From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Selling out is a common slang phrase. Broadly speaking, it refers to the compromising of one's integrity, morality and principles in exchange for money, success or other personal gain. It is commonly associated with attempts to increase mass appeal or acceptability to mainstream society. A person who does this is labeled a sellout. Selling out may be seen as gaining success at the cost of credibility. Though generally associated with the entertainment industry, regular individuals who similarly compromise their ideals (e.g. a Bohemian individual who suddenly switches to a socially conservative lifestyle) could also be considered sellouts.
In regard to theater shows, musicals, concerts and other performances, a "sell out" show is simply a show so popular that all tickets are sold out, and is generally considered as a milestone in terms of success.
The "Sell Out" dilemma in rock music
Rock musicians and fans have consistently struggled with the paradox of "selling out" -- to be considered "authentic", rock music must keep a certain distance from the commercial world and its constructs; however it is widely believed that certain compromises must be made in order to become successful and to make music available to the public. This dilemma has created friction between musicians and fans, with some bands going to great lengths to avoid the appearance of "selling out" (while still finding ways to make a lucrative living).
If a performer first comes to public attention with one style, any further stylistic development may be seen as selling out to long-time fans. On the other hand, managers and producers may progressively take more control of the artist, as happened, for instance, in Elvis Presley's swift transition in species from "The Hillbilly Cat" to "your teddy bear".
It can be difficult to define the difference between seeking a wider audience and selling out. Ray Charles left behind his classic formulation of rhythm and blues to sing country music, pop songs, and soft-drink commercials. In the process, he went from a niche audience to worldwide fame. In the end, it is a moral judgement made by the artist, the management, and the audience.
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