Shepard Fairey and Why Music Exclusivism is Poisonous

You may have heard the name Shepard Fairey before (we assure you that it is a real name belonging to a person in real life and not somebody’s League Of Legends handle). If you haven’t, he’s a street artist, activist and the founder of OBEY Clothing (those shirts with the ‘Andre The Giant has a posse’ face on them).

He also dabbles in being a giant dick, as you’ll see in the video below:

‘Shepard Fairey Shares His Collection of Vintage Band Tees’, a video title that sounds about as exciting as watching bread go stale, was produced for Hypebeast and is two minutes and thirty-three seconds of utter wank.

He takes aim at Justin Bieber from the outset, claiming that he won’t let him ‘taint an entire genre for me’ in response to his noted penchant for wearing band t-shirts depicting artists as wide-ranging as Nirvana, Pantera, Tupac Shakur and Marilyn Manson amongst countless others that have raised the ire of those noble guardians of who is and is not a real fan of particular music, a consortium evidently spearheaded by Fairey.

You’d think Bieber had worn a t-shirt that proclaimed in 72 point Jokerman font ‘I banged Shepard Fairey’s mother and never called her again’ instead of one with a simple Pantera logo, such is his outrage.

I’m sure most people who have worn a band t-shirt in public have encountered one of these tapeworms at some point. The ‘real fan’, who demands you justify your reasons for having the stones to be wearing a t-shirt featuring one of their favourite artists within a hundred feet of them, often by proving your knowledge of their music and history to be at a level acceptable to them.

I’ve been on the receiving end of it a bit, going to a fair amount of gigs and usually wearing band t-shirts to them because it just feels right. I wore a FIDLAR shirt out once and found myself talking to an intolerably painful couple who I’m sure are making each other miserable to the point of murder at this very second. Without even asking me or letting me get a word out (FIDLAR are one of my absolute favourite bands as it happens), they reached the conclusion that I clearly only liked FIDLAR ‘because Cocaine was on the Grand Theft Auto V soundtrack’ and laughed at me for not being a real fan like them and also told me I shouldn’t be wearing their shirt for these not at all insane reasons.

Not being a confrontational person at all, I bottled up my irritation at their petty bullshit so hard I’ll probably have an aneurysm later in life.

Like Doc Rivers, only with 60% more brain screams.

Another night I wore a Wu-Tang Clan shirt out and was accosted by a wholly unpleasant git at a set of traffic lights, who initially demanded I rap Clan lyrics at him (something I’m capable of doing to a degree) to prove I wasn’t just wearing the shirt ‘for show’, then decided I wasn’t a fan at all and started hurling abuse when I wouldn’t comply simply because I wasn’t in any mood to be a dancing monkey for a drunken dickhead.

These are the kind of people (and I’ve had experiences with many others) who would worship Shepard Fairey as a false idol for ‘holding poseurs accountable’.

‘I saw a girl wearing a Joy Division t-shirt and I said “oh, Joy Division” and she went “what?”‘, the gremlins inhabiting his physical form maneuver his voicebox to hiss about halfway through the video, “…she’d seen it on Tumblr and bought it at Urban Outfitters, very depressing.”

The kind of depressing horror that can only be expressed through Hank Hill gifs.

Bafflingly, Fairey then goes on to praise Kanye West for introducing new audiences to different artists and aspects of different subcultures through sampling music his fans probably haven’t heard of in his own music. Despite the fact that Justin Bieber wearing a Metallica shirt while performing might have the exact same effect. I mean, Jesus Christ this is contradictory trash at its finest.

Fairey then gets the glory of showing the audience his own favourite band t-shirts as though they’re somehow now validated any more than anyone he’s just been chastising.

If you’re like Shepard Fairey, if seeing other people wearing merch featuring your favourite artists new or old fills you with the kind of uncontrollable nerd rage that would cause you to go on a self-indulgent rant like this, you should probably stop and take stock of what’s important to you.

No fan ‘owns’ a band or their music or has any say in what constitutes being a fan and what people can and can’t do or say or wear regarding any artist, whether you’re Shepard Fairey or that guy who stands at gigs on his own vaping in the corner and glowering at everyone there daring to even slightly enjoy their time because they probably haven’t been listening to this band anywhere near as long as you have.

And your favourite band really don’t need you to ‘protect’ their music by weeding out these ‘fake fans’ either. Not in an era where merch sales are now such a huge part of an artist’s revenue stream. I’m sure they don’t give two thirds of three eighths of a shit that someone has bought one of their shirts, uber-fan, casual fan or someone completely ignorant of the fact that they bought a band t-shirt in the first place like that monstrous ghoul of a woman who dared to think a Joy Division shirt at Urban Outfitters looked cool without knowing all the words to Atmosphere.


If you’re as huge a fan of a band as you claim to be, you should find yourself wearing a shit-eating grin whenever you see somebody else donning their merch, it’s money in their pockets so they can continue making the music you live for.

Dislike Bieber all you want (I certainly do because I find his own music to be utterly unpalatable), but if him wearing a band shirt makes you like that band less or taints an entire genre for you then maybe you should scrutinise your own fandom before peering down your neckbeard at other people. This kind of exclusivism just has no place in the 21st century and you come off like a complete dick when you indulge in it.

You don’t have to own a band’s entire discography or have seen them at every show they’ve played in your city since 2002 or know the maiden names of each member’s mother to be granted the privilege of wearing one of their shirts, you don’t even have to know the band you’re repping at all.

It’s a fucking shirt, not a declaration of war against your personal taste.

Image: The Wrap