Join 3,562 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Shut up and listen
January 8, 2014 6:15 AM   Subscribe

"Barely a week goes by without some old white man castigating the yoof of today on the shallowness/stupidity/etc. of their taste in music, art and culture in general. It’s a narrative as old as culture itself — adults throwing up their hands in despair because Kids These Days just don’t get it." But, contrarily, "there’s a subset of music criticism these days that seems to view the taste and aesthetic of teens (and teenage girls, in particular) as weirdly sacred. It’s a sort of creepy offshoot of poptimism, one that starts from an unrealistically monolithic view of teen culture — not all teens like Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus, after all — and is, in its own way, as deeply patronizing as claiming from on high that teens have no taste." -- Flavorwire's Tom Hawking on Critical Assumptions about Teen Culture.
posted by Potomac Avenue (132 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Barely a week goes by without some old white man castigating the yoof of today on the shallowness/stupidity/etc. of their taste in music, art and culture in general.

As a cranky old white man castigating the yoof of today, I think they mean "Barely an hour goes by."
posted by Mezentian at 6:23 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


I'm completely sure that today's teens will someday grow up to become trenchant observers of how amazing everything was back when they were teens and how the teens of today just don't get it.
posted by chavenet at 6:27 AM on January 8 [13 favorites]


The wheels on the bus go round and round.
posted by echocollate at 6:29 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


Using only the average tastes of teens (or of adults, for that matter) to determine what is best in contemporary music is a flawed strategy at best. Occasionally, you get the Beatles. But mostly you get Pat Boone.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:36 AM on January 8 [7 favorites]


"Poptimism was a school of music criticism and fandom that came of age in the early noughties:"
...and I've read enough
posted by thelonius at 6:37 AM on January 8 [13 favorites]


I think there's enough hatred of this generations music from the yoof as well. I mean, I read the youtube comments and every other one is like "I'm 15, and I wish I was born when the radio had music like THIS" (i.e. Hendrix, or Stones, or Depeche Mode or whatever)...
posted by symbioid at 6:39 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


Or are those angry old people trolling?
posted by symbioid at 6:40 AM on January 8


Either way, though, unless you are a teenager, if you’re commenting on this stuff, you’re ultimately reliant on memories of what it was like when you were in your teens. You’re projecting, in other words.

The music I liked in my teens was not produced by other teens, but by adults who were ultimately reliant on memories of what it was like when they were in their teens. Roger Waters was in his 30s when he started projecting "Teacher, leave those kids alone."

It would seem to me that most of what people call "teen culture" is produced by an army of adults and such product is fair game for criticism from other adults.
posted by three blind mice at 6:44 AM on January 8 [14 favorites]


That Horning piece is an awful lot of words to say simply that he doesn't much care for pop music or pop music fans.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:45 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]



X = Y / 104 = Z/ 107

Where:
X = The number of useful ideas published on this topic
Y = The number of unique ideas published on this topic
Z = The number of words published on this topic


 
posted by Herodios at 6:48 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I never understood why there must be opinions on what kind of music certain groups of people like.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:51 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


The core of poptimism seems to be a core of white men, approaching middle age, who think they've found the fountain of youth in championing top-40 pop while hoping no-one discovers the dirty secret that they once liked indie-rock and The Smiths. One one hand, this attitude is, as the linked article says, condescending towards actual teens. On the other, it's essentially a meek acceptance of market capitalism masquerading as Left radicalism. It champions reception while ignoring production and marketing and thus presents a thoroughly dishonest and naive picture of the way pop culture is actually created and mediated.

And let's not even mention the inability of Left-leaning poptimists to face up to the pervasive sexism and consumerism in the mainstream pop they've spent the last decade and a half relentlessly promoting.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:52 AM on January 8 [20 favorites]


Roger Waters was in his 30s when he started projecting "Teacher, leave those kids alone."

Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Lorde and Miley Cyrus all cut their first albums before the age of 18. There were definitely older people working on the albums, but the actual pop stars we're talking about here are kids, or were kids when they developed their followings.

Honest to god, bringing up Pink Floyd in this conversation about contemporary teenage girls' taste in music borders on parody.
posted by griphus at 6:55 AM on January 8 [13 favorites]


The amount of interest in "teen culture" is directly proportional to the amount of money that can be sucked out of their parents.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 6:55 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Did any of these cranky old people get criticized when they were youths for representing a decline in civilization? Did any of them think to themselves "I'm not gonna be one of those cranky old assholes"?

Either they have really poor memories or their parents loved everything the youth of their generation did. Or they remember, but are so cranky and old they feel like they have to insult younger people.
posted by ChuckRamone at 6:55 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I'm going to confess to being a poptimist. I've never liked listening Nirvana, but after all the furore about Miley Cyrus, was actually quite surprised that Wrecking Ball was actually ok.

What's more funny to me is how self important some of the linked pop critics are when talking about other pop critics they think are self important.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:57 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


> "I'm 15, and I wish I was born when the radio had music like THIS"

If there's a defining tone among teenage posts about music, I see a lot of anecdotal evidence that it's: "other teens these days are all shallow and vapid! I wish I'd been born in the 70s/80s/90s when real music existed!"

But hey, I would be posting the same thing if I were 15 now because when I was 15 I listened to really bad punk and appealed hardcore to my parents' taste w/r/t pop music. Not gonna judge.
posted by postcommunism at 6:57 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


(And, I mean, obviously bringing those artists up as examples of 'what teenage girls are listening to' by me, a 30-year-old-man, is the entire point of the FPP, so, hey, parody all around.)
posted by griphus at 6:57 AM on January 8


I never understood why there must be opinions on what kind of music certain groups of people like.

Have you heard the music of today? It's MEANINGLESS NOISE.

(Best read in Seinfield Voce)
posted by Mezentian at 6:59 AM on January 8


I'm reminded of a comic I saw once with somber-faced news anchors intoning "News Flash: Everything was better when you were 12 years old and coincidentally turned shitty when you were 21."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:59 AM on January 8


It champions reception

To be fair, I think poptimists would say they do not care about reception, they care about quality: expert songwriting and production that appeals to the widest group of people with catchiness and relatability, not necessarily chart position. I recently heard Rob Tannenbaum on AudioSpackle talk about why Backstreet Boys are better than NSync and while I don't necessarily agree with him, I did see what was compelling about that purely objectivist argument.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:59 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


The core of poptimism seems to be a core of white men, approaching middle age, who think they've found the fountain of youth in championing top-40 pop

I'm not sure it's worth rehashing what's now a pushing twenty year old debate—even older if you want go back to Paul Morley in his heyday—but this is a pretty uncharitable, even ignorant, characterization of the original idea.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:01 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


Wrecking Ball was actually ok.

Wrecking Ball is fucking FANTASTIC by even Rockist standards.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:01 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


Popjectivism.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:02 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


I opted out of the pop-culture-of-the-now thing and just marinated for twelve years in the filtered successes of the 60's, 70's, and 80's.

I would like to salute everyone who came before me, generating an opinion and consigning various artists to the discount bin so that I could just enjoy the best of what was while not having to sit through the various pieces that provided the inspiration for 'My achey brakey heart'.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:02 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


There's a passage (which I can't locate at the moment) in the Iliad where Homer basically says, "And then Perobolus, son of Peroboloumus,/died gloriously with a spear stabbing his liver./ Kids these days don't die gloriously in battle anymore/like they used to, and they don't respect their elders./Then Tarpocles, son of Ragamuffin, cut off/the arm of Deibluphus, son of [&c...]"

The names may not be entirely accurate.
posted by radicalawyer at 7:04 AM on January 8 [19 favorites]


This is why I make a point of not having a lawn.
posted by srboisvert at 7:05 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


As a cranky old person, I really doubt I'll ever stop being critical of teen music. It's impossible not to, because so much of that music appeals to teens' immaturity.

