The 10 Biggest Band Beefs Of 2012
Argue all you like about the quality of music produced in 2012, but no one can deny the truly outstanding beefs to which we bore witness in The Year That Was. Social media has made those dust-ups easier and more immediate, of course; 40 percent of our 10 Biggest Band Beefs Of 2012 started or built steam on Twitter and/or Facebook. (That percentage would be at an even half if either blogs or online poker-discussion forums were considered “social media.”) The other half started either in traditional media or in real life — as it happens, both IRL confrontations included on this list ended in physical violence.
It was that kinda year: A lot of people talking a lot of smack on Twitter; a small handful showing up at the club with a knife or an agenda. Perhaps most interestingly, though, the beefs that claimed our Nos. 1, 2, and 3 spots centered not on petty personal melodramas, but industry-based outrage. These were vocal and heated disagreements whose roots lay in a fundamental philosophical divide over new technology. Laugh all you like about the words and actions of parties on either or both sides — heck, I laughed plenty myself; it’s the best medicine! — but the questions at the cores of those feuds are Big Ones: What are the responsibilities of the artist, the industry, the audience? None of these beefs led to bloodshed, but the revolution’s most explosive moments are likely in its future.
But we’re not here to speculate — we’re here to look back on a year of sweet beefery. So let’s get started. The Countdown kicks off here.
10. Courtney Love Vs. Lana Del Rey
C-Lo is still the queen of beef, even though her bizarre and inane rants have grown increasingly hysterical; her on-off relationship with Twitter has led to many SMH moments over the past couple years. In 2012 she accused former Nirvana skinsman (and current Nirvana Featuring Paul McCartney timekeeper) Dave Grohl of seducing her daughter -- later dismissed by Frances Bean herself, who stated, "Twitter should ban my mother." But that was the height of good taste compared to La Love's reaction (via Twitter, of course) to dead-eyed chanteuse Lana Del Rey's cover of "Heart-Shaped Box." Tweeted @Courtney to LDR: "you do know the song is about my Vagina right? throw down your umbilical noose so i can climb right back umm … so umm next time you sing it, think about my vagina will you?" As I wrote at the time:
FWIW I don't think anyone who's ever heard "Heart-Shaped Box" and knew even an inkling of context had any doubt that it was about Courtney Love's vagina, even though most of us have probably tried to ignore that when we listen it, because it makes a depressing song even more depressing, among other things. Moreover, it's gross that a widow whose husband took his own life is on Twitter bragging that he referred to her vagina as a "noose" in a violently soul-wrenching song. But that's Courtney for ya.
Having said all that, I totally disagree with Frances Bean here! Twitter should never ban Courtney Love. This list (and our timelines) would feel horribly incomplete without her.
9. Billy Corgan Vs. Soundgarden, Pavement
Billy Corgan and a band he has chosen to call "the Smashing Pumpkins" released a (very good) new album this year, leading media outlets large and small to give him a forum in which to air his grievances. In June, he told Antiquiet he would "piss on Radiohead." In September, he told us that the alternative community was "self-reverential" and "narcissistic" (it's a terrific interview, BTW, and you really should read it if you haven't already). And in August, he talked smack to a publication in the Philippines, reigniting beefs that are nearly two decades old, accusing recently reunited '90s icons Pavement and Soundgarden of making cynical cash-grabs. As I wrote when it went down:
The Billy Corgan/Soundgarden beef has been going on at least since that falling out at Lolla '94, and the Corgan/Pavement beef has had legs since the "Range Life" dig that same year. And man, nobody holds a grudge like BC. In an interview given prior to a show in the Philippines last week, Corgan took shots at both those recently reunited bands: "There are those bands that are essentially coming back only to make money — playing their old albums, and maybe somewhere in the back of their minds they're thinking there might be a future. I am not in that business, obviously. I condemn anybody who's in that business but doesn't admit [he's] in that business. When Soundgarden came back and they just played their old songs, great. I was a fan of Soundgarden, but call it for what it is. They're just out there to have one more round at the till; same with Pavement and these other bands."
