Ryan Murphy vs Caleb Followill – My Thoughts:

The Hollywood Reporter has a new big cover story on Glee. In it, creator/EP Ryan Murphy says this to Caleb Followill, lead singer of Kings Of Leon: “F— you, Kings of Leon,” . “They’re self-centered assholes, and they missed the big picture. They missed that a 7-year-old kid can see someone close to their age singing a Kings of Leon song, which will maybe make them want to join a glee club or pick up a musical instrument. It’s like, OK, hate on arts education. You can make fun of Glee all you want, but at its heart, what we really do is turn kids on to music.

                                                               Ryan Murphy

This issue first came up 6 months ago when Kings Of Leon denied Glee the rights to use their massive hit “Use Somebody”. It’s important to put this issue in the proper context. Kings Of Leon is a rock band that achieved far more success than they imagined or dare I say, desired. They had 3 relatively obscure, though critically acclaimed albums. While they may have enjoyed critical acclaim and opened shows for the likes of bands like U2, they weren’t on any Top 40 radio stations prior to 2009. That year “Use Somebody” became one of the most played songs of the year. It’s also worth noting that unlike most of the people we see in our popular culture today, Kings Of Leon aren’t fame whores. You don’t see them on red carpets. You don’t see them doing massive amounts of interviews. In fact, outside of their hardcore fans or even music industry enthusiasts, they might be what you’d call a “faceless band”. Their record company has not yet even worked a single from their current CD to top 40 radio. You also don’t see them bemoaning their success or knocking their newfound fame. They just seem like a band that loves to write and play music and feel fortunate that they are successful at that. But they just want to be in control of their own art (like Ryan Murphy). When a song like “Use Somebody” becomes so ubiquitous, it’s almost not even their song anymore. One can’t knock them for exercising control over the one thing they can. When this story broke, Caleb also said there were movie studios and some big stars that wanted to use it in trailers for upcoming films, to which he also said no. He wasn’t just denying Glee the use of it. He was protecting his song. He also wasn’t even mocking Glee or saying something like “I don’t want that song in that mess of a show”.

It’s actually quite refreshing in a day and age where people seem to be so obsessed with fame and success that a band feels like “you know what, this exceeded far beyond our expectations and we’re just gonna try to limit our ubiquity”. Not so long ago it was considered “selling out” for a band to license their material ad nauseam. Today’s music scene is so unforgiving that for certain heritage acts, licensing is the only way they can even promote a project. Certainly no one would knock someone for licensing a song or songs, but shouldn’t we also not abuse them for choosing not to.

Caleb responded to Ryan Murphy in the new Hollywood Reporter issue and dare I say he’s rather polite, respectful and fair, especially in light of Ryan’s narcissistic, nasty comment to his band. In an exclusive statement, Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill tells THR: “This whole Glee thing is a shock to us. It’s gotten out of hand. At the time of the request, we hadn’t even seen the show. It came at the end of that record cycle, and we were over promoting [“Use Somebody”]. This was never meant as a slap in the face to Glee or to music education or to fans of the show. We’re not sure where the anger is coming from. We just said no to a license for a TV show, which we do a lot.”

                                                             Caleb Followill

Sounds more than reasonable to me, and it hardly sounds personal to Glee. I also think Ryan Murphy acting as if he’d be doing the band a favor by exposing it to 7 year olds (huh?), is again narcissistic, egomaniacal and more so, wrong. Also, how is this one song being denied to Glee implying that the band is “hating on arts education”.  Frankly it seems rather short-sighted to me. He’s had Paul McCartney okay the Beatles catalog for use. Madonna said okay, Lady Gaga…. So Kings of Leon said no to one song you wanted to use. Move on. It wasn’t personal. His dig at them seems mean and petty when they were being anything but. Even after hearing his nasty words, Caleb responded with class. Glee is beyond successful, and it’s only likely to get bigger after the Super Bowl episode, and hearing Ryan’s words makes me wonder where the anger is coming from. Mr. Murphy: Your show just won 3 Golden Globes, including Best Comedy. It’s the highest rated scripted show on TV. You have stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Anne Hathaway banging down your door to be on it. Does one band not allowing you to use one song really incite such nasty and rude comments?

Finally, I think one of the few things lacking about Glee is its over reliance on the biggest hits of the day as part of its playlist. When GLEE highlights a song like “Dog Days” by Florence and The Machine that isn’t at the top of the pop charts (and frankly can use the exposure) or a Cee-Lo “Forget You”  and makes them more popular, good on you Mr. Murphy. Or when he wants to expose “Hello Goodbye” by the Beatles to a new generation, I applaud him greatly. But when the show relies on the biggest top 40 hits as part of its weekly soundtrack,  it can be a bit unadventurous. Just looking over the songs for the upcoming Feb 8th episode, I see that Katy Perry’s “Firework”,  which defines the word ubiquity now, will be sung by Lea Michelle. The thought of Rachel Berry doing what Simon Cowell might call a “karaoke”  version of a song that is currently in power rotation on about 6 stations in every market, makes me groan. It’s becoming less common when he uses a song like “Teenage Dream” and changes the arrangement and makes it something special, as he did with the Darren Criss version. Even Katy Perry is aware of her overexposure. She has instructed her record label not rush out a 4th single of her current CD because she feels she’s everywhere and even she is sick of herself. It’s not hard to understand that that’s what Kings Of Leon were aware of for themselves.*  

I don’t mean to knock Glee and I have major respect and awe for what Ryan Murphy has accomplished and done for television and the music industry. But when a band denies the use of what most would call a very overplayed, current song, I wouldn’t use it as opportunity to call them assholes. I might just use it as an opportunity to find a more unique song. Ryan is clearly protective of his product (as he should be). In some episodes this season some of the dialogue seemed like direct responses to criticisms of his show. So in that respect I think he should understand Kings Of Leon trying to protect their art.

I’m gonna give Ryan Murphy the benefit of the doubt and assume he was having a bad day. We’ve all been there and said something we regret. I won’t be surprised if he apologizes relatively soon. In fact, I bet he will . (Am I naive?)  Whether he does or doesn’t, I’d like to applaud Caleb Followill for his integrity and class.

* – (Hey Ryan: There is a sublime new Adele single, “Rolling In The Deep” that Top 40 programmers refuse to play, even though it’s incredibly amazing. She’s a critics darling (deservedly), a Grammy Award Winner and a mega star in the UK.  Just think, you could expose this song and artist to all the young kids that you are referring to. KOL and “Use Somebody” didn’t need the help. Adele does. Imagine a digital download record like you accomplished with the Darren Criss song, but in this case you would actually expose someone (relatively) new and talented to the public. In case you aren’t familiar with it, here it is):

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