I can't listen to the music I used to love as a teen without cringing in shame. One example is Weezer's Pinkerton (and other emo stuff, which were dominant in teen music in my day, and were all very clearly marketed to teenagers). Pinkerton has some great catchy songs, but these days, I just can't listen to some guy whining about Asian girls and about how it's the end of the universe when something goes wrong for him, and how terribly lonely and longing he feels, alternating with feelings of deep sexual aggression. More than anything, it's the whiny nature of the whole thing. Teen pop and teen-oriented music whines and gets way dramatic.

Sure, tons of music is whiny and dramatic and emotional... but I feel like teen stuff is the most immature in that way. I liked that when I was 17 because that's teenagers- emotions all over the map, strong feelings, learning how to process the world around you.

"We are never ever getting back together?" Heh. Yeah you will.
posted by Old Man McKay at 7:08 AM on January 8 [6 favorites]


The names may not be entirely accurate.

It sounds like you are thinking of Nestor's exhortation early on in the poem. But you were supposed to misattribute this whole thing to "Plato says..."
posted by thelonius at 7:08 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


If you don't have a lawn, how can you ensure it is lush and green and well-tended? And of an appropriate length?

You just need to put a fence outside the lawn who damn children don't walk across is.
posted by Mezentian at 7:08 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


There's a passage (which I can't locate at the moment) in the Iliad where Homer basically says, "And then Perobolus, son of Peroboloumus,/died gloriously with a spear stabbing his liver./ Kids these days don't die gloriously in battle anymore/like they used to, and they don't respect their elders./Then Tarpocles, son of Ragamuffin, cut off/the arm of Deibluphus, son of [&c...]"

I think that's like, all of the middle of the Iliad. And that's where I stopped reading. If I wanted to just read long lists of names, I'd read the begats in the Bible or something.
posted by kmz at 7:08 AM on January 8


My musical tastes aren't particular monolithic, but I do really love a lot of music marketed to teenage girls. I like Miley Cyrus, and more Selena Gomez songs that I'll admit when I'm fully sober, and I fucking love almost everything Taylor Swift has ever done. I read a fair bit of what I think the author means by poptivism, but I don't really recognize the features being described. I don't see a kind of fetishization of the authenticity of teen's taste or even an assumption that the music is for or about teenagers; maybe it's happening, but I don't see it in the beanplating Taylor Swift song articles that I could read all day and night. Maybe I'm just reading in the wrong places, but I feel a fair number of 30 year old guys just actually love this music and want to talk about it. I'm also more in touch with the world of Taylor Swift fandom on this point, so maybe things are different elsewhere.

I think that's like, all of the middle of the Iliad. And that's where I stopped reading. If I wanted to just read long lists of names, I'd read the begats in the Bible or something.

You made it to the middle of Iliad before the list of names problem got to you? How did you make it through Book 2?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:11 AM on January 8 [7 favorites]


Occasionally, you get the Beatles. But mostly you get Pat Boone.

Actually it was the British Invasion that instantaneously ended the pop career of Pat Boone. Teen taste is mainly interesting because it is a fast-moving target, though not through simple fickleness as many older observers might like to think - which is kind of the point of this investigation.
posted by colie at 7:12 AM on January 8


I can see specific teenagers being useful indicators of What's Good, just like I can see specific barbers, or real estate agents, or tower crane operators being useful indicators of What's Good. The idea that any monolithic cohort is going to be useful in that fashion is bizarre to me.

Actually, this now reminds me of the late, lamented Cut The Crap Playlist. That shit was often tight, as the young people said, or possibly still say.

Ok maybe not real estate agents
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 7:15 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Appreciating the music of today requires a degree of neuroplasticity which I no longer possess.
posted by Jode at 7:15 AM on January 8 [6 favorites]


Anyway, the fact that someone thought the Greek youth sucked doesn't mean you lot are OK.
posted by thelonius at 7:17 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


And having looked at it, the Endless Window piece is less breathless than Horning, but its mourning for "alternative culture" and its assumption that there is nothing but pop music seems either affected or really out-of-touch given just how much and how many different kinds of music is available today. I don't think it's too wrong to say that there is more and more kinds of music available right now than ever before. Which makes worrying about pop pretty silly.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:19 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


not all teens like Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus, after all

Yeah, but -- the critics I know who are like this tend to love Taylor Swift (and Beyonce) and hate Miley Cyrus (and Katy Perry.) In other words, they are not weird teen-fetishizing "the kidzzzz dig it therefore I will beanplate it" dudes but rather critics like any other, who by means of extensive listening have learned something about the needs and functions of a certain style, and find some songs to be successes within that style, and others to be failures.
posted by escabeche at 7:19 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Lorde and Miley Cyrus all cut their first albums before the age of 18. There were definitely older people working on the albums, but the actual pop stars we're talking about here are kids, or were kids when they developed their followings.
But ignoring the fact that all of those artists relied on an overwhelmingly white, male, middle-aged content industry to produce and market their music also "borders on parody." Teen-targeted culture doesn't miraculously emerge from the ether, after all. Where would Lorde be, for instance, without her producer Joel Little? The same Joel Little who is, needless to say, a 30-something white guy trying to hide a shameful past in an early noughties punk band.
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:23 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


Anybody who thinks contemporary pop music is bad does not accurately recall, for instance, the nineteen-eighties.

However, as a person who has raised a teenaged child, kept a romantic relationship together for ~20 years, and cared for an elderly parent, I grit my teeth every time I hear Avril Lavigne sing, "Life's like this/that's the way it is." Attention whippersnappers: please take your valuable insights into the nature of life with you as you exit my lawn.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:35 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


The wheels on the bus go round and round.

And the painted ponies go up and down.

Anybody who thinks contemporary pop music is bad does not accurately recall, for instance, the nineteen-eighties.

I agree, and yet I'm constantly hearing that stuff in malls and restaurants, which puzzles me. In the 80s, they didn't play Frank Sinatra so ubiquitously, for example.
posted by Melismata at 7:39 AM on January 8


Yeah, but -- the critics I know who are like this tend to love Taylor Swift (and Beyonce) and hate Miley Cyrus (and Katy Perry.)

I agree that there's not much use in treating all of these people as the same just because their (theoretical) target market is the same. Taylor Swift is a pop star now, but she came up through country circles and you can hear it; her music is different from Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry. Those three are also wildly different ages. Miley Cyrus is 21, Taylor is 24, Katy Perry is 29. I've been those three ages in the last decade, and I would never treat three people at those points of life as a group.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:41 AM on January 8


really out-of-touch given just how much and how many different kinds of music is available today.

It's less the availability of culture and more it's place and standing in culture. I think they miss a large organized counterculture versus the disparate archipelagos music is today. Alternative music was a monolith, and that has been shattered or coopted into the mainstream.
posted by zabuni at 7:44 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Teen-targeted culture doesn't miraculously emerge from the ether, after all.

It doesn't, but the pop landscape is so different than it was even ten years ago that Pink Floyd's relevance to the conversation is roughly that of a particularly popular brand of carriage wheel in a thread about 2014's coolest cars: they are both round and attached to a moving vehicle, but that's about it.

How teenagers find out about music, how they get their hands on it, how they listen to it, how they express their enthusiasm for it, how they recommend it to their friends, and any other such aspect you can think of doesn't resemble what it was in 2003, never mind 1979.
posted by griphus at 7:44 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


The core of poptimism seems to be a core of white men, approaching middle age, who think they've found the fountain of youth in championing top-40 pop while hoping no-one discovers the dirty secret that they once liked indie-rock and The Smiths. One one hand, this attitude is, as the linked article says, condescending towards actual teens. On the other, it's essentially a meek acceptance of market capitalism masquerading as Left radicalism. It champions reception while ignoring production and marketing and thus presents a thoroughly dishonest and naive picture of the way pop culture is actually created and mediated.

