“I was wrong to say that I didn’t like the Beyoncé album"
October 6, 2015 5:32 PM   Subscribe

The Pernicious Rise of Poptimisim, by Saul Austerlitz.
posted by grobstein (101 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Haven't we been having this discussion for a few years now?" she thought, scanning for the article byline.

And there is was: APRIL 4, 2014.

"Oh well that explains it," she thought.
posted by subdee at 5:39 PM on October 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Which isn't to say the author's points are invalid, but trend pieces about "the rise of" whatever do lose their freshness.
posted by subdee at 5:40 PM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd expect more like 2004, though. "Poptimism" feels like a very dated word at this point - a righteous backlash at the time, but these days "rockism" (perhaps an even more cringeworthy word) is so hopelessly unfashionable that the default is to think pop music is an equally worthy genre of music, it's no longer some sort of contrarian stance.
posted by goodnight to the rock n roll era at 5:46 PM on October 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm sure this is not at all a new thing or anything, but more and more lately I'm actively angry at what's going on in the Indie scene while simultaneously catching myself humming along with pop hits. I think it's just a really nice time for pop music, and a really dull time for the usual critical darling genres.
posted by Sara C. at 5:47 PM on October 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


(Eponysterical, I suppose.)
posted by goodnight to the rock n roll era at 5:47 PM on October 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


That's what I'm saying - we've already had the backlash, and the backlash against the backlash, and the too-late trend pieces about the backlash against the backlash...
posted by subdee at 5:48 PM on October 6, 2015


Poptimism doesn't mean "what's popular is automatically good," but the opposite. Poptimism means taking pop seriously enough to divide it into successes and failures. Poptimism means pop should be poptimized.
posted by escabeche at 5:50 PM on October 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


This is a very good time for (US American) pop music... I think the record companies realizing they were losing ears to foreign hits on Youtube, the re-rise of community radio stations with more diverse playlists, and billboard changing their system to take"album equivalent units" into account all had a hand in making 2015 a much less dire year for top 40 radio than say 2012... (though even then the RnB charts, for instance, were having a pretty good year).
posted by subdee at 5:53 PM on October 6, 2015


The Billboard changes makes a huge difference BTW... per cradle of 'poptimism' ILX, "The Weeknd retains the #1 spot based entirely on streaming and "album equivalent units." He sold 77,000 CDs, while the metal band Five Finger Death Punch sold 114,000 (which puts them at the top of a separate chart)".
posted by subdee at 5:59 PM on October 6, 2015


Middle-aged dudes acting like their approval of Taylor Swift is what makes her relevant. Poptimism.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:02 PM on October 6, 2015 [46 favorites]


LMAO. Accurate!
posted by subdee at 6:05 PM on October 6, 2015


Pop, rap and country are the only genres I've gotten excited about in the last ten years. Oh, and some electronic music. Rock........ IS DEAD. *dun dun dunnnn*
posted by easter queen at 6:10 PM on October 6, 2015


Rock is dead they say?(Nobody gets the reference). Ok goodnight
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:18 PM on October 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Middle-aged dudes acting like their approval of Taylor Swift is what makes her relevant. Poptimism.

Pish and tush. Music criticism is navel-gazey in the extreme - that is, it's about itself, the people who consume it, and what those people consume. In this realm, Taylor Swift only matters as a subject of conversation; her real world influence on music, the industry, and teen girls is only useful as spice. As the article notes, what critics say about Taylor Swift doesn't matter because her relevance comes from selling records and tickets. What matters to critics is what they say about each other when one of them admits to disliking Taylor Swift.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:32 PM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've not really paid much attention to this discussion or debate or whatever it is, so I found this piece interesting. I've noticed the rise of poptimism, but honestly, pop music is just so much better than it's been in years, and like others are saying, indie rock is SO BORING right now. I keep endeavoring to find new indie rock I like (because I don't want to be that person who hits her mid-thirties and stops listening to new music) but everything I'm finding just sounds so samey to me right now (which granted, may be a part of the aforementioned being-in-my-thirties).

