Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon bashes Beyoncé’s Pepsi deal since she’s “a role model”

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Justin Vernon, the frontman of Bon Iver, called out Beyoncé for her Pepsi deal, claiming the corporate sponsorship dilutes the spirit of music. During his interview, Vernon shared his frustration with Live Nation corporate sponsorship with artists and specifically called out Beyonce as an example of this pet peeve. “You can never be self-righteous, but it’s okay to be a little righteous,” he said.

He continued: “You have to believe in something. Like, I’d prefer Beyoncé didn’t do a Pepsi tour. Do not take two million dollars from Pepsi and be a role model for young girls. Do not do that. That stuff does anger me. And I feel like I am not afraid to talk about that stuff.”

While it’s certainly valid to express frustration at the current state of the music industry and the corporate venues many artists are forced to filter through in order to make ends meet, there is an immediate irony in Vernon’s critique given the fact that Bon Iver appeared in an ad for Bushmills whiskey back in 2011. Obviously, artists, as human beings evolve and that is ultimately positive, but given the fact that Vernon expressed regret for the Bushmills ad in an interview for Grantland in 2015, it feels a bit hypocritical to turn around and point the finger at Beyoncé. Particularly given the fact their musical genres and inspiration pools are so wildly different.

However, in regards to the particular critique of Beyoncé’s influence on little girls (which I personally don’t think is a male musician’s issue to critique), Vernon expressed nostalgia for the bands he grew up with:

I grew up loving bands like the Indigo Girls, and they stood for something, doing benefit shows and talking about shit and changing culture or changing people’s mindsets and raising awareness. What’s music for? It’s not about having a bunch of CDs.”

Again, comparing Beyoncé to the Indigo Girls feels like a bit of stretch, given the fact that Beyoncé has always been a pop artist and the Indigo Girls started as an indie folk-rock duo. The genres and cultures surrounding Beyoncé’s message of female empowerment and the Indigo Girls are wildly different.

False equivalencies aside,Vernon’s critique of Beyoncé could have been more textured had he chosen to contextualize the issues of corporate partnership in relation to his personal experience appearing in the Bushmills ad. Perhaps he would face less backlash if he admitted the temptation for corporate sponsorship and the ways artists are put in a catch-22 of “selling out” or going bankrupt.

In his interview with Grantland in 2015 where Vernon expressed regret for appearing in the Bushmills ad, he explained part of his reasoning was the ability to finish building his recording studio debt free:

“To be clear: They gave us a bunch of money and we were able to finish (my recording studio) without borrowing. It was great for us, and everybody that worked at the company was great, and I love Bushmills and wanted to do the deal because my dad loved Bushmills — we bond over Irish whiskey. But the problem is that it isn’t just Bushmills. It’s run by a corporation, and you kind of forget that they’re not interested in you or really what you’re doing. They’re interested in your popularity and your reach, and it felt really sickening after a while.”

Obviously, Beyoncé is certainly not financially strained, but Vernon’s grievances in his interview could have been more nuanced and balanced, considering his personal experience with the rock-and-hard place many working creatives are in. Then again, these critiques are probably exactly why Vernon has expressed he doesn’t enjoy being famous.