And let's not even mention the inability of Left-leaning poptimists to face up to the pervasive sexism and consumerism in the mainstream pop they've spent the last decade and a half relentlessly promoting.


I wish I could favorite this a million times.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:51 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Especially before you develop an aesthetic, you like what you really like, and they just glow to you in this way and it’s beyond capitalism.

I find this interesting because I think it is a way of finding a vocabulary for something else.

A big reason music critics fall into traps like 'I love what teen girls love' is because they are incapable of, or allergic to, any kind of structural or formal music analysis, so they're always looking for something to say when they very occasionally get bored of writing breathless affirmations of rock performers' attitudes or lifestyles.

Unlike film critics, say, who might discuss aspects of movie direction in an upmarket newspaper review, a music critic will never lift the lid on any aspect of how music works - despite the fact that Katy Perry and her team have to do it every day at the office, surrounded by the technology and tools to do so.

So what the quote really means is 'before you've learned to vet all pop music for its cultural and symbolic appropriateness to your chosen lifestyle, you might hear things that tickle your ears in ways you can't define, and not be confused by it.'
posted by colie at 7:56 AM on January 8 [10 favorites]


90s Alternative Culture was a monolith like the 1960s Anti-war Movement was a monolith. In that it was a group of disparate cultures with some common goals swept together by the mainstream press and culture's obsession, often cracking under the pressure. Nowadays there just isn't enough money in music to have to forcibly centralize everything outside of top 40.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:57 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


The core of poptimism seems to be a core of white men, approaching middle age, who think they've found the fountain of youth in championing top-40 pop while hoping no-one discovers the dirty secret that they once liked indie-rock and The Smiths. One one hand, this attitude is, as the linked article says, condescending towards actual teens. On the other, it's essentially a meek acceptance of market capitalism masquerading as Left radicalism. It champions reception while ignoring production and marketing and thus presents a thoroughly dishonest and naive picture of the way pop culture is actually created and mediated.

Yeah, that, or payola.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:57 AM on January 8


It's funny because America doesn't have a youth culture, not really. The demographics are all wrong.
posted by The Whelk at 7:57 AM on January 8


It doesn't, but the pop landscape is so different than it was even ten years ago that Pink Floyd's relevance to the conversation is roughly that of a particularly popular brand of carriage wheel in a thread about 2014's coolest cars: they are both round and attached to a moving vehicle, but that's about it.
Well ... sure. OK. But the wider point wasn't the enduring relevance of Pink Floyd, but the degree to which "teen culture" is prefabricated by a cadre of creatives who are decades out of their teens themselves. Has this changed since the 70s? Is popular music really now some autochthonous, teen-produced thing that operates independent of the culture industry because of the internet?
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:59 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


'before you've learned to vet all pop music for its cultural and symbolic appropriateness to your chosen lifestyle, you might hear things that tickle your ears in ways you can't define, and not be confused by it.'

Great summary! This is essentially the basis of poptimism. And in some ways I agree with it. In others I might argue that this is like making "sweetness" the only criteria by which to judge food.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:00 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


It's funny because America doesn't have youth culture, not really. The demographics are all wrong.

It's not that the demographics are all wrong, it's that the demographics are all that's there. There's no "youth culture," there's just a "youth demographic" that all the dumptrucks back up towards.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:01 AM on January 8 [6 favorites]


but the degree to which "teen culture" is prefabricated by a cadre of creatives who are decades out of their teens themselves. Has this changed since the 70s?

Based on pop music-relevant Tumblr and YouTube participation alone: without a doubt. The vestiges of the moderated/curated "culture industry" -- the radio, MTV, music/teen idol magazines, record stores with limited selections that force you to buy an entire album for a hit song, etc. -- have (mostly) given way to much more participatory and granular form of appreciation and distribution.
posted by griphus at 8:06 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


In others I might argue that this is like making "sweetness" the only criteria by which to judge food.

If you replace sweetness with 'novelty' this would be closer to how pop evolves... but even the most novel styles then crystallise themselves into genres as their original fans age. 'Pop' is a process, not a thing.
posted by colie at 8:07 AM on January 8 [5 favorites]


The rookiemag piece was great, better than the framing Tom Hawking article.

I kind of expected Hawking to point out that "teen girl music" isn't actually music listened to exclusively by real life teen girls so much as a catch-all genre for female pop stars, regardless of their actual appeal. Kids at the shows aside, I'd be shocked to hear that no one outside of the 13-19-and-female range listens to a lot of Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga or Katy Perry singles. Heck, I had Wrecking Ball on repeat when it came out. It was great pop music.

The existence of "teen girl music" as a cultural bucket for a specific type of pop music is kind of bogus, so I feel like the 'TEEN GIRLS ARE SACRED AND WE MUST LISTEN TO EVERYTHING THEY SAY” meme' is a separate (though related) issue.
posted by postcommunism at 8:07 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Someone release the hounds on "eighties pop was bad." Uhhhhhh. Pop as we know it emerged from the 80's and there are a shit ton of timeless singles and albums from that era. Hair metal and shit, sure that sucked.
posted by lordaych at 8:14 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


appreciation and distribution.

Well the Top 40 side of the music industry is still "gate-keepered" mostly by oldie white guys in NY and LA, scouting talent, turning knobs and finding the money for stuff. They just have to hire a ton of smart barely ex-teenagers to manage their social meds these days instead of just getting their budding stars in tigerbeat or whatever. The making of the pop music is sadly still very much old school.

But there are exceptions, like Kitty [Pryde]: entirely self-made and extraordinarily aware of her own image making. She gives me hope. (Hiphoptimism?).
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:14 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


And you sure as shit did hear Sinatra in various random contexts during the 80's and 90's. Commercials and malls and all that.
posted by lordaych at 8:15 AM on January 8


If all these old farts writing about "millennials" isn't quite in the nose for you, there's a Chrome extension that changes every instance of the word to "pesky whipper-snappers". Enjoy.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 8:21 AM on January 8 [6 favorites]


Sonny Jim nailed it. There's a distinct dishonesty, or at least a cognitive dissonance to this.

I'm over fifty. Right now I'm listening to The National's Boxer CD. I'm not offering this as a proof that I listen to hip music for someone my age (if you can call The National hip, I don't know) but that if you live long enough and still have that burn to find new music, there's plenty of quality out there. You don't need to find the fountain of youth in some pablum that was mixed, cooked, and strained by major corporations for the nascent and fluctuating tastes of tweens. At least when I was twelve, no one tried to pass this off as anything other than product.

Sure there is an art and a craft to writing a perfect pop song. I appreciate a good hook. But the rockist in me still sneers at the lack of authenticity in anything that requires a half dozen songwriters and just as many producers. You can listen to and enjoy pop music all you want. My wife does all the time. But trying to attach some authenticity to what's pushed by the corporate taste-makers doesn't make you young again. Let the kids listen to what they want but don't try to attach some false gravitas to something that doesn't pass Sturgeon's Law.

Anybody who thinks contemporary pop music is bad does not accurately recall, for instance, the nineteen-eighties

In the 70s we had so many wretched pop singles. Try sampling the big hits of Bobby Goldsboro, Morris Albert, Starland Vocal Band, Paper Lace, Debby Boone, etc. Believe me, it wasn't all Pink Floyd and Zeppelin.
posted by Ber at 8:31 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


"Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers."

-Socrates
posted by nerdler at 8:34 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


This is why I make a point of not having a lawn.