I think that what the NYTimes piece calls "identity politics" definitely plays a role. I went to high school in the mid-90s, and at the time, it was Not Cool among my group of "alternative" (white) kids to be into hip-hop. It was all about punk, indie, ska, etc. Basically, (now, after intensive appropriation) white music. Which is such a damn shame, because the 90s were such an amazing era for pop hip hop. "Underground hip hop" and the Beastie Boys were ok - basically, music made by white people or popular with white college kids. So: Tribe Called Quest = cool. Tupac = not cool. Totally insane. I had grown up listening to rap, but by the time I was 16, I was treating it as a guilty pleasure.

So honestly, it seems like even if "popism" has gone "too far," it's just an important part of rebalancing those scales a bit.
posted by lunasol at 6:52 PM on October 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


Or you could just be the person who likes Rhianna and Guantanamo Baywatch and treats them equally respectfully when analyzing their music as music. Music as a recorded product doesn't give a shit how many units it sold or what the video looked like. There is enough to say about it as is without importing a bunch of useless baggage about whether you're supposed to like it or something. Leave that shit for the NYTstyle section yall this is the internet we got work to do.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:04 PM on October 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


yeah, sometime in my early twenties, I came upon my last truly useful musical epiphany -- that there's only two kinds, good and bad, and my mission in life should be to try to find and share the former. Speaking of which, Journey suck.
posted by philip-random at 7:19 PM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


that there's only two kinds, good and bad

That's funny, because my big revelation was that the Two Types were: 1) Music that I enjoy, and 2) Music that I do not enjoy. The linked piece brought me around to how vanishingly small a role music journalism has played in this whole scheme, for me, of late.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 7:22 PM on October 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


I agree that it's outdated, but I think the point stands. There's an American reticence to judge anything that's populist for fear of being deemed elitist. And contrary to the writer in the article, I think the point totally stands for other forms of art, especially film. Our critics are afraid of judging works for their aspirations, which means there's no popular counter-voice, and so so American artists are funnelled toward making work that's adheres to the "poptimism," or populism standards. Some work is made as artistic expression, but a lot is product. I don't understand the failure to acknowledge that...
posted by vecchio at 7:30 PM on October 6, 2015


lunasol, I've been describing this very dilemma as "Why does all Indie music sound like Ace Of Base now?" So no you're not alone AT ALL.

Re the 90s hip hop thing, what makes me sad about what you describe is that, now, I understand in hindsight that all that music was so, so great. I mean, I listened to some hip hop because it was in the atmosphere, and I kind of rolled my eyes at it (I was over in the corner aping Gwen Stefani's look and writing Op Ivy lyrics on my backpack), but 15 odd years later I have the same nostalgia for it as I would have if I'd been a serious fan.

If I've learned any lessons about popular music in my life, I've learned to seek out what is good, not what genres I perceive as being My Kind Of People.
posted by Sara C. at 7:50 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


To my ear, there are objectively Good and objectively Bad things in pop music, but it's not the music, it's the production. That horrible, brickwalled, compressed within an inch of its life, every frequency maximized extruded pop music product. Imagine if Rhianna had the chance to breathe, or use dynamics, against instrumentation with some musicality to it. That's what drives me buggy about dance music and radio hits.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:16 PM on October 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


That horrible, brickwalled, compressed within an inch of its life, every frequency maximized extruded pop music product.

Hold My Liquor is one of my favorite songs of all time. Apples and Oranges I guess.
posted by an animate objects at 8:29 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, forgive me, but...why do we need professional music critics to tell us whether rock is better than pop, or vice versa?

If a critic likes and understands pop music as a category, then their opinions about specific pop albums might be useful to readers who similarly like and understand pop music. Likewise for rock. But I'm not sure what ranking genres against each other is supposed to accomplish, except possibly establishing one's cultural superiority.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:50 PM on October 6, 2015


establishing one's cultural superiority

What is it you think people are doing when they listen to music?
posted by escabeche at 8:52 PM on October 6, 2015


So why is music criticism more or less alone in this affectation?

