks the status quo and scoffs at mainstream acceptance – but they instead became the American U2 and are likewise filling stadiums with sing-along choruses for the masses.

Yet, I battle hypocrisy as I find myself singing along to these choruses.  I really like Only by the Night, but feel this urge to shun it because so many other people also like it.  Shouldn’t the fact that a large diverse audience likes the same band speak to the band’s talent?  Why are so many former Kings of Leon fans joining me in dismissing the band now that they’re über famous?

The answer is simple: No one wants to like the same music their mother likes.  Since Elvis and The Beatles introduced rock to America, young people have flocked to music that sets their generation apart from their parents’.  When a woman roughly the same age as my mother came into my office proclaiming her love for “my” band, I couldn’t take it and rejected them in order to retain my self-constructed perception of coolness.

Kings of Leon crossed the line from hipster favorite to minivan staple, and the hipsters can’t fathom liking the same music as soccer moms.  But why should we rob ourselves of music we like just because people in a different subset of the population also enjoy it?  Opinions of bands should be formed based on whether or not a person finds them musically appealing, not on what other groups of people think about them.

So I’ve decided to stop being a pretentious snob who bases musical preferences on a band’s fame (or lack thereof), and instead base it on what I like. I still hate Nickelback, but I hate them because I think they’re a terrible band, not because thousands of other people enjoy them.  But if you want to listen to Nickelback, do whatever makes you happy.

Even though they’ve been accused of diva-like behavior since their rise to stardom and have lashed out against angry indie fans who think they will most likely never return to the raw southern-infused rock of their early days, I like Kings of Leon’s music and will continue to listen to them, regardless of their increasing mainstream popularity.  I even got their new CD, Come Around Sundown, and it’s a good album.  My mom agrees.