Of course, that was before Soundgarden released an album of utterly mediocre new material. So ... score one for Soundgarden?
8. Drake Vs. Chris Brown
Rihanna was at the center of quite a few ugly situations in 2012, from furious music journalists who nearly mutinied her disastrous 777 aircraft to her truly disturbing (and never-ending) abusive relationship with Chris Brown. Ri-Ri wasn't in the room when Brown and Drake threw down, but it's hard to believe she wasn't the cause of the confrontation. One June evening, both Brown and Drake (who had been romantically linked to Rihanna at the time) ended up at NYC nightclub W.I.P., and while the substance of their interaction remains a mystery, it soon escalated into violence between both artists and their entourages. As Tom wrote when it happened:
TMZ reports that, according to eyewitness claims, Drake and Brown were hanging out together in the VIP section when Drake jumped up and started yelling and pointing at Brown. Both entourages ran in, somebody threw a bottle, and punches were thrown before security broke up the fight. When police arrived at 4 a.m., Drake and Brown had left. No arrests were made, but a few people were injured enough to require medical attention. There was also a lot of property damage in the club.
On Twitter, Brown posted some since-deleted taunts at some nameless assailants, and he also Tweeted a since-deleted picture of a cut on his chin; Rap-Up has a screenshot. Meek Mill, who's been touring with Drake and who's also been rumored to be linked with Rihanna, was also apparently there, and he may have encouraged Drake to confront Brown.
My favorite version of the story is the mostly-discredited one I saw on Vulture. According to this particular (probably false) rumor, Chris Brown sent a sort of conciliatory bottle over to Drake, and Drake returned the bottle with a note that said, "I'm fucking the love of your life, deal with it." If that's true -— and, once again, it's probably not —- it's just awesomely cold.
Regardless of why the fight went down, the bad guy wound up with the girl. Rihana's 2012 album, Unapologetic, included a song featuring Brown called "Nobody's Business" (released as a single, for maximum outrage), and on Christmas Day, the couple were sitting courtside at a Lakers game, in full view of every camera in Hollywood, all over each other like newlyweds. Publicity stunt or sick, self-destructive co-dependence? Either way, merry Christmas!
7. Erykah Badu Vs. Wayne Coyne
Wayne Coyne had a weird year, didn't he? He turned into kind of a creep? He wrote some music with Ke$ha (who deserves better), directed a NSFW video featuring Amanda Palmer in a bathtub, directed another NSFW video featuring Amanda Palmer having sex with porn star Stoya, brought a grenade to the airport, and got into a fucking strange and gross fight with Erykah Badu. Badu had contributed a vocal for "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" to the Flaming Lips' Heady Fwends LP, for which Coyne subsequently helmed a video. As Tom said when the action went down:
"The video, which was truly weird and pretty uncomfortable to watch, has since been taken down, but it featured Erykah's sister Nayrok -- who looks a whole lot like Erykah -- rolling around very naked in glitter and blood and white goo."
Neither Badu sister was happy with the video (which the Lips later claimed was "unofficial and unapproved"), leading to a vitriolic Twitlonger post from Erykah, which included lines like:
As a human I am disgusted with your what appears to be desperation and poor execution. And disregard for others. As a director I am unimpressed. As a sociologist I understand your type. As your fellow artist I am uninspired. As a woman I feel violated and underestimated.
Hope it works out for ya, Wayne.
Really i could give a shit less.
O, And on behalf of all the artists u have manipulated or plan to manipulate, find another way.
These things have been said out of necessity.
And if you don't like it
you can KiSS MY Glittery ASS.
O and Nayrok told me to tell u to kiss her ass too.