…it isn't? The faux-demotic posture of opposition to "elitism," the rejection of any and all aesthetic judgement as snobbery, the unreflective equation of corporate mass culture with authentic popular culture, are all radically ascendant in every sphere of art and culture.
posted by RogerB at 8:59 PM on October 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yourfavoritebandsuckstimism.
posted by blucevalo at 9:07 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


The only purpose of music journalism is to make you aware of artists, who you then decide wheteher to likeor not, Basing your opinion on anything other than your own listening experience is to cave in to some jagoff's agenda.
posted by jonmc at 9:11 PM on October 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


The terms "poptimism" and "rockism" still have the power to set my teeth on edge now, just as they did when I first heard them probably six or seven years ago. Seriously, this is not a new conversation. I honestly cannot imagine any person who called themselves a poptimist who I would not want to immediately be seen hit by a truck. It just sounds obnoxious. And making the love of rock music over into something worthy of stigmatization just blithely ignores that we're all really in the same gang, drawing on a shared ocean of influences, and frankly thinking that music began in 2004 with Outkast or something is just as dumb as thinking it ended with disco in 1975. There is no One True Genre. What is this, high school? Stuff like this is the worst.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:34 PM on October 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


That horrible, brickwalled, compressed within an inch of its life, every frequency maximized extruded pop music product. Imagine if Rhianna had the chance to breathe, or use dynamics, against instrumentation with some musicality to it.

See the craft of production is one of the main things I've come to respect about pop music. Of course that's a result of becoming a hobbyist electronic musician. And it shouldn't be taken to suggest that it's all good.
posted by atoxyl at 9:58 PM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I liked the jagoffs' agendas. I miss the jagoffs' agendas. I liked thinking about music as much as I liked listening to it. I wanted to read about it. I wanted to draw charts and graphs explaining it. I wanted to eat it. I wanted to wear it to bed. That gradually changed, but wow, was it a huge part of my life for a while.
posted by ducky l'orange at 10:06 PM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: That gradually changed, but wow, was it a huge part of my life for a while
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:32 PM on October 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


That horrible, brickwalled, compressed within an inch of its life, every frequency maximized extruded pop music product.

And the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate
posted by happyroach at 10:42 PM on October 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


OK, the argument that current pop is not terrible is blowing my mind. Articles bemoaning beat-poaching, the merging of pop and dance music into a uniform genre, the overuse of compression and Autotune, and the lack of songwriter diversity had me assuming most current pop is terrible. I actually like a lot of current pop, so I just figured my enjoyment was borne of my tin ear, lack of musicality, and quasi-scientific arguments like "humans prefer songs with the BPM of the average human heartbeat."

Is this not the case? That is a serious question. Can someone with background in music and musical theory explain all the good stuff about current pop? I welcome the idea that my musical taste is not actually total crap.
posted by schroedinger at 11:34 PM on October 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Imagine if Rhianna had the chance to breathe, or use dynamics, against instrumentation with some musicality to it.

At the risk of sounding rockist, her vocals and the overall production on the collaboration with Paul McCartney and Kanye West seem to be this.
posted by colie at 11:36 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is this not the case? That is a serious question. Can someone with background in music and musical theory explain all the good stuff about current pop?

Owen Pallett has written articles doing almost precisely this about Lady Gaga, Daft Punk, and Katy Perry (sorry, they're in reverse chron order).
posted by en forme de poire at 12:22 AM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm on my phone, so I can't post a link, but the Switched On Pop podcast is good for that as well.
posted by pxe2000 at 3:31 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I liked uncool stuff before it was cool.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:35 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


HEADLINE NEWS

SELF-DESCRIBED SERIOUS MUSIC CRITIC HATES POP MUSIC
posted by duffell at 4:08 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Disliking Taylor Swift or Beyoncé is not just to proffer a musical opinion, but to reveal potential proof of bias.

I would find this hyperbolic if I hadn't actually seen people say this with complete sincerity.

That said, I kind of understand how "if you don't like this, then you must be ____" music zealotry can happen. In high school, I thought people did not like Metallica only because of self-denial and weak-minded conformism. It comes from a belief in universal intrinsic value in music.
posted by ignignokt at 4:29 AM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I still fully believe both of those things at least up to but not necessarily including the black album.

