Shantel Mitchell for NPR
What do you want from this guy? Kings of Leon lead singer Caleb Followill performs at the 2010 Bonnaroo festival.
Just how hard is to be in a famous band? In its fall arts preview this weekend, The New York Times published a profile of the band Kings of Leon under the headline "Wary Coronation." The band's last album, Only by the Night sold nearly 2 million copies, according to the article. They have a new album, Come Around Sundown coming out in October. They've gone from playing their guitars (badly, by the band's own admission) in incredibly tight jeans in small clubs to headlining this year's Bonnaroo.
"I just got worried that the success was going to ruin what we'd been working hard for so long," lead singer Caleb Followill tells the Times. There's a logic to that statement, but it might take a minute to figure it out — Followill never exactly spells out what the band is worried about protecting, what part of being a band or being regular people it might ruin. But it's easy to speculate that the thing he's afraid of losing is control over the kind of music Kings of Leon makes, or the songs it plays, faced with a swelling crowd with its own set of demands. Maybe Followill's not looking forward to a future where a 50 year-old version of himself has to sing "Sex on Fire" every night in front of an aging audience who stopped buying new material years ago.
Even as a best-case-scenario, I know, it's not exactly a tough life. And musicians don't have to play songs they don't like. Frannie Kelley just told me that when she talked to Big Boi recently, he explained how disappointed he was when he went to see Prince as a youngster and realized he was not going to hear anything from 1999. But it's easy to see both sides of this argument — fans want to hear songs they love, and want to keep loving bands they've invested in. Musicians want to keep earning that love — but they also don't want to get stuck.
When you're at a concert, when you've waited in line, paid for tickets, cheered until you're hoarse, what do you want to hear? The band gets to decide how much you pay for the show — what do they owe you?