Quit Hating on Kings of Leon, Even If You Disliked "Sex On Fire"
RCA Records Kings of Leon
[Editor's Note: Fuck Guilty Pleasures celebrates the over-produced, commercial, artless, lowbrow music that we believe is genuinely worthwhile. Like, among the best music ever.]
I have several friends who should ostensibly like everything about Kings of Leon, but they strongly dislike the Nashville-formed outfit. If you searched for most of their favorite bands on Spotify or iTunes, Kings of Leon would surely come up as a recommended artist, but it doesn't make a bit of difference. It's something that's perplexed me over the past couple years, as I've discussed it with fans of My Morning Jacket and the Alabama Shakes, two similarly inspired southern rock bands who've risen to fame without a hint of a backlash.
When I ask them what they think of Kings of Leon, the response tends be a variation of either "They just seem like douchebags" or "That "Sex On Fire" song is terrible." But there isn't really much substance behind either of those arguments. Purists tend to hate most Top 40 at any given moment, and as much as we heard "Sex On Fire" on the radio in the grocery, laundromat, department store and porn shop, we were all bound to hate it eventually, just as much as "Firework" or "Call Me, Maybe."
I can't argue with the point that they're douchebags, both because it's subjective and because they haven't exactly maintained a spotlessly grounded image, what with the supermodel-marrying and $100 designer t-shirt hawking. But this has little to do with their musical credibility and why they deserve just as much respect as both of the aforementioned bands.
Kings of Leon have never been adored by the indie crowd. Pitchfork has flogged every one of their albums, while Spin and Rolling Stone have consistently dished out praise. British publications NME and Uncut have reviewed most of their albums favorably as well, so there's a clear disconnect between the top of the hipster hierarchy and the general public.
Read through the comments on Pitchfork and Stereogum and you'll find people fuming with disgust for the band, one person going as far as to compare them to Nickelback. And while both bands typically play stadiums and arenas, Nickelback has never headlined Bonnaroo, Coachella or Glastonbury.
Glastonbury and Bonnaroo are particularly important to mention because Kings of Leon were hugely popular in the south and in Europe long before "Sex On Fire." While high-minded journalists in New York and L.A. were fumbling over their keyboards trying to decide whether to classify them as indie rock, alternative rock or southern rock, fans in London and Nashville were just enjoying the music, unfazed by whatever genre classification was coming down from the top.
It's puzzling as to why they aren't more widely appreciated in the U.S., especially after opening for huge acts like U2 and Radiohead; my theory is that aligning a band that's been on the radio with one's personal brand is just too risky for the cooler-than-thou generation. It doesn't have anything to do with taste. People are just worried that their manufactured identities will crumble once their friends see they've liked the band on Facebook.
In reality, the group's influences aren't all that different from the current crop of indie bands ruling the roost. The Pixies are the most oft-referenced band in their interviews, and they frequently list the Velvet Underground, Thin Lizzy and The Band as well. So why does everyone go apeshit when My Morning Jacket covers "It Makes No Difference," while Kings of Leon are somehow seen as not genuine?