I believe there are a large complex periodic table's worth of musical elements that go into making up a recorded song as a product. Each element has a different atomic weight making it more or less great. Pop and rock are made up of different elements so analyzing them takes different tools, but a measure, however indistinct, does emerge from the process.

This is popjectivism.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:25 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


The beauty of those iPods and Spotify playlists is you can completely ignore the kinds of music you don't like. Likewise, the proliferation of music-related websites allow you to also ignore any articles about the kinds of music you don't like. In other words, it's not the 1960s anymore. You're not stuck with the one AM station or the one newspaper and you're free to have your music (and music crticism) tailored specifically to what you like.

It works for this old, white, rockist dude.
posted by tommasz at 5:43 AM on October 7, 2015


Most of the artists in the article are ones that you could make a perfectly good case for being thoughtful and assiduous artists who are in control of their musical choices: Beyonce, Swift, Lorde, Gaga (Iconapop and Robin Thicke are in there as one-hit wonders really). I like pop music but I'd rather read a deconstruction of the real landfill stuff like Jason Derulo or Ariana Grande or Pitbull or Meghan Trainor.
posted by colie at 6:04 AM on October 7, 2015


That was far too many words to basically say that critics ought to seek out deserving music instead of just confirming popular opinion. At least I think that was what he was saying, I fell asleep a couple of times in the middle.

But ugh, I have so much hate for that ugly word "Poptimism." I've become exhausted by these constant attempts to make new cutesy words by smushing together old boring words. I'm suffering portmanteauverload.
posted by xigxag at 6:22 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Haven't we been having this discussion for a few years now?"

Yes, since about 1984. At which time Mr. Austerlitz was probably eating Froot Loops and watching Thundercats or something. Props to the NYT, tho, for giving a man the chance to live out his youthful dreams of writing for the NME.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:23 AM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is a very good time for (US American) pop music...

Counterpoint: pop turned bad when grunge faded away, and it's been getting worse by leaps and bounds. I hate it unconditionally, and Taylor Swift in particular makes me want to set off an EMP or something.
posted by Foosnark at 6:27 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Counterpoint: pop turned bad when grunge faded away, and it's been getting worse by leaps and bounds.

Counter-counterpoint: music turned bad when the Ars Nova replaced the Ars Antiqua and it's been getting worse by leaps and bounds.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:35 AM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


"An estimable critic writing for National Review, after seeing Presley writhe his way through one of Ed Sullivan's shows … suggested that future entertainers would have to wrestle with live octopuses in order to entertain a mass American audience. The Beatles don't in fact do this, but how one wishes they did! And how this one wishes the octopus would win… The Beatles are not merely awful; I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are god awful. They are so unbelievably horribly, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music, even as the imposter popes went down in history as 'anti-popes.'" — Boston Globe, 13 September 1964
posted by blucevalo at 6:41 AM on October 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


I thought Dan Bejar's comments on this stuff in a Pitchfork interview earlier this year were pretty honest, and, minus some of the pretentious stuff about 'my gaze' and 'my poem', they echo some of my weariness with the idea that good members of the culture have to adore Top 40.

Pitchfork: It actually seems somewhat radical to reject that postmodern idea of liking all types of music now.

DB: Yeah, and I don't want to take a bunch of heat for that! And I don't think it really counts if I feel that way because it's too natural for some dude in his 40s who's putting out album number 10 to lament that everyone likes everything. If I was in my 20s, I would just be like, “Whatever, you're an old crank who likes Van Morrison.”

But I can't be alone in rejecting that idea; it does seem like a played-out way of being. It's a way more complicated argument than I'm going to ever give it credit for, but surely some people are getting sick of basking in production moves and pop craft and producer culture. I hardly like any of it, though I'm sure that there are merits to lots of it. But my gaze needs to meet other things, and I can't be thinking about that shit.

Pitchfork: So you’re not listening to Taylor Swift in your downtime.