Coyne responded to this not with contrition, but sarcasm. He tweeted:
"Hey @fatbellybella I kissed it!!!! Thanks!!!!!!" (That came with a photo, of Coyne with glitter on his lips.) He continued: "Yessss!!! Nice ass!!!!," "Dang!!!!! @fatbellybella you really know how to do it!!!! You hatin on me has gotten the video 100,000 more views !!!LOVE LOVE LOVE," "You were right on! @fatbellybella you said we gonna make a video that is controversial and gets everybody talkin!You the master!! Love you." He then retweeted people supporting him in the argument and calling him a genius.
Badu followed up with:
"again, you're welcomed. You Enjoy it. People need to see the greed up close. AAAAnd you DO NOT have the ass of 26 year old." She then tweeted to Coyne's wife: "hi was wondering when u were gonna sober up and say somethin.your husbands an ass and u know it-tell the truth.Do not lie."
6. Brian Williams Vs. Lana Del Rey
Perhaps the only 2012 beef-subject more ubiquitous than Rihanna was Lana Del Rey, here making her second appearance on this list. (She narrowly missed a hat trick, with Stereogum Commenters Vs. Lana Del Rey falling just short of inclusion on this thing.) Of course, back in mid-January, we had no idea what she'd become; why, Tom didn't even excoriate her debut album, Born To Die, till the 25th of that month. But a rumbling backlash had already begun, and then, on a wintry Saturday night in New York City … it went viral. After an especially lifeless performance on Saturday Night Live, the apoplexy reached a sublime zenith when none other than NBC news anchor/indie rock enthusiast Brian Williams mocked the singer. Williams's feelings came out in an email he sent to Gawker chief Nick Denton, dissatisfied with that site's content (or lack thereof), especially as it pertained to LDR. An excerpt:
… I do wish the main page featured more TV coverage (Brooklyn hippster [sic] Lana Del Rey had one of the worst outings in SNL history last night — booked on the strength of her TWO SONG web EP, the least-experienced musical guest in the show’s history, for starters). In my humble opinion as a loyal customer (you know I love you but the Blog View button will be the eventual cause of my death) and while I know you’re in the midst of an editor change, weekends have been allowed to go awfully fallow — and it was a fallow holiday period for those of us who check your shit 10 times a day by iphone. I know you’ve been watching NBC Nightly News religiously each evening and I’ll no doubt be getting a withering, detailed critique from you straight away.
Yes, the end had long since begun by that point, but after that, Lana Del Rey became the indie blogosphere's most divisive character; truly, our innocence had been lost. SNL itself got in on the mockery, running a skit featuring Kristen Wiig as the mannequin-like chanteuse. LDR fell irreparably out of favor with the cool kids, a defeat presumably softened when the singer started collecting checks from the likes of H&M and Jaguar. In fact, you could say Lana Del Rey got the last laugh … assuming her programming allowed her to process "laughter."
5. Black Keys Vs. Nickelback
Canadian wallpaper rockers Nickelback haven't traditionally been a focus of the blogosphere; even as an object of lowly derision, they seem too easy and unnecessary to waste time on. But this year, Chad Kroger and Co. became an unusual target of coverage and controversy, largely due to their associations. In August, it was announced that Kroeger and punky pop star Avril Lavigne were engaged -- a romance that probably even took the two people at its center by surprise, and left a continent once enamored of Lavigne shocked and confused. But Kroger first stumbled into the spotlight back in January, when Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney dissed the nu-grunge band in the January 19 Rolling Stone cover story. An excerpt:
Rock & roll is dying because people became OK with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world," [Carney] says, blowing cigarette smoke out the window of his rented East Village loft a few days before the band heads to L.A. "So they became OK with the idea that the biggest rock band in the world is always going to be shit -- therefore you should never try to be the biggest rock band in the world. Fuck that! Rock & roll is the music I feel the most passionately about, and I don"t like to see it fucking ruined and spoon-fed down our throats in this watered-down, post-grunge crap, horrendous shit. When people start lumping us into that kind of shit, it"s like, ‘Fuck you," honestly."
Again, Carney wasn't exactly torching some sacred cow here; heck, in April, Chuck Klosterman wrote a piece for Grantland in which he covered a Nickelback concert, because he was eager to be in the audience for "the most hated band in the world." And Nickelback Carney's remark in stride, responding with a tweet:
Thanks to the drummer in the Black Keys calling us the Biggest Band in the World in Rolling Stone. Hehe.
