Settled on a messy bed, three members of Cartel appear relaxed and confident, enjoying their last private days in a discrete house in Cabbagetown. Their laid-back attitudes are surprising, considering the local pop band is about to live -- literally -- in a see-through bubble on a New York City pier. Sponsored by Dr. Pepper and taped by MTV, the resulting reality show will feature the band's 20 days spent in the bubble as it writes and records the follow-up to its breakthrough debut, Chroma.
Since Cartel announced the move in April, a tremendous amount of backlash has erupted. It comes as no surprise. Any band willing to place itself on display with a logo splashed across its face is bound to catch flak. Yet what's surprising is the negative feedback the pop punkers have garnered from fans, many of whom claim the band is selling out.
"Everyone has their own way of promoting," Cartel guitarist Joseph Pepper says in defense. "We're just doing it in a way that's gigantic."
Ironically, Cartel's primary fan base consists of young teens – a generation that's been spoon-fed product placement since birth. And given the current condition of the music industry, where artists are commodified with ease, it seems this kind of marketing practice would not only be expected but accepted.
"When you first discover a band you like, it feels special," says Cartel manager Chris Black, rationalizing the negative reaction. "But as the band becomes more popular, that initial feeling goes away, and it doesn't feel like it's yours anymore."
As Cartel prepares to burst the bubble June 12 – when the group will preview new material in a live MTV show televised from the pier – the band feels the record will prove itself.
"We're still making the record exactly as we would if this bubble never happened," says lead singer Will Pugh. "If this works, you'll see bands lined up at the door for this opportunity. If it doesn't, we still wrote a kick-ass record, and that should speak louder than any marketing plan."
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