Controversy is a powerful tool. It’s something that can launch your band to a shocking amount of success with minimal effort. I’m not saying that you should go out seeking controversy by posting offensive statuses or being an asshole – but there certainly is a way to leverage controversy in order to get the whole world talking about your band and getting things moving forward in a surprisingly productive way. As silly as it might sound if you can figure out how to leverage controversy to your advantage then you can pretty much guarantee that your band will careen to stardom, and assuming that your product going along with it is strong enough then you are going to get some real fans out of this whole screwed up rock and roll fantasy that so many of us have to struggle with on a day to day basis. Remember, it’s all a sham, so you need to take advantage of the small things.
I think I’ve talked before about the example of the band Black Pussy – a group who are really only okay at best who managed to get the sort of massive media attention that bands who have toured the world dozens of times dream about having. There were thousands of people who liked the band on Facebook or followed them on Twitter – not because of their music, which like I said, the reviews found to be only average, but because of what they stood for. I’m not taking a side here, but I think that the guys in Black Pussy knew what they were doing when the named their band. They were hoping to stir up some shit. I don’t especially think offensive band names are a good idea, they rarely turn into major press unless they are racially charged and that’s kind of a hard thing to approach delicately. The point stands though, it really helps to get people kicking up shit over your band.
There are a lot more no no’s then yes yes’s when it comes to channeling controversy too. For example – it’s really bad to try to hop on someone elses controversy as Machine Head’s Robb Flynn did when he wrote a song about Phil Anselmo’s White Power incident (Another example of bad controversy) It just makes him look like a hanger on Coming out with a public opinion too is rarely a good idea, unless you actually know the people involved. You don’t want to make yourself look amateurish or uneducated. If you are going to take on a controversial stance then you are going to need to defend yourself and if you can’t do that then people will just end up making fun of you. Look at what Nails did recently, essentially taking on internet trolls and then triggering a backlash so large that they were forced to go on hiatus. Sure they got some more followers and probably a few album sales, but it also screwed up their entire release cycle and probably career.
So what are examples of positive use of controversy? Well Babymetal are a great example. They are a band who came totally out of left field, made some extremely weird music and then found themselves opening for Lady Gaga. They are one of the bands who upset metalheads the most and they take advantage of that with increasingly bizarre and well put together songs. The same goes for Ghost, a band who they have played many a festival with. It’s a band who add a healthy dose of pop to occult rock and leave many metalheads in literal tears. It’s a funny thing to watch a giant bearded dude whine over art made by teenage girls, but it happens. It’s the same reason that a band like Black Veil Brides are so successful – they are upsetting parents and people who claim to know what ‘true metal’ is. Sure I’m not a fan of the band, but when I was younger I liked bands that pissed off everyone too. There is a visceral appeal to that sort of thing that I think we can all relate too.
There is a distinct lack of ballsiness in music today. That’s why I loved it when Jason Aldean came out with a tweet saying “Nobody gives a shit what u think” when Zac Brown claimed that Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind Of Night” was the worst song ever. And you know what? That won him a ton of fans. People dig into folks who are problematic simply because so few people actually willing to step up and be the crazy badass. That’s what the entire world of heavy metal was built on in the old days – scratch that – that’s what pretty much every genre has been based off, even going back to the baroque period. When Monteverdi brought instruments into the concert hall in the early 17th century, there were very nearly riots! It’s always been people who were able to harness controversy and make people hate them but force the acknowledgement that what they were doing was damn good. If you think that Beethoven or Mozart were universally beloved then you have been reading the wrong histories. It’s the people who scare not just parents, but also other young people who have been able to find long term success over not just the years or decades, but centuries.
So go out – act controversial. Be willing to stir up some shit. I’m one of the most controversial writers on Metal Injection and I’m their only writer on salary. I don’t know what that says about me or Metal Injection, but it does show that this sort of thing works. You can’t just be racist or supporting radical opinions in order to get attention drawn to you. You need to have out there and crass opinions that you can defend. You need to scare people, make them question the norm and freak them out a little. Controversy is a very hard thing to handle and you see bands screwing up their lives with it. Yet for those of you who figure out this super complicated 11 letter word you will be able to reap benefits and leave people both scarred and in love.