Hey Deryck loved the costumes! we were going to dress up as you guys this year but all the parties had celebrity themes haha! -CK
If nothing else, Kroeger came off more laid back than anyone trying to start with him. Probably a result of his Canadian upbringing. Plus all that money.
4. Cro-Mags Vs. Cro-Mags
Beefs born of the Internet seem totally innocuous compared to the decades of accusations, rumors, threats, lies, and acts of violence that have gone down between the members and ex-members of New York hardcore innovators Cro-Mags. That bad blood reached a boiling point in July, at a CBGB Festival performance at Webster Hall, when former Cro-Mags bassist Harley Flanagan attacked current Cro-Mags members Mike "The Gook" Couls and William Berario. Bouncers had allegedly been given a picture of Flanagan prior to the show and instructed to keep him out of the venue. Somehow, though, he got in. Flanagan allegedly stabbed Couls and bit Berario in a dressing room before the band’s set; he was eventually subdued by six security guards, breaking his leg in the process. Police reportedly handcuffed Flanagan to a chair and took him to the hospital. He was arrested on two counts of 2nd degree assault and weapons charges. According to reports, Couls was cut on his arms and stomach, and Berario was slashed above his eye and bitten on his cheek. Both were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
It was merely the most recent (and the most shocking) flare-up; after the incident, I wrote a story documenting some of the insults publicly slung between band members over the past three decades -- it came in at more than 1,800 words. Their dynamic is perhaps most eloquently described by ex-guitarist Parris Mitchell Mayhew:
Vanity, egomania, bad breath. Harley is an asshole. John [Joseph, Cro-Mags singer] was an asshole … We were doomed.
Remarkably, after numerous problems arose, the charges against Flanagan were dropped (!) two weeks ago. Coincidentally, Cro-Mags are playing NYC on 12/30. Which means there is a not-bad chance this beef will warrant higher placement on this list before the books are closed on 2012.
3. David Lowery Vs. NPR Intern Emily White
In June, NPR All Songs Considered intern Emily White published an essay in which she admitted that, while she boasted an iTunes library comprising some 11,000 songs, she had only purchased 15 CDs in her lifetime. In her 517-word story, White claimed that only a small fraction of her library came via piracy ("from a stint in the 5th grade with the file-sharing program Kazaa"). The 21-year-old called herself "an avid music listener, concertgoer, and college radio DJ [whose] world is music-centric." Most of her library, she says, came from the type of personal sharing that might be considered the 2005 equivalent of home-taping:
"I've swapped hundreds of mix CDs with friends. My senior prom date took my iPod home once and returned it to me with 15 gigs of Big Star,The Velvet Underground and Yo La Tengo … I spent hours sitting on the floor of my college radio station, ripping music onto my laptop."
In conclusion, White suggested that she wasn't happy with the current distribution models, and she hoped to see something better emerge: "What I want is one massive Spotify-like catalog of music that will sync to my phone and various home entertainment devices. With this new universal database, everyone would have convenient access to everything that has ever been recorded, and performance royalties would be distributed based on play counts."
The piece struck a nerve with former Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven frontman David Lowery, who responded to White with a 3,300-word missive that grappled with White's confessions as well as many related issues never explicitly raised by White. He addressed the (supposedly prevalent?) notion that file-sharers justify their practices by claiming they're not hurting artists but faceless record labels. He wrote off Spotify as being an untenable alternative to purchasing music ("It is not a fair system"), and he crunched some numbers, concluding that White owes $2,139.50 to the artists whose music she had obtained sans payment.
Lowery's story went viral instantly; the response not only ripped through the Internet, it came to define many of the defining conversation point of 2012, from the New York Magazine cover story titled "Is Rock Stardom Any Way To Make A Living?" to Damon Krukowski's Pitchfork essay "Making Cents" in which he revealed the paltry sums paid to artists by music-streaming services like Spotify: "For the 5,960 times 'Tugboat' was played there, Galaxie 500's songwriters went collectively into triple digits: $1.05 (35 cents each)."
