Arcade Fire’s new music video opens with the band visiting the offices of the fictional Everything Now corporation, makers of such products as cars, soft drinks, and a cereal advertised with the slogan “Make it painless!” An executive played by Toni Collette informs the musicians that their band is broke, but that Everything Now is going to bail them out. “We’ll have exclusive rights over your entire back catalogue,” she tells them, “and take just 98.3 percent of future earnings.”
The story that then unfolds (it’s a two-song video billed as a short film, Money + Love) sees the band melancholically film Everything Now commercials, melancholically perform gigs at an Everything Now casino, melancholically try to escape that casino, and melancholically forced by guards to perform again. The point, that a record deal can feel like shackles, is a familiar one. “SLAVE,” Prince scrawled across his face in 1993 as he protested the allegedly onerous terms of his Warner Bros. agreement. In the past few years, Kesha’s legal efforts—to nullify a contract with the label boss who she said abused her—was framed in terms of emancipation: #FreeKesha.
Cynicism about the music industry’s exploitation of creative people is as old as the music industry itself, but the Arcade Fire video comes during a noticeable season of griping from the rock community. An instantly viral interview with Julian Casablancas recorded the Strokes and Voidz singer laying out (with truly dubious examples) the commonly held view that capitalism is at odds with artistry. Jack White is making headlines again by promoting a new album using his typical blend of nostalgia fetishism and antiestablishment venom, joking to Rolling Stone that he misses having a label boss tell him what he can’t do.