DB: Not too much. But, because I have a young daughter who's in school now, I had this sneaking suspicion that Taylor Swift might be the dominant cultural theme of her generation and that I should listen to a song by her because I had never heard one. This was a couple of months ago. So I checked it out, and it gave me the willies. It wasn’t a reactionary thing. It was more from just hearing these hack nu-country melodies with dumb lyrics and some very advanced Pro-Tools production techniques that could dazzle certain music critics. I’m familiar with the fact that people who I count as intelligent are really into this woman's records, and I don't want to make this about Taylor Swift. I just generally have a more elemental take on things and I can't hold up Taylor Swift as being either a figure of light or a figure of darkness because I feel like it brings down my poem to a level that’s too mundane. [laughs] So instead of being flabbergasted or outraged or dismissive, I really just want to pretend that those things don’t exist. Maybe I've always done a little bit of that, but I'm really steering into it now.

...some small part of me thinks that it must be possible to address concerns that aren't specific to teenagers in music and have it be good.
posted by Beardman at 7:01 AM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm on my phone, so I can't post a link, but the Switched On Pop podcast is good for that as well.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:31 AM on October 7


Even if I only ever listen to this episode analyzing how Taylor Swift has evolved over the course of her career, I would be eternally in your debt for this.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:17 AM on October 7, 2015


The idea that anyone has to adore Top 40 is one I certainly take exception to, but I don't know that there's anything especially cool about deliberately ignoring popular music, either. On all sides, I get the sense that some lovers of music think it's awesome that now -- when it has never been easier to hear every kind of music, every genre, from stuff recorded a hundred years ago to something a kid did with one vocal and a computer this morning -- they can create a virtual echo chamber where they can hear absolutely nothing but the music that reinforces their own established tastes. How boring!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:17 AM on October 7, 2015


It's not boring to me.

The drama of youth and sexual awakening and self-actuallization are amazing subjects for art, but other things matter quite a bit too. I'm entering the phase of life where self-reported happiness drops off considerably, where youthful exuberance gives way to middle-aged uncertainty, and I'm going to seek out art that speaks to those concerns and gives me a sense of meaning and continuity in my life.
posted by ducky l'orange at 7:21 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd expect more like 2004, though. "Poptimism" feels like a very dated word at this point . . .

Totally. The new word for 2015 is Popetimism.
posted by The Bellman at 7:23 AM on October 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


...and I'm going to seek out art that speaks to those concerns and gives me a sense of meaning and continuity in my life.

Enjoy your Pink Floyd, pops. Just put Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here on auto-repeat, and you're set. ;-)
posted by happyroach at 7:33 AM on October 7, 2015


I thought Dan Bejar's comments on this stuff in a Pitchfork interview earlier this year were pretty honest

The space between Dan Bejar and Taylor Swift, both successful singer-songwriters, is pretty small, tho. Swift has a bigger label behind her, but it isn't as if Bejar's cranking out records in his basement. That Swift works in a subgenre of pop that harks back to Madonna and disco and also echoes the female vocalists of the pre-rock era, while Bejar works in a subgenre that harks back to Dylan and Van Morrison seems to be the biggest difference between the two. One uses more guitars and the other fewer. And "drum machines have no soul" isn't a very new cavil at all.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:37 AM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Enjoy your Pink Floyd, pops. Just put Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here on auto-repeat, and you're set. ;-)

Whoa! Tell me how you feel, Happyroach :)
posted by ducky l'orange at 7:48 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm old enough now that if I like anything - more accurately, if people my age like anything - it pretty much stops being culturally relevant.

These days, what I find is that there is so much music out there - of all kinds - that it is hard to wade through it all and find stuff that I like. There are literally thousands of Internet radio stations, and zillions of songs on YouTube and subscription play services - how to pick? Modern radio won't help, as they usually narrowcast to a small genre/demographic and have millions of commercials.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 8:09 AM on October 7, 2015


Actually, come to think of it, has anybody noticed how incredibly gendered this conversation is?

Of course it's always women who come in for criticism: Taylor Swift is called out as the face of vapid music, Rhianna is overproduced, etc.. We don't see Kanye being criticized for being vapid, or Justin Timberlake for being overproduced.