You're lucky. These children keep dropping their bass all over mine and it's killing the grass.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:39 AM on January 8 [5 favorites]


trying to attach some authenticity to what's pushed by the corporate taste-makers

But it's usually pop (as opposed to rock, which is often proudly backwards-looking - there are whole genres of groups like The Strokes who actually try to sound like their music is old) that wrong-foots the corporate taste-makers. Only novelty is truly authentic in pop music. Everything else is affectation (and there is so, so much of it).

The corporations/pop svengalis latch on as fast as they can and would love to keep selling the same thing forever, but something new always trumps them. At least that is the narrative that pop lovers feed on.
posted by colie at 8:41 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


—Socrates
No.
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:42 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


Sonny Jim nailed it. There's a distinct dishonesty, or at least a cognitive dissonance to this.

Where's the dishonesty coming from? Do you think people are lying about finding authenticity or meaning or depth in pop music? If they're not lying, and they genuinely do find those things in pop music, then that's just as genuine as whatever you're getting out of the National. The fact that the music might start out as product doesn't mean that you have to treat it as such; the significance that listeners find in the music is legitimate, even if no one ever intended to put it there.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:43 AM on January 8


I have news for you kids and would-be kids. If you're lucky, you will get old too. The only way to prevent this is to die young, and then you'll get to be young and be hip and beautiful and marketable for all eternity. It's hard to enjoy that when you're dead, though.

Am I the only guy who remembers the creepy old dudes who would come into the record shop, chat up the clerks (usually the female ones) way too long and buy something "hip" with a desperate, approval-seeking gleam in their eye? Don't be the 21st century version of that guy.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:44 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


What's a record shop?
posted by postcommunism at 8:45 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


The core of poptimism seems to be a core of white men, approaching middle age, who think they've found the fountain of youth in championing top-40 pop while hoping no-one discovers the dirty secret that they once liked indie-rock and The Smiths.

Might as well attribute a fondness for pop to being a hipster. You'd say the same thing in fewer words. Which isn't to deny the possibility that some dudes might profess to like a pop song for precisely this reason or to deny that the music industry is still dominated by men, it's just that the statement says nothing at all about pop music or why people might like it. The pieces by Hawking, Myers, and Rookie Mag are better, more nuanced takes on the relationship between pop music and age.

Also, also, Christopher Bantick's "Another brick in the wall of Gen Y cultural decline" is a riot. My favorite sentence is "We'd rather get all teary with Leonard Cohen than concentrate, really concentrate, on Mahler," though I wonder if he just picked Mahler at random. Because if concentrating, really concentrating is the goal here, then maybe we should get some Webern, or Schoenberg, or Nono up in this bitch instead.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:46 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Oh god Mahler is so tedious, like Elgar, I'd take a thousand Katy Perrys anyday.
posted by The Whelk at 8:49 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Also, also, Christopher Bantick's "Another brick in the wall of Gen Y cultural decline" is a riot.

How is that article not called "FWD:FWD:Fwd::FWD>RE:FWD: Kid's Today!"
posted by griphus at 8:51 AM on January 8 [7 favorites]


I am innately suspicious of "progress"-based arguments, but I do think that the creation and marketing of pop music is one of those things where you can see progress happening when you look across a few decades. There is a shitload of money and time invested in the creation, production, marketing, etc. of popular music, far more today than in the past, and so it makes sense that the people doing it would get better over time.

The music industry isn't good at a lot of things, but the people involved in that industry are pretty good at what they do. And what they do is largely create/produce/market music that appeals to as many people (or at least to as many people within a specific demographic) as possible. So, yeah, you'd expect pop music to sound good, and be catchy and appealing, because it's designed to sound good and be catchy and appealing. There are a lot of people who invested a lot of time and effort into trying to do that. It would be surprising, given the resources involved, if it didn't.

There's still a fundamental question of whether the 'catchiness' and 'appealingness' of pop music makes it Good Music, for someone's particular definition of Good Music. I mean, a similar amount of effort is devoted to creating new snack food: when the guys in the secret lab at Frito-Lay Corp mix up the next version of Flamin' Hot Cheetos, they're basically trying to solve the same problem, for the sense of taste rather than hearing. And they seem to be pretty good at it too, what with the accusations that the things are basically crack on wheels if you're under 12. And why shouldn't they be good at it? They have millions of dollars at their disposal, they ought to be. But does that mean that Flamin' Hot Cheetos are Good Food? That's ... debatable. It depends on your whole aesthetic and approach to food.

And that's where I think 'poptimism' breaks down. It's a good counterpoint to obnoxious exclusivity-based musical hipsterdom ("mainstream music sucks and if you want to hear Good Music you have to go to this basement/loft/dungeon in Brooklyn/Queens/Kõrveküla"), but it can also come across as pretty shallow and uncritical, in the same way that someone constantly expounding on the sheer deliciousness of Cheetos or Little Debbie Snack Cakes would be. You don't have to disagree that they're delicious, in their own way, to also think that maybe eating them all the time isn't going to make you the person you want to be.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:53 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


Mahler is so tedious, like Elgar, I'd take a thousand Katy Perrys any day.

I like Katy, but she's no Clara Butt.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:57 AM on January 8


it's designed to sound good and be catchy and appealing. There are a lot of people who invested a lot of time and effort into trying to do that.

But the vast majority of them fail. They fail so hard, so often, and there are so many of them. Because 'catchy and appealing' is constantly mutating and it's fun to try and see if there's gold at the end of the rainbow and if not why not.
posted by colie at 8:58 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


See also this.
posted by freakazoid at 9:00 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


narrative

This is the key that unlocks the temple. Most criticism is concerned only with narrative rather than structure and analysis. Teens (sometimes) may be unaware of narrative, but that doesn't make their appreciation the Truth, anymore than a vast knowledge of narrative makes a critic able to parse what is or is not good about something objectively.

Because there is an object of music, beyond the clothes and product tie-ins, and if you understand music, you can say something real about it. What does "soaring" mean? What does "catchy" mean? What does "acoustic" mean? What does "blues" mean? What does "angular" mean? What does "reverb" mean? What does "the drop" mean? What does "booty-shaking" mean? What does "swing" mean? The best studies of music look into these questions, or at least keep them in mind when discussing new movements in the art.

People used to think Jazz was just uneducated black hipsters making shit up rather than a brilliant exploration of time and consciousness, as innovative as any Beethoven suite. I think we'll similarly giggle at all the gossip and projection loaded into current writing rock and pop alike.

To circle back to the point of the article, I think if you actually talk to teens of the current era, especially those who make or talk about music, you'll find they are way more attuned to the vast narrative of influence (because of Youtube, Spotify, Rare 45s blogs, endless miles of internet writing on history) than ever before. If they say "I don't give a shit about the past" it's not because they aren't aware of its accumulated weight pressing them into nostalgia or silence. And more power to them for moving beyond that anxiety.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:03 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


There is something craven and unseemly in celebrating the already successful, they don't need it.
posted by The Whelk at 9:03 AM on January 8 [8 favorites]


Critics complaining about poptimism means poptimists succeeded in getting their message out, that traditionally (critically) maligned genres of music are also worthy of (critical) appreciation. Poptimism doesn't exist in a vacuum, it's a response to a rockist music critic establishment that elevates certain kinds of music above certain other kinds of music.

The issue was never that pop music needed old, white men to champion it before it could find an audience. It was that it needed to championed by (old, white?) critics before it could find a place in the Critical Canon, which is how critics ensure that important music isn't forgotten in the march forward. Personally I'm in favor of keeping more (young, female?) artists out of the dustbin of history, especially if the alternative is Nth guitar band who know how to party hard and have a good time.
posted by subdee at 9:04 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


echocollate: The wheels on the bus go round and round

... is one of the most trite, simplistic songs I have ever had this misfortune of hearing. (OK, this isn't true, and there are a ton of much worse kids songs, and I probably know the lyrics to a few of them.)

