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Trent Reznor Says Taco Bell Could Have Ruined the 90s Music Scene

The Nine Inch Nails frontman envisions an alternate scenario where Sonic Youth was tainted by the fast food taco behemoth.
Photos via Flickr users Plain Alicia's Photography and Mike Mozart.

Somehow, in the early 90s, Taco Bell convinced country music outlaws Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson to appear in its TV commercials and sing awful lyrics about 79-cent tacos and the "New Zesty Steak Melt." Despite being known for their artistic integrity, these icons seemed happy to cash presumably hefty paychecks to peddle tacos for corporate America (in ads that are pretty awkward to watch today).

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But one band that could not bring itself to do that were noise rockers Sonic Youth, whose wild reverb and flannel shirts could have lent some serious street cred to the taco giant in the early 90s. According to an interview with Trent Reznor conducted by Juxtapoz, Sonic Youth saved face by having enough creative integrity and concern for their personal brand to sidestep opportunities to appear in, say, a cheesy (no pun intended) commercial for Mexican pizzas.

"We were just talking about how, in the early '90s, Sonic Youth would not be in a Taco Bell ad," Reznor told Juxtapoz. "That would have been the end of Sonic Youth. The equivalent of Sonic Youth today, they could be in a Taco Bell ad. They could be sponsored by any number of things that might be distasteful, but it's also perceived as kind of OK." (Reznor seemed to be speaking hypothetically, and didn't offer any evidence that Sonic Youth was, in fact, approached by Taco Bell to appear in an ad campaign.)

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Reznor made the comment while discussing the increasing presence of "the corporate sponsor" in today's music, warning that business models like sponsored tours could lead to what he calls "a muzzle of expression" for young musicians.

And while appearing in a Taco Bell ad did not end the careers of Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson, it may have put a dent in their credibility as "outlaws." Clearly, they were not as ready as Reznor, or Sonic Youth, to bite the hand that feeds.