Seriously, is this REALLY a problem with Pop we're talking about? Or a problem of "women performers are getting too popular again"?
posted by happyroach at 8:19 AM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


We don't see Kanye being criticized for being vapid

Kanye is criticized as being vapid and pretentious well-night constantly - remember that whole Jimmy Kimmel / KKK thing? And he'll be trebly so if he actually goes and tries to run for President. He's really not the go-to example you want to use here. There’s a gender aspect to everything, so it would be silly to pretend that it isn’t a factor - but I'm not convinced that it’s the dominant element of complaints about pop.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:01 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Where did you criticize Kanye West in this thread? Where was any male pop star criticized in this thread?

(Leaving aside the fact that the dominant narrative of Kante in metafilter threads is he's a brilliant artist...)

More importantly, look at the original article- aside from one desultory comment on Justin Beaver, ALL the artists called out for criticism were women, and all the past artists that were lauded were men.

It honestly doesn't take much analysis here to note that the real problem is women, not the music. And that's born out repeatedly in the metafilter threads about female artists.
posted by happyroach at 9:28 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Young 16 yrs old punk rock me (actually a fan of music across all genre lines so long aa it was AGRESSIVE) would be fairly sickened to know how many Backstreet Boys and N*SYNC and Britney Spears songs I've absorbed the lyrics to and feel fondly about when they show up in a movie or someone drops em on a jukebox, but I think it's pointless to quibble over authenticity* or whatever when, separated by a couple decadesn the context in which so much of this stuff was created just blurs away.

*I mean there is a time and place where authenticity matters and that's when you're in an outsider group watching your art get sanitized and co-opted, thinking about two different generations of vogue/ballroom artists as an example, thinking about the early bluesmen and rocknrollers who had to go to Europe to make a living cuz they were too black for Ameeica, thinking about the UK dubstep nerds who watched the rise of brostep, Skrillex, and EDM festival culture.

I'm fairly musically omnivorous but nothing compared to my dad. He's so past the point of caring about cool or uncool or manufactured or indie, he'll listen to whatever catches his fancy. I'll get in the car and the soundtrack will be Sun Ra and Bruno Mars, Meghan Trainor and Curtis Mayfield, The Velvet Underground and Ludacris and Patti Smith and Kanye West and fucking G. Love and Special Sauce (which, sorry Dad, but... no).

But that's only until you get to the music from his youth. He'll still get heated if I'm listening to Sam Sham & The Pharaohs or The Monkeys on an even playing field with The Animals or The Kinks. Because the 16 yr old in him is sickened. Because 16 yr olds are by default unpopular outsiders, which I get, but music writers should really be able to get over it.
posted by elr at 9:35 AM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


UGH THIS THREAD. You can love Bjork and early Tegan & Sara and St. Vincent and fucking PJ Harvey and not like Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey and Beyonce and Iggy Azalea.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:59 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can't seem to find this Tweet anymore but I saw this posted the other day and it made me laugh:

"Taylor Swift is the cilantro of pop music. If i say I don't like it, someone will inevitably pop up to tell me it's because there's something wrong with me."
posted by Space Coyote at 10:47 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


And what the author of the original article was deriding was sentiments like “If you don’t like the new Beyoncé album, re-evaluate what you want out of music" which points towards a conformist pop monoculture. Do any among us think such a cultural state of affairs is a good thing?
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:02 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


See the craft of production is one of the main things I've come to respect about pop music.

Here's an incredibly detailed breakdown of the superb engineering/mixing of Call Me Maybe, which features five tracks devoted entirely to the kick drum alone plus a further nineteen drum tracks.
posted by colie at 11:02 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


It honestly doesn't take much analysis here to note that the real problem is women, not the music.

I remember similar arguments about whether only rock snobs could dislike FutureSex/LoveSounds, but maybe the terms of those arguments were less nasty.