Honest question: how many "songs by young people for young people" are written and/or produced at all by young people? It seems that there are rare cases where main-stream pop stuff is made by youth, like Lorde,, but even her songs were co-written and co-produced. Apparently Miley Cyrus co-wrote much of her 2008 album, Breakout, but how much of her material remained in the final versions?

Anyway, this is all to say that "music by and for teens" is shaped in large part by older folks, so it's not so strange that people in their 30s like the material. Sure, I cringe listening to the lyrics in Lorde's "Ribs" ("My mom and dad let me stay home ... You're the only friend I need \ Sharing beds like little kids \ Laughing 'til our ribs get tough \ But that will never be enough") as if I'm listening to a young kid's thoughts, but the music is so good. I feel a bit like griphus feels about Kitty (Pryde) - love the music, I'd feel totally weird seeing her live. A while back, I was playing Lorde's album while cleaning up my yard or something, and the high school girl next door yelled that she liked the song that was playing. I felt both hip and awkward (and happy that kids really do like Lorde, and it's not a bunch of oldsters trying to hold onto their youth, pogoing around or whatnot).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:13 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


I worry that, when I confess to Terry Gross in the future that the core inspiration for the runaway bestselling book that catapulted me into international literary celebrity status was blasting "Starships" by Nicki Minaj in my earphones and dancing wildly in my underpants in my room until my neurons danced me over to the typewriter with that inexplicable chemical rush of a mostly unwarranted belief that I should be shaking the stars instead of hugging the dirt, NPR listeners are going to think that I'm either being archly ironic or smugly hip instead of just liking the song because when she croons "starships are meant to fly," some small part of me thinks that I, too, am meant to do that that.

Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.
—Noël Coward
posted by sonascope at 9:41 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


Cheap music, like cheap drink, doesn't have the grace of something finer but gets the job done quickly enough.
posted by The Whelk at 9:49 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I feel a bit like griphus feels about Kitty (Pryde)...

To be fair, I also feel that way about Lorde. Pure Heroine is my favorite album of 2013, hands-down.
posted by griphus at 10:00 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Your value as a human does not depend on what music you like. Just like what you like. Don't over think things.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:00 AM on January 8


This thread reminded me of the number of teenagers I've seen lately sporting Nirvana T-Shirts. And also Iron Maiden, of all things. They have pretty diverse tastes, and some of that has to be because teenagers today have more access to more music than I ever did, instantly, with no money required.

Also I'm not sure but I am detecting a trace of people equating top-40 pop with teenagers, and I think that's not really the case. Top-40 pop is liked by pretty much all age groups, not specifically teenagers, and plays everywhere, including quietly on office radios where there are no teenagers in sight. I'm pretty sure the music teenagers listen to that other age groups don't is not going to be top-40 for a few years until whatever musical trend they're watching on Youtube has been thoroughly cataloged and reverse-engineered by major labels.
posted by Hoopo at 10:08 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


It’s a narrative as old as culture itself

To be fair, sometimes it is absolutely correct.

(And it is not necessarily confined to the white, or the male, or even to the old.)
posted by IndigoJones at 10:11 AM on January 8


octobersurprise: "My favorite sentence is "We'd rather get all teary with Leonard Cohen than concentrate, really concentrate, on Mahler," though I wonder if he just picked Mahler at random."

This sentence jumped out at me and I had to go and read Bantick's piece because, by bizarre coincidence, I literally listened to both of them today. I couldn't see any obvious binary opposition (I mean, the poems Mahler set in Kindertotenlieder are pretty weepy) and I thought I might learn something.

And I did — the article is one of the best satires of a fogeyish aspiring cultural snob that I've ever read. My only criticism is that the author rather over-eggs the pudding at the end by placing their "Bentick" character at a "boys' Anglican grammar school", but right up until then, it's horribly, hilariously plausible.

I'm still laughing at "Does Lou Reed compare with Segovia? It's a no-brainer."
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 10:11 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I sort of feel like if you hear any album a hundred times, you'll start to enjoy it. Has anyone actually tried doing this with an album they disliked?
posted by yaymukund at 10:18 AM on January 8


Most criticism is concerned only with narrative rather than structure and analysis. [...] Because there is an object of music, beyond the clothes and product tie-ins, and if you understand music, you can say something real about it.

Sure, but the problem isn't just having a critical narrative at all — since, anyhow, it's impossible to do criticism without having a historical and theoretical framework within which to see an individual work — it's that so many bad writers have such crappy, impoverished, blinkered narratives. (And especially the way that the word "popular" seems to be used as a token of avoidance of thinking about the culture industry and its marketing in favor of an easy fan-populist posture.) It's not the idea that there's a bigger picture to look at that's to blame here, it's the limited and false bigger pictures that the music is being slotted into, the manufactured generation-gap nonsense and authenticity-of-youth pose that keep standing in for any kind of serious social-economic thought about how cultural consumption and production work these days.
posted by RogerB at 10:22 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I feel like the 'TEEN GIRLS ARE SACRED AND WE MUST LISTEN TO EVERYTHING THEY SAY” meme' is a separate (though related) issue.

Yeah, absolutely, and also in the larger sense that it's ridiculous that there seems to be little in the way of a middle ground between that and "EVERYTHING TEEN GIRLS THINK OR DO IS PATHETIC AND STUPID AND WORTHY OF OUR MOST SCATHING DERISION".
posted by elizardbits at 10:23 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


I dunno. I still have that burn to find music that's new (or new to me) that makes me think, as John Peel (possibly Socrates) said, "I'm glad I lived long enough to hear that.", even as I edge dangerously close to the bottom of that Top 50 Chart of life. And I most certainly love good pop music - a hook with energy and light and joy and not a thought in its pretty little head? No immunity.

But as you get older, you see how it's done. You see the stuff that's built to formula, expensively and with no risk left taken, and it's so blasted boring. When you're twelve - whenever you were twelve - there was stuff like that and it was impressive the first time. Formulas work, after all. Yet you chow down through that and there's no bone, no gristle, no odd little flavours. Which is fun, when you're twelve, and always will be for anyone who's twelve.

When you're thirteen, though, you notice other stuff. Of course, I think my formative musical years were golden - reggae and ska begat Two Tone, pub rock begat punk, Kraftwerk and cheap electronics begat synthpop and New Romantics, psychedelic and disco begat baggy and electronica... and now and again, something like Are "Friends" Electric or O Superman made it to the top (or almost) of the charts sounding like Nothing. On. Earth. And I live for that Nothing. On. Earth. moment, although now I'm more likely to find it in the 16th century or somewhere out along the silk road.

I hope that everyone of every generation gets the music their ears enjoy. For people like me, I hope there are always Nothing. On. Earth. moments in their culture at just the right time: in my young life with two pop music radio channels and three TV channels total, the Top 40 had to be the main conduit. Now it doesn't, and there's no point in pretending it should, even if that's a bit of a shame.

(However: autotune can get the hell off my lawn any time in the next nanosecond...)
posted by Devonian at 10:24 AM on January 8 [7 favorites]


YES to this post. How many times have I seen people who criticise pop music accused, by men and women long past their teenage years, of dismissing the projects and concerns of real, actual teenage girls -- basically, of speaking out of turn? It's a defence that's false both in fact and in spirit, because teenage girls are really not even close to being a single entity with a single position on the art that's marketed to them, and even if they were, the idea that they would have any special authority on such things comes across like a kind of aesthetic mysticism, as if enlightenment could be reached by submitting to the teachings of a group of chosen ones -- in this case, innocents. Of course it's misguided and essentially self-serving, like all bad religion.