Dismemberment Plan singer Travis Morrison wrote a sprawling essay on Huffington Post titled "Hey Dude From Cracker, I'm Sorry, I Stole Music Like These Damned Kids When I Was A Kid," which (surprise!) advances White's argument, but there really were no easy answers, no heroes or villains. White was being sincere and pragmatic; Lowery was being sincere and idealistic; neither model seems sustainable.
2. Amanda Palmer Vs. Steve Albini, Unpaid Musicians
Prior to 2012, Amanda Palmer was not exactly a household name -- sure, she had a devoted fanbase from which she sourced a record $1.2 million via Kickstarter to finance her last album, Theatre Is Evil. But this year, Palmer achieved notoriety far beyond her cult following
It started in August, when the ex-Dresden Doll posted a blog entry titled "WANTED: HORN-Y AND STRING-Y VOLUNTEERS FOR THE GRAND THEFT ORCHESTRA TOUR!!!!" in which she requested horn and string players of "professional-ish" ability join her touring band on stage. By way of compensation, wrote Palmer, "we will feed you beer, hug/high-five you up and down (pick your poison), give you merch, and thank you mightily for adding to the big noise we are planning to make."
The request for unpaid labor by a musician who'd just raised $1.2 mil caught the attention of Chicago-based engineer/poker enthusiast Steve Albini; in a Albini wasn't alone in his outrage; on 9/12, the Times ran a piece on the backlash resulting from Palmer's request. Palmer fan and classical musician, Amy Vaillancourt-Sals posted her own reaction to Palmer's request for unpaid volunteers, pointing out the ways in which Palmer's actions could negatively affect the greater music community. Among other things, Vaillancourt-Sals wrote: Palmer responded with a 2,800-word open letter to Vaillancourt-Sals, with the following declaration at its center: here's what i think about all that, and it also applies to this paid/non-paid musician kerfuffle: YOU HAVE TO LET ARTISTS MAKE THEIR OWN DECISIONS ABOUT HOW THEY SHARE THEIR TALENT AND TIME. Meanwhile, the Albini-Palmer feud continued. In an interview with Australian website Moshcam, Palmer said, "I adore Steve Albini and I'm a huge fan of his work, and I know he is a grumpy fuck." Albini then did an interview with UK blog the Stool Pigeon, where he expanded on his feelings, saying: Finally, after what seemed like months of controversy, Palmer relented, agreeing to pay her sidemen. She made the triumphant announcement on her blog: Still, like the Lowery-White beef, Palmer's story resonated throughout 2012, as pundits and musicians alike wondered (often aloud) how to make money making music -- using services like Kickstarter, yes -- while being mindful of the modern economy and the fragile ecosystem that is home to both musicians and audience.
Artists are feeling desperate. I confess, I have found myself giving free performances in order to get ahead and perhaps have something notable to put on my resume. You'd think that this would help, but it doesn't and in fact it's made my position worse. Volunteer opportunities have effectively lead to more volunteer opportunities. Very very seldom have I found it leading to compensating gigs.
your concern reminds me of the complaints i've seen from musicians who insist that i'm "devaluing" their own recordings by giving my music away for free and encouraging people to pay what they want for it (which is how i just released my new record). i get the impression that they see me as a force of evil who is miseducating the public to think that "music should be free."