I guess I think that Taylor Swift being the target of these complaints right now is overdetermined. Sexism suffices to make her a target (e.g. I remember a skin-crawling Slate Culture Gabfest episode where Stephen Metcalf inveighed against her so harshly that the two female hosts were momentarily shocked into silence). But even if sexism were totally factored out, wouldn't she still stand in for pop in general in this debate, precisely because 1989 was the top-selling album of the last year? It seems like if people are going to have the commercial vs. indie conversation at all, they couldn't have it without talking about her, any more than you could talk about pop in 1982 without talking about MJ.

But that's obviously counterfactual. Sam Smith sold a lot of albums last year and he's not mentioned in the article...
posted by Beardman at 11:03 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


That article is so fucking weird. "My tastes are ignored and everyone loves shit!" is not music criticism, it's a cry for help.

OK, the argument that current pop is not terrible is blowing my mind. Articles bemoaning beat-poaching, the merging of pop and dance music into a uniform genre, the overuse of compression and Autotune, and the lack of songwriter diversity had me assuming most current pop is terrible.

All the things you're describing are types of convergence, but it doesn't mean it's a race to the bottom. Sometimes the cream rises. Sia's a huge pop star and she's a legitimate fucking artist... who writes songs for other pop stars. Taylor Swift and The Weeknd and Ed Sheeran go to the same wells again and again because that's what works; we should totally laud experimentation but that doesn't mean we have to love what falls flat. (I happen to think that "4-5 Seconds" is a blight on the careers of all three participants--whom I otherwise like--and that Dan Bejar's songs are the ones I'm most likely to skip on a given New Pornos album. Try listening to some pop music, dude! Your lyrics don't have to be embarrassing!)

Pop is the MOR for a reason; more "challenging" (sigh) music will resonate with people differently, otherwise having tastes has no meaning. I don't feel bad that I don't "get" Fetty Wap or that other people find Of Monsters & Men too precious, because it's just impossible to take everything in.
posted by psoas at 11:03 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


maybe the bad piece of the puzzle is the continued existence of the idea of the rock critic as explainer of "serious" and "important" music
posted by thelonius at 11:45 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


The only benefit I see to any of these music critics or review sites is when a video or song for an artist that I am not familiar with is linked to and I can go check them out for myself and see if I like them. I like the end of the year lists for that reason. Reviews themselves I can not stand to read. I like what I like and I learned long ago that I should not care what other people think about what I choose to listen to.

I actually have fallen in love with those music choice channels on cable tv because they just play constant music and I can flip between them and I keep finding new things I like. I have trouble listening to the radio because most local stations are so bad that you can listen for a few hours and hear the same song several times and I can not help but mute the radio or television every time a commercial comes on so it is more trouble than it is worth, especially when driving.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 12:03 PM on October 7, 2015


I'm reading this in a fry shop on st marks. Appropriately enough the stereo just started playing "I love Rock and Roll"
posted by jonmc at 12:10 PM on October 7, 2015


Here's an incredibly detailed breakdown of the superb engineering/mixing of Call Me Maybe, which features five tracks devoted entirely to the kick drum alone plus a further nineteen drum tracks.

Already read it :) Note that this is the same Dave Ogilvie who was a member of Skinny Puppy!

Like how Ken Andrews of Failure mixed the most recent Paramore album, a job he got by winning a blind audition against bigger names if I remember right.
posted by atoxyl at 12:49 PM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


The only benefit I see to any of these music critics or review sites is when a video or song for an artist that I am not familiar with is linked to and I can go check them out for myself and see if I like them.

Let me suggest that you aren't actually the target of music criticism. Which is fine, I should add, but if you don't care what people say about music and a good listicle will get the job done, it doesn't seem like you should care about the state of the discourse. (Me, I like navel-gazing.)
posted by Going To Maine at 1:01 PM on October 7, 2015


But that's obviously counterfactual. Sam Smith sold a lot of albums last year and he's not mentioned in the article...

The thing is, it's not just Taylor Swift- one could make a case for talking about Swift simply because she's at the top right now. But when the original article pretty much ONLY criticized women pop stars? When it ONLY listed men as worthy of being listened to? When the metafilter thread goes a hundred posts before bring up a list of "good"women pop stars? Come on, just try to justify that.

And hum. Let's look at that list of "acceptable" women artists:

Bjork and early Tegan & Sara and St. Vincent and fucking PJ Harvey

Hmmmmm......