Relatedly, I think, I'd like critics, professional and amateur, to be more careful than they sometimes have been about identifying genres of music with groups of people, and of erasing the distinction between not liking those genres and not liking those people. (Though I admit to having more complicated feelings about that sometimes, especially when it comes to race.) For example, it's unfair of critics like Jody Rosen*, who's mentioned a few times in the linked articles, to imply that people who prefer old-fashioned r&b or country to their contemporary incarnations simply have a problem with young people and new music, while totally glossing over the massive transformations those genres have undergone in the last decades. And it probably backfires. When aesthetic opinions are defended on political grounds, people who probably really just dislike Taylor Swift's music, or her persona, switch to trumping up accusations that she's seriously harming teenage girls by not being a feminist or maybe possibly suggesting virginity is more important than it is or pitting girls who wear t-shirts and short skirts against each other. It's all too much.


* I find Jody Rosen supremely irritating (in spite of, or maybe because of, liking a lot of the same music), but in response to Rookie's call-out of his profile of Taylor Swift, I'm pretty sure he was given that assignment because of his notorious adoration of her music. I found that entire article pretty off-base, actually; it seems to be saying almost the opposite of what the other pieces are. It rightly recommends that grown men who condescend to teenage girls fuck right off, but basically buys in to the idea of teenage girls as a speaking-for-themselves, more-knowledgeable-than-you-think, but monolithic force, rather than asserting that teenage girls are individual participants in critical discourse like everybody else.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 10:30 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


...little in the way of a middle ground...

"Now, we know that those town square pillories we had you in were rather uncomfortable, so we built you this precarious pedestal on which to balance. You're welcome."
posted by griphus at 10:32 AM on January 8


It’s a sort of creepy offshoot of poptimism, one that starts from an unrealistically monolithic view of teen culture

Actually, it is a dead-on realistic view of modern teen culture since the 1960's. Music is monolithic and record labels have done a fantastic job of recycling and repackaging the same old tripe for years.

With Auto-Tune, the singer doesn't even have to carry that tune in a hand basket; so talent never need be a factor. You have your marketing people present an act's "story" so audiences can "relate" to the group or singer as those acts don flamboyant costumes and carry a certain "attitude."

The same scouts for the same record labels pick the acts who all got the same training. The same producers, mixers and songwriters use the same formulas to churn out the same sound because every industry has its own bible.

You are then selling the same sound to the same kind of audience: naive and musically untrained consumers with limited life experience who rely on the same sources to tell them what is in fashion to listen to this season.

Oh, and their brains have not fully developed. They may take the same music lessons from the same schools who use the same systems to teach, but it all boils down to the fact that it doesn't matter if you like Cyrus, Perry, Germanotta, or one of the lesser-known models, you are still listening to the same machine because they all had to dutifully follow the same scripts to gain an audience and all cribbed their acts from the previously successful acts.

Your musical tastes can only be as good as the acts that are available for consumption.

And teens, who are desperate to feign individuality as they are equally desperate to belong in a group and want an easy, no-brainier way to establish an image find the scam alluring. It is also an acceptable form of elitism as you dismiss people who prefer some other band over the one you like as if there was a difference.

The old white guys got it right: somewhere in the back of their minds they realize their illusions of having a clue was just a mirage but now they have the life experience to see it.

That's what makes them bitter: they've wasted their lives on trivialities thinking it made them superior and refined and now they realize they were just dorks like everybody else.

The only mistake they are making is not laughing about the absurdity of it all. Modern musical taste is comedy. It is just cheap and disposable filler when the developing teenage brain needs a jolt and it does not have any witty friends handy.

But you got to admit the music industry is pretty deft at making the same old tune sound different...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:07 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


There is often good reason why older folks might have opinions on "new music the kids are into these days". I remember being a teen in the 90s how all the reviewers and articles would refer to these "old" bands when discussing the new music of the time, and how it either didn't stack up or was really derivative. Back then there wasn't an easy way for us to look into these older bands if we didn't have money and a good record store nearby, which is true for a lot of kids. It was easy to dismiss as "some old hipster know-it-all that doesn't understand how revolutionary grunge/90s punk/what-have-you is, man!"

Then later you hear the Stooges and MC5 and you're like "oh"
posted by Hoopo at 11:07 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


The Whelk: Cheap music, like cheap drink, doesn't have the grace of something finer but gets the job done quickly enough.

Except cheap music, unlike cheap wine, can convey a truth or urgency lacking in more polished, refined music.

DIY4EVA

(Unless we're talking about wine, then you should at least learn how to filter out whatever grit, dirt or unnamed material that somehow got into your bottle of otherwise mildly tasty home-made wine.)
posted by filthy light thief at 11:11 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


At the risk of coming off as a stereotypically pompous and self-congratulatory MeFite, this thread constitutes the most thoughtful and insightful analysis of contemporary pop music I have ever read. Good work, people.
posted by Scientist at 11:19 AM on January 8


Alexandra Kitty, are you being serious? Your post has no grasp of how the music industry works and seems to be completely unhistorical in its analysis of popular music as well. To take one example:

With Auto-Tune, the singer doesn't even have to carry that tune in a hand basket; so talent never need be a factor.


Unlike the old 'bel canto' singing, pop singing - going back as far Elvis at least - is not about 'carrying a tune', it's about communicating a mood and an atmosphere within the inflections and rhythms of speech, adding spontaneously conceived vocalisations like screams, interruptions, yelps and gasps, designed to convey excitement (usually sexual). Nobody has cared about 'carrying a tune' since Bob Dylan.

From the early 60s on, recording studios looked for ways to 'thicken' the sound of vocals (almost all Beatles songs are double-tracked) and Auto-Tune is just another variation on that. And most vocal megastars - Beyonce, Britney Spears, Miley, Taylor, Adele - have been singing in public since they were kids.
posted by colie at 11:49 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]


Have you heard the music of today? It's MEANINGLESS NOISE.

Turn this around and you get your average industrial elitist. "Have you heard the music of today? It's not meaningless noise! It's shit!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:58 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


With Auto-Tune, the singer doesn't even have to carry that tune in a hand basket; so talent never need be a factor

I don't mean to nitpick, but I really wish this sentiment would go away. Almost every record released lately--and certainly any major-label release--has had some amount of pitch and/or timing manipulation. It doesn't mean the "performer" isn't talented or can't "sing," for whatever singing is actually worth. Pitch correction is a tool in a producer's toolbox (one that can be abused, e.g. Michael Buble, the modern Nashville sound, etc.) that can enhance a performance.

And to belittle the songwriters and producers who create the sound of modern pop--which, whether you want to believe it or not, can be tremendously exciting--by suggesting that they're recycling or working from "a bible" is disrespectful, at the least. For every cheap piece of derivative schlock--and there are plenty--there was a spark that lit the fuse. Not every producer is an innovator, but to suggest that the sounds the innovators are crafting are "the same old tune" is disingenuous at best, and maybe willfully ignorant.

Also, I really love me some Ke$ha.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:59 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


And also Iron Maiden, of all things.

Say...what's that supposed to mean? Up The Irons!
posted by MikeMc at 12:07 PM on January 8


Except cheap music, unlike cheap wine, can convey a truth or urgency lacking in more polished, refined music.

Cheap wine can definitely convey truth if you have enough of it.
posted by The Whelk at 12:20 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


It doesn't mean the "performer" isn't talented or can't "sing,

Even if it did mean that, I don't get the criticism. I'm listening to music, not judging a singing contest. I want to listen to the most enjoyable music, not the music from the most objectively "talented" person.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:24 PM on January 8 [3 favorites]


Where would Lorde be, for instance, without her producer Joel Little? The same Joel Little who is, needless to say, a 30-something white guy trying to hide a shameful past in an early noughties punk band.

