Today is the approximate deadline for fans of Portland-based electropop band Starfucker to turn in new name suggestions for the band, who announced their decision to change it early last month (if you've got a good one, be sure to send it to firstname.lastname@example.org soon.) And on Friday, October 9, the band will perform in Seattle as Starfucker (the show's at the Vera Project) for what may well be the very last time.
as the band's MySpace states: photo by ingrid renan, brightened by christopher, inspired by sarah cass Starfucker
Still, I'm disappointed that the band's changing their name. Starfucker is a name that suggests a crass punk rock aesthetic, and a refusal to bow to society's standards of acceptability. A name that suggests this band is not just some pop band, but a band that is out to make an impact on the world through unconventional means. I liked it. And while it's within the band's rights to change their name if they feel so inclined, it's still a letdown to see a band cave to pressure from music industry wonks. Yes, it must have sucked being passed over for slots opening for Passion Pit and Yelle on a recent tour because their band name contains the word "fuck." But instead of mercilessly mocking those bands and the people who represent them for having no spine, they're changing a name they now claim not to have liked that much in the first place in the name of success.
In this fantastic interview with Willamette Week's music editor Casey Jarman down in Portland, Josh Hodges thoroughly explains the band's reasoning for the decision. And after reading it, it's hard not to sympathize with someone who's ultimately choosing success and a paycheck over poverty and street cred. Anyone who's ever worried about where their next bag of groceries is coming from will understand that.
And yet, I feel compelled to respectfully disagree with the decision -- and not because I don't think the band has a right to call themselves something else in pursuit of the fame and fortune they already deserve, or because they just don't like the name that much. I'm disappointed because it has historically been the role of music to test boundaries -- sonic, social, political and linguistic. To make people feel uncomfortable. To usher in fucking revolutions. To stand up for the right to exist and create outside of what's safe and acceptable.
Of course, not all bands do this. Some bands just serve to entertain, and that's not a bad thing. But Starfucker could have been a band that did both. Starfucker had a choice to make. They had a chance to stand up for language -- for freedom of expression itself -- and say, "There is no such thing as a bad word to us, and we're not changing our fucking name." That would likely garnered more publicity than this name change. Who doesn't love a controversy? Pitchfork sure does. Instead, they chose the safe route -- the route to possible pop stardom, primetime appearances on MTV, and stacks of cash money.
But a name change doesn't guarantee all that. It may improve the band's chances, but that level of stardom is a rare thing even for people who do everything right. Besides, it is still possible to achieve a decent measure of success as a musician with the word "fuck" in your name. Toronto-based hardcore band Fucked Up has done just fine. They even won a Polaris award this year for The Chemistry of Common Life. Hell, their singer, Damian Abraham, has been a guest on Red Eye, which is a FOX show. If that ain't success, I don't know what is. And they did it all without changing their name to something more palatable to the music industry language police.
Of course, that's hardcore (okay, post-hardcore, whatever), not pop. Then again, there's also that band Holy Fuck, which is not a hardcore band, and they're doing pretty well. What it all boils down to is that ultimately, you can't buy dinner with your ideals. But if you're willing to compromise on one of the most rudimentary aspects of your band's existence -- its name -- that will lead people to believe that maybe you'll be willing to compromise on other fronts. Like your appearance. Or your sound. While Hodges says no one's asking the band to do that, it doesn't mean it won't happen later.
After the name change, I'm willing to be the band will probably become at least as successful as the bands who previously snubbed them. And I'm not going to fault them for wanting to take the path of least resistance in order to make that happen. I will still go to the show next Friday, I will still support them, and I will not call them sell-outs for making the decision that felt right to them. But they will always be Starfucker to me.