On the part of the fans, I totally understand and sympathize with this impulse [to want to play with an object of their fandom regardless of compensation]. That's starkly different from a millionaire asking people to do things for free, under the guise that she is giving them something by indulging them. It's cheapness repainted as generosity and it's gross. Using people in this way, exploiting their good nature for one's own benefit, is a cancer that taints many enterprises and it always reflects poorly on the exploiter. It's one of the things I hated most about the old-school record business, the practice of fucking with people who loved music so much they would put up with endless greed and abuse just to be a part of it. A new music business paradigm, if it is worth anything, should strive to be free of exploitation and be honest about its motives … Nobody's an idiot, some ways of conducting business are just uglier and more exploitative than others.
for better or for worse, this whole kerfuffle has meant i've spent the past week thinking hard about this, listening to what everyone was saying and discussing. i hear you. i see your points. me and my band have discussed it at length. and we have decided we should pay all of our guest musicians. we have the power to do it, and we're going to do it. (in fact, we started doing it three shows ago.
Albini wasn't alone in his outrage; on 9/12, the Times ran a piece on the backlash resulting from Palmer's request. Palmer fan and classical musician, Amy Vaillancourt-Sals posted her own reaction to Palmer's request for unpaid volunteers, pointing out the ways in which Palmer's actions could negatively affect the greater music community. Among other things, Vaillancourt-Sals wrote:
Palmer responded with a 2,800-word open letter to Vaillancourt-Sals, with the following declaration at its center:
here's what i think about all that, and it also applies to this paid/non-paid musician kerfuffle:
YOU HAVE TO LET ARTISTS MAKE THEIR OWN DECISIONS ABOUT HOW THEY SHARE THEIR TALENT AND TIME.
Meanwhile, the Albini-Palmer feud continued. In an interview with Australian website Moshcam, Palmer said, "I adore Steve Albini and I'm a huge fan of his work, and I know he is a grumpy fuck." Albini then did an interview with UK blog the Stool Pigeon, where he expanded on his feelings, saying:
Finally, after what seemed like months of controversy, Palmer relented, agreeing to pay her sidemen. She made the triumphant announcement on her blog:
Still, like the Lowery-White beef, Palmer's story resonated throughout 2012, as pundits and musicians alike wondered (often aloud) how to make money making music -- using services like Kickstarter, yes -- while being mindful of the modern economy and the fragile ecosystem that is home to both musicians and audience.
1. Death Grips Vs. Epic
When Sacramento punk-rap noisemakers Death Grips signed to Epic and announced plans to drop two albums in 2012, it was a deeply unlikely turn of events, one that seemed like it might not turn out well. And though they did release the galvanizing album The Money Store early in the year, by October 1, the relationship between band and label seemed to be fraught. On Twitter, the band wrote that Epic wouldn't confirm the release of new album NO LOVE DEEP WEB until 2013, so the band claimed that they'd let everyone hear it at the same time as they delivered it to their label. And then, they posted the LP for free download on Twitter. (They also unveiled the cover art: the album's title written on a boner.)
Just as the story was reaching its viral peak, the band announced tour dates; some of us thought the whole thing might be a publicity stunt that was actually pulled off with Epic's approval (if not Epic's idea in the first place).
Then, though, things got real. On Halloween, the band shared on Facebook a couple emails between Epic and Death Grips' manager Peter Katsis. The first, from Epic, informed Katsis that the label was not happy with the band's actions regarding the release of the new album. It went on to allege that Death Grips had slandered and financially damaged Epic. The second, from Katsis to Epic, basically said that the first email should have been sent to the band's lawyer, not their manager.
The next day, Epic released a statement, announcing its relationship with Death Grips was over:
Epic Records is a music first company that breaks new artists. That is our mission and our mandate. Unfortunately, when marketing and publicity stunts trump the actual music, we must remind ourselves of our core values. To that end, effective immediately, we are working to dissolve our relationship with Death Grips. We wish them well.
It was a bizarre coupling to begin with -- anarchic new-media noisemakers working with one of the few remaining true "major labels" -- and while the fissures revealed truly irreconcilable differences (owing in part to a degree of immaturity on the part of the artist), they also once again suggested that the old ways of doing business have little traction in today's marketplace; Death Grips' plight delivered (more) incontrovertible proof that the major label machinery is obsolete: music can be produced and released cheaply, and widespread attention can be garnered without a publicity department in place. While Epic served as an unwitting pawn, Death Grips vaulted into the future.