Actually that sounds like a perfect recipe for pop genius - seeing as it's so similar to Max Martin's past.

Max Martin is probably the world's top pop songwriter (he gave Britney 'Baby one more time' and also co-wrote Taylor's recent hits as well as most of Katy Perry's hits), but he used to be the frontman of a Swedish Hair Metal outfit called 'It's Alive'.
posted by colie at 12:58 PM on January 8


Say...what's that supposed to mean? Up The Irons!

Nothing beyond the fact it was completely out of left field for me. I had no idea they had enduring appeal to kids and just sort of assumed their fan base would be aging.
posted by Hoopo at 1:00 PM on January 8


"I'm 15, and I wish I was born when the radio had music like THIS"

I remember that exact same sentiment stated when I was 15 in 1979. "What's all this bullshit [disco|punk|new-wave|pop] garbage? I want to hear Jimi or Zep or Sabbath. Lets hear something that rocks".
posted by octothorpe at 1:13 PM on January 8


I'm pretty sure every high school in America has at least ten kids who run around complaining about music and acting like they discovered Zeppelin. They still existed in 1998 and I can't imagine they'll ever go away.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:29 PM on January 8


Sure there is an art and a craft to writing a perfect pop song. I appreciate a good hook. But the rockist in me still sneers at the lack of authenticity in anything that requires a half dozen songwriters and just as many producers.

What's remarkable about this attitude to pop music is that it isn't applied to any other kind of popular entertainment. No one sneers at movies, or tv shows because they have multiple writers or producers. No one sneers at players in an orchestra for being bit parts in a performance of music written by somebody else. Yet pop music is somehow "inauthentic" because it isn't the product of some guy and his guitar. (Never mind the fact that very little "rock" music is, or ever was, such an auteurist production itself.)

That's what makes them bitter: they've wasted their lives on trivialities thinking it made them superior and refined and now they realize they were just dorks like everybody else.

It isn't clear to me who's bitter in this scenario. Could you cover that part again?
posted by octobersurprise at 1:38 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I had no idea they had enduring appeal to kids and just sort of assumed their fan base would be aging.

I hung out with a lot of metalheads in high school ('98-'02) and also worked in a punk shop that carried metal t-shirts. Maiden is probably at the top of my list for "most consistently appreciated metal band."
posted by griphus at 1:39 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


(Or at least it's a photo finish with pre-Load Metallica.)
posted by griphus at 1:47 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I mean, say what you want about the music of Iron Maiden, at least it's an aesthetic.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:15 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos: I'm pretty sure every high school in America has at least ten kids who run around complaining about music and acting like they discovered Zeppelin. They still existed in 1998 and I can't imagine they'll ever go away.

They're called defeners, and according to urbandictionary it's a relatively new term for this phenomenon that's been around forever:

Someone who has a really strong opinion about something, believing that their opinion is the only right one.

The most common type of defener listens to nothing but classic rock, thinking modern music is the worst thing to happen to the world since the Holocaust. Defeners will often say that they feel like they were born in the wrong generation.


When I was a teenager I listened to a pretty large mixture of music, between hardcore punk like Minor Threat, to newer (but still old at the time) punk stuff like Saves the Day, to death metal, to "indie" bands and a bunch of stuff in between. At most moments throughout high school I was listening to music that my friends were all making, going to shows they were playing, and seeing bands from out-of-state play those shows. We were all teenagers and even though I wasn't one of the people making music I would say that 90% of the music I listened to were by people who were my age, and a large majority of it wasn't pop. Maybe that's different though, because I grew up in a major music scene, and it's a big part of who I am even to this day.

The pop stuff I listened to, like early Death Cab, or The Fiery Furnaces, or The Postal Service, or M83 or any of the other intro-to-indie bands that people in 2003/2004 began listening to appealed to me in music quality and diversity but not in lyricism so much (although I like a lot of Death Cab's early stuff) and I don't think age really ever mattered. Who cares if a 16-year-old is listening to a 30-year-old, or even a 50-year-old? Is it really so bad that someone in their teens listens to Bowie, who was just as pop and produced as anyone in the modern era? When I was a teenager I liked listening to soft music and I liked listening to hard music. Ian Mackaye was my hero and as an angry teenager I liked what he had to say, especially since he was roughly my age when he was in Minor Threat and Embrace. Ditto with Chris Conley when he did the first two Saves the Day albums. Ditto with a lot of punk bands. Hell, I even looked up to the guitarist of A Flock of Seagulls, because he was 17 when he wrote the lead guitar line for Space Age Love Song, which has influenced my guitar playing as a 24-year-old so much. When I was 17 I wanted to shred and play insane sweep solos like all my friends did, but also write really catchy pop songs.

I think there's a major difference that people are getting mixed up with here. A large expanse of pop music doesn't require a bunch of songwriters and producers to create a song. Maybe if you're listening to radio top-40 stuff, sure, but there is so much pop music out there that is literally someone in a bedroom dinking around with Ableton. I mean, geeze, look at Toro y Moi. I doubt you're going to see many producer and songwriting credits on his three albums. He's 27, but there are definitely teenagers listening to his stuff.

I really wouldn't worry about teen culture (I hate when people put that in quotations as if it's insignificant), they're doing fine.
posted by gucci mane at 2:18 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I can't listen to the music I used to love as a teen without cringing in shame

This is because you're a victim of teen music engineering and marketing, which began in the early 70s and was totally in place by the late 70s. That was when the term 'corporate rock' appeared, and it's why Top-40 from before is still fresh and popular (tune in any oldies station) and it's also why the mediocre pop music from after is all unlistenable rubbish (which is all thankfully forgotten and discarded now, just a few years after its release).
posted by Rash at 2:23 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Sassy
posted by 3.2.3 at 2:42 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Maiden is probably at the top of my list for "most consistently appreciated metal band."
(Or at least it's a photo finish with pre-Load Metallica.)


Kinda bummed Motörhead wasn't the other one. They have much cooler t-shirts than Metallica anyway
posted by Hoopo at 3:05 PM on January 8


I always thought of myself as one of those born-in-the-wrong-time people, partly because I was a radio drama freak, a Beatles nut, a psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadolooper for Parliament/Funkadelic, and was totally gay for my favorite variety of Belgian post-Kraftwerk pop music in which the voices were sometimes real, except for the inconvenient truth that I was (and continue to be) absolutely manically devoted to Steve Miller, which pretty much makes me at least mostly of my time and region, if slightly less atrocious than a fan of, say, Foreigner.

I'm comfortable enough with the music of my teen years, though I enjoy some of it now as high camp and some of it is still fine music, but is hard to listen to today because I'm just not as angry or alienated as I was when "Would We Be Alive?" was virtually my theme song, along with glum anthems from Tones On Tail or histrionics from Soft Cell. It's the fluffier stuff I listen to more frequently, because the frothy fun and slick production (from the powerhouse studio team of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis) of "What Have You Done For Me Lately" reminds me of the joy of dancing with Marines until dawn at the now-defunct Frat House in DC in 1986, and the production is still tight and sharp.

We're all sick to death of autotune, and it'll fade, at least until it's sardonically revived in thirty years, but in the eighties, it was drum machines with the swing set to zero and everything gated and god, that fucking stupid electronic handclap was everywhere. In the nineties, aaaaaugh, that omnipresent goddamn guitar blaaarch and the whining, world-weary vocals from fresh twenty-somethings. Every era has its tics, trends, fads, and overused sounds. In the seventies, stoned session players wookaa-wookaa'd the shit out of their Cry Babies, and in the eighties, everyone had to use the Emulator II shakuhachi sample or the Fairlight CMI "ORCH5" sound to justify having dropped an insane shitload of money on those instruments.

