Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s — the peak years for Johnny Rock — there was an actual stigma about “selling out.” The rise of indie rock, which climaxed with the mainstreaming of R.E.M. and the birth of grunge, brought with it a particular philosophical aesthetic that proposed that any artist who did something nakedly for money was considered an artist not worth worrying about. Even though the bands of that era signed to major labels and goofed around on MTV, there was still an invisible line between upholding the integrity of one’s music and whoring oneself out in the name of getting rich.
Those ideas seem quaint now. Possibly because of the general cratering of the music industry or a general return to Reagan-era opinions about capitalism, the idea of trading on your image for the sake of corporate checks not only isn’t frowned upon, but it’s actually championed: Bands are admired for their ability to score sponsorships for tours, artists actively seek out placement in commercials and TV shows, and top-tier pop artists are judged less on their music than on their ability to parlay musical success into a multi-tiered empire of clothes, cosmetics, fragrances, and whatever else you can slap Taylor Swift’s name onto.
There’s still a certain segment of the population that feels queasy about such bald-faced exchanges between music and money, and deep down, Johnny Rock is a proud member of that tribe. In the beginning of the penultimate episode of Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll’s first season, Ira drops in on band practice to make the announcement that has been a long time coming: All of Gigi’s brand-building and personal development has manifested in a record deal from Sony, which features a $250,000 advance and a date with a sought-after pop producer. The only catch is the deal only includes Gigi, which Johnny blanches at when he learns he and Flash will be signed to a separate contract as Gigi’s songwriters. When the money (and a makeover) is dangled in front of him, he can’t help but cash in.
Inevitably, the shininess of the record deal slowly dulls, even though Johnny is pretty impressed by the super-expensive cognac and the million-dollar cheese wheel. The bluesy rocker we heard at the top of the show gets a slick remix care of the producer (who brags about the samples of cannon fire that they are “PBS Civil War type s—!”); her vocal gets an Auto-Tune and her lyrics get an extra-explicit rewrite. She’s also suddenly wearing very little clothing and dancing next to a bunch of random video girls. Even though she has no trouble taking the deal at the top of the episode (it is after all, as she points out, the exact reason why she came to New York to find Johnny in the first place), she can feel her individuality eroding, and the idea of lip-syncing represents the end for both her and Johnny. When the producer throws his capitalist mantra in their faces, Johnny retorts, “You know what my mantra is? Go f— yourself!”
Thus ends Gigi’s dalliance with major label-fueled mainstream pop success, done with the same damn-the-man attitude that sunk so many of Johnny Rock’s past projects (particularly the Heathens). Attaining your dreams is one thing, but doing so at the cost of your soul doesn’t sit well with people like Gigi and Johnny, and now they arrive at one of the most terrifying questions humanity faces: What’s next?
For Rehab and Bam Bam, they already have an answer, and it’s dressing up like NASCAR robo-aliens and DJ’ing at EDM parties as an extension of Beastcore (which, as Rehab loves to note, now has a manifesto). They two are chasing a fascinating dragon, and should Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll get a deserved second season, it would be amazing to see the two of them have misadventures in the easily-lampooned world of dance music. The Beastcore story line has become the best B-plot on Sex&Drugs, and it shows that this show still has a lot of ideas to explore and genres to send up. It may be over for Gigi & the Assassins, but the world of DJ Whale Earnhardt, Jr. and DJ Mac N’ Cheese is only beginning. The message? If you have to sell out, be sure to wear a helmet.
- With only one episode left, how does Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll end? Do Gigi and the Assassins decide to do it themselves as an independent act? Does Gigi return to Ohio? Is there a third option I’m not even thinking of? I’m not even entirely sure what I would find most satisfying, though I do hope that there will be more episodes. FXX hasn’t renewed it, which tends to be a less-than-good sign, but they also let last summer’s comedies Married and You’re the Worst squirm a bit before ultimately bringing both back. Sex&Drugs hasn’t set the ratings ablaze, but it has done a good enough number to give Leary and his band another run.
- Bam Bam knows what “EDM” stands for: “Extremely Douchey Music.”
- The montage of Johnny’s facial procedures was so horrific I thought it might be deeply rooted viral marketing for Goodnight Mommy.
- Bam Bam is not a panda—he’s a speedy cat, and he won’t have it any other way. Rehab acquiesces. “Who’s my cheesecake cheetah?”
- Gigi is uncomfortable with her barely there outfit. “I look like a whore,” she complains. “A sexy whore!” offers Flash.
- Still, that red number does inspire a great music cue: As she disrobes, Oberhofer’s excellent “o0Oo0Oo” swells.
- “Mr. Bon Jovi, can I have your autograph?”
- John Corbett must have had a particularly good time in the costume department for this episode: In the beginning, we see Flash wearing little more than a Speedo and a kimono, and later he’s dressed exactly like Han Solo for some reason.