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How to Calculate Musical Sellouts

American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson shills for Ford and . . . so what? It gets a low Moby Quotient number.
American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson shills for Ford and . . . so what? It gets a low Moby Quotient number. (By Frederick M. Brown -- Getty Images)

I recently enlisted the aid of Jim Anderson, a senior lecturer in mathematics at England's University of Southampton. An expert on hyperbolic geometry, he embarked on this task with tongue firmly in cheek, and developed a formula that can be used to process the ethical and aesthetic implications of any one instance of the pervasive blurring of the lines between rock and advertising.

The formula kicks out a number that could be used to determine just how much of a sellout is a particular artist.

We are pleased to call this number the Moby Quotient and to assign the Greek letter "mu," to designate it.

The equation is designed to put things in perspective. If Kelly Clarkson sings for Ford, where, in the end, is the harm? Negligible artists singing on subjects that can be of less-than-pressing social import advertising silly products. One does not look to Disney pop culture puppets or artists given an imprimatur by the viewers of a Fox TV show for artistic integrity. Ms. Clarkson can sing for her supper anywhere she wants, and the world sits solidly on its foundations.

However. If you are an artist who traffics in -- or has trafficked in -- your outsider status; if you were a punk or a rebel or a beast whose rude yawp emerged from the underground and you are now hawking your anthems of defiance as ear candy to further the sales of a crummy telecom company, a new line of SUVs or the marvelous things General Electric is doing, well then, sir or madam artiste, expect your Moby Quotient to be somewhat higher.

The formula sits proudly on this very page, along with a few examples of the sorts of Moby Quotients certain artists earn. We have to be realistic: This tide of greed will never slide back out. Indeed, it can only get worse, since new generations of rock fans have grown up with the practice and apparently see nothing wrong with it.

Our one hope is that what greed created, greed may eventually eliminate -- in other words, that younger artists will view Moby's career as a cautionary tale. The jut-jawed vegan still makes a good living touring and doing film soundtracks and the like. But it's also true that commercially and artistically, his recorded work since "Play" has been on a downward spiral. Let the sellouts beware.

Bill Wyman, the former arts editor of National Public Radio, writes the blog "Hitsville" at

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