Every era that's come and gone since we've had art in the age of mechanical reproduction has produced great big mounds of chaff along with the good stuff, and the passage of time is the only wind that can reliably sort it all out.
posted by sonascope at 3:15 PM on January 8


As I have gotten older, the whole idea of what music I listen to being part of my identity has disappeared. In my late teens and most of my twenties, I was heavily into goth/industrial stuff and mostly avoided pop, country, etc.

But for whatever reason, now the idea that I have to have some sort of coherent music preferences or identity seems ridiculous. So this week I have listened to Bauhaus, Taylor Swift, Sheep on Drugs, 2NE1, AKB48, Johnny Cash, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, The Police, Sisters of Mercy, etc (looking at my play history). I tend to just pick up whatever sounds good to me at the time.

And I'll freely admit that I know almost nothing about music and don't have any critical understanding of what I listen to, and don't really have any particular desire/time to worry about/develop that part of myself.

But there _was_ a time when I really cared about What I Like and What Other People Like and all that, so I do get it...
posted by wildcrdj at 3:17 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]


Guys, I was the kid in High School who really liked Bing Crosby. I am just now figuring out what was halfway decent in the mid 90s. Music became atemporal the instant it was able to be recorded.
posted by The Whelk at 3:21 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]


I loved Bing Crosby then, too, albeit with a little augmentation. I, I, I loved the guy.
posted by sonascope at 3:38 PM on January 8


Kinda bummed Motörhead wasn't the other one.

You'll be relieved to know they were just under those two.
posted by griphus at 3:55 PM on January 8


Music became atemporal the instant it was able to be recorded.

And yet it also become temporal at the same temp.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:10 PM on January 8


Shut up and listen

These are hard times. There used to be gatekeepers. Now that they're largely gone, we can hear everything. Take for example the music of the 50s and 60s. HUGE amounts of dregs produced, and that's always been true of recorded music (and novels, and movies...)

Now we're relying on each other for curation, and most of us are not very good at it yet. Shut up and listen 10 times, then wait for a couple of weeks, then listen again. Still good? THEN talk.
posted by Twang at 4:40 PM on January 8


I sort of feel like if you hear any album a hundred times, you'll start to enjoy it. Has anyone actually tried doing this with an album they disliked?

Music critic Carl Wilson sort-of tries this in his book about Celine Dion.

If I examine anything closely enough, I begin to appreciate the details and patterns, and if maybe I don't quite love it, at least I don't hate it so much anymore. The New Yorker has had many reviews and profiles of contemporary pop confections which are quite interesting (but they almost try too hard to be hip with the kids sometimes).
posted by ovvl at 4:49 PM on January 8


" the whole idea of what music I listen to being part of my identity has disappeared."

I thought the same but even at 45 it still crops up. When Jeff Hanneman died of necrotizing fasciitis my first thought was "That's a really fucking metal way to die.".

And I'll freely admit that I know almost nothing about music and don't have any critical understanding of what I listen to, and don't really have any particular desire/time to worry about/develop that part of myself.

There's no point to it. You like what you like and who cares what critics think anyway?
posted by MikeMc at 4:56 PM on January 8


That first link is really painful to read. I'm pretty thoroughly musically educated, and an enormous fan of classical music, and still it makes me cringe with its snobbery and dismissal of everything that carries even a whiff of pop culture. It really does seem like satire, but I would guess the author is completely sincere.

And yet, I'm pretty bothered by the response, which makes the exact same assumptions the "cultural decline" guy made: that classical music with its complexity and historical baggage is elitist, that only white people with money and education can appreciate it. The difference between the two authors' opinions is whether or not we should listen to Beethoven to aspire to be like old rich white people.

Surely I'm not the only one that finds the implication that poor young non-white people are incapable of finding classical music interesting or relevant to be...a bit patronizing? And undermining the work of people who really love classical music and who have been trying for YEARS to come up with ways to make it more desirable to those who've never considered it.

In any case there's been a powerful trend in pop music toward timbral complexity, stylistic complexity, etc. with less emphasis on melody and harmonic inventiveness, which would rank pretty high on the list of things a classical music dilettante values. Hence the disappearance of singable tunes, etc. seems like the evaporation of music itself. But that's true about contemporary concert music and experimental music as well.

The snubbing of classical music in an argument over culture and artistic validity in pop music is kind of like Republicans and Democrats arguing over who has the real mandate while Socialists look on from the sidelines.
posted by daisystomper at 5:33 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


sort of feel like if you hear any album a hundred times, you'll start to enjoy it. Has anyone actually tried doing this with an album they disliked?

Not exactly, but when they started playing the living crap out of Sweet Child O' Mine on the radio, I remember saying "this is a pretty OK rock-ballad thing, but I bet in 20 years for some reason it'll be a beloved classic."

Took a couple of months, and god knows how many repetitions, but I started really liking it too when it came on the radio, and of course, now, I'm pretty sure it's something like a beloved classic.
posted by hap_hazard at 5:59 PM on January 8


  I grit my teeth every time I hear Avril Lavigne sing, "Life's like this/that's the way it is."

Because it was said so much more eloquently in the 1960s, of course …
posted by scruss at 6:01 PM on January 8


I sort of feel like if you hear any album a hundred times, you'll start to enjoy it. Has anyone actually tried doing this with an album they disliked?

Through exposure I've learned to like kinds of music I didn't think I liked at first, country music for one, opera for another. OTOH, I've heard The Wall off and on for the last 30 years or so and I still hate it as much as I did the first time.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:28 PM on January 8


when they started playing the living crap out of Sweet Child O' Mine on the radio, I remember saying "this is a pretty OK rock-ballad thing, but I bet in 20 years for some reason it'll be a beloved classic

I was at a wedding a couple of years ago and they had a harp player come and do the musical accompaniment to the ceremony. At one point while everyone was getting seated, I heard something very familiar and it took me a minute but eventually it occred to me she was playing Sweet Child O Mine solo on a harp. It actually translates really well to be honest.
posted by Hoopo at 8:06 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I actually got hit by that same harp later in the wedding, not many people can make that claim. They're big and it hurt, I don't recommend.
posted by Hoopo at 8:07 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]


Most young people these days don't just "like" a certain kind of music; more and more they are led to like something at a pace that's faster than prior generations. This trend will accelerate; marketing to teens is almost a science. This isn't to say that what teens like isn't worthwhile - rather, it's to say that any time the great big marketing machine in the sky finds something that works, teens will flock to it, en masse

That said, there is a huge counterweight to the rapid changes in flocking behavior by teens - i.e. the Internet. Thus, more diversity in this flocking behavior. Thus, even more acceleration. Access to "the new" is itself the trend, and has been for a while. It's just that the appearance of the "new" is far more frequent than it used to be. This isn't good or bad - it just is. In a way, Rosenberg's "Tradition of the New" - written a a critique of the art world, still holds in general culture.
posted by Vibrissae at 9:20 PM on January 8


I've heard The Wall off and on for the last 30 years or so and I still hate it as much as I did the first time.

Even the sad little chord change at the beginning of Goodbye Blue Sky?
posted by ovvl at 10:18 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


The only difference from past incidences of this behaviour is that nowadays pop music and teen culture really is vapid and shallow and appalling. It's just purest coincidence that this has happened at time when I happen to be a grumpy old man.
posted by Decani at 11:58 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


One problem with poptimism is that, in its stridently anti-critical stance, it tends to shade into smarm.
posted by acb at 11:06 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]


« Older Has creating life sucked the life out of you? Soun...  |  A new pointless diagram drawn ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments