EmbrACE Magazine

I Liked Them BeforeThey Were Famous

04/05/2018

“Ooh woo, I'm a rebel just for kicks, now 

I been feeling it since 1966, 

 Might be over now, but I feel it still”

The first big hit by the American indie-pop band Portugal. The Man got released in March 2017 and over the past twelve months made it to the top ten in eighteen different countries, in some places even scoring number one. The song is featured in commercials, won a Grammy award and is played on the radio, in cafes, at parties, even at the gym.

Fair enough, the song is catchy and well-produced, it has that popular retro sound and its slight familiarity with hits like “Happy” certainly adds to its attractivity to the ears of bigger audiences.

I discovered the band in 2008 when they had just released their third album. During their first tours in Europe they played in local venues in small student towns, sometimes crashing at the places of concert goers after the shows (in fact, I have met people who have hosted the band in their student apartments many years back).

Anyway, whenever I hear “Feel It Still” playing somewhere, I can’t help it but think that I knew Portugal. The Man before everyone else started singing along to their biggest hit.

Admittedly, it is almost impossible to say this without being accused of showing off, of being a hipster and a know-it-all music snob. Although this might be true for some people, I think music lovers should reclaim this statement. After all, it can be quite a traumatic experience to witness how your precious favorite band suddenly gets discovered by millions of other people. That band that you discovered by meticulously studying music magazines and digging through fan forums and indie webzines for hours and hours. That band with which you had such a special relationship that it felt almost like you were the only one who knew them and who could truly understand their music. And then suddenly everyone knows them. It’s not like you don’t grant your favorite band the success, but you just don’t want to share them with everyone. After all, you followed them on their journey for years: you have listened to their first EPs recorded at the drummer’s grandmother’s basement and in comparison to all the pretenders who just know them since they are famous, you really appreciate the rough sound of the early albums and prefer it over the new songs that have been written in collaboration with some fancy producer.

One common side-effect of appealing to bigger audiences is a drastic change in the sound of a band. Although this might be good in some cases, as bands can develop a more distinct style, fans from early days often are not very happy with these changes. Especially when bands suddenly change from an unknown indie act to the commercially successful next big thing, accusations about selling out can be heard from old fans. Portugal. The Man (self-)ironically commented on this by selling T-shirts in their merchandise store that read “I knew Portugal. The Man before they sold out” – incidentally making this saying a bit more socially acceptable again. 

Please note: text might contain slight irony and shameless exaggeration ;)