Which immediately raises the question of whether there's an "acceptable role" for women musicians. Maybe Taylor Swift and Rhianna are too aggressive and active to be proper female pop stars? Maybe they're a little too threatening or too openly sexual? Are Taylor Swift and company too oriented to younger women and not enough to older men?

It's just interesting to the conversation here, which is all "Harrumph! Harrumph! It's not about sexism its about pop!" with the confederation I'm seeing on another, women dominated list, where there's a lot of "I am so done with the sexist New York Times!".
posted by happyroach at 1:05 PM on October 7, 2015


Is that conversation about the same article? Because I'd find that in itself surprising, given that this article is from 2014. So I'd assume y'all are clocking onto something else as well.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:10 PM on October 7, 2015


Poptimism is not not actually populism - only some top sellers are also critical/media darlings. I find the de rigeur outpourings of enthusiasm over certain performers weird myself - it seems like a desperate last gasp of the idea that popular music is supposed to somehow bind us all together culturally and commercially. But even though I sometimes think it is odd who gets seized upon as Today's Important Artist I think most critics I still read tend to discuss everything from the most popular music to the fairly obscure and that's what the anti-rockist people were getting at in the first place, to treat every kind of music as worth discussing.
posted by atoxyl at 1:23 PM on October 7, 2015


Taylor Swift is too aggressive compared to PJ Harvey? I must be mis-understanding you. Too openly sexual compared to PJ Harvey? I must be mis-understanding you.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:26 PM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Taylor Swift is too aggressive compared to PJ Harvey? I must be mis-understanding you. Too openly sexual compared to PJ Harvey? I must be mis-understanding you.

I was about to make exactly that comment though maybe it's because T. Swift is more positive about her sexuality?

but point on the "it's sexist" side would be to compare Swift to The Weeknd - these days both are co-writing with Max Martin but it doesn't seem to be a knock on Abel Tesfaye's Artist status. That seems a better comparison than, say, Sam Smith, who is one of those pop stars who sells really well but gets at best a mixed critical response and doesn't really seem to be "cool" to listen to. He doesn't get much backlash because there's not much front-lash.
posted by atoxyl at 1:35 PM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean I'm pretty sure it is sexist I don't think that's the only thing going on but it is
posted by atoxyl at 1:36 PM on October 7, 2015


I find the de rigeur outpourings of enthusiasm over certain performers weird myself

I agree but there's a contradiction at the centre of pop that intrigues me, and that I think the Poptimism thing maybe was about, which is: obviously pop music is just a hustle, just an attempt to make a bit of cash and get yourself a different life to the boredom of a normal job, and that applies to both Max Martin's latest Maroon 5 production as well as The Beatles in 1962.

So you can approach the whole enterprise with justified cynicism. But at the same time there's an innate romanticism: this stuff feels ecstatic (and/or melancholic) in ways that we all experience but can't define sometimes. Additionally, if you simply take apart what sells big to try and find musical interest, you are automatically upvoting your fellow humans' tastes, which feels friendly, and deeper examination then often reveals interesting things beneath the surface of critically derided pop or rock that has sold millions (be it Call Me Baby, or closer to my own experience, Elton John or Queen or Abba) that have bypassed established critics and 'taste'.
posted by colie at 1:47 PM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I screwed up the Ken Andrews Paramore link - there was a Sound On Sound article about that one too which is what I meant to post.
posted by atoxyl at 1:49 PM on October 7, 2015


This is a profoundly stupid article. It's profoundly stupid because it ignores that the revolution of poptimism wasn't saying that you had to like Beyonce, but that many received, ossified criticisms of e.g. Beyonce were total bullshit without any actual basis aside from white dude dicktalk and bias toward other white dudes. You don't have to like Beyonce, but you can't slag her for "not writing her own songs," or using samples or keyboards, etc. because while those might be your idiosyncratic opinions, they're pretty bullshit and shallow and should hold no weight for other people. Instead, talking about things that resonate with you or things that don't, lines that work within their own idioms or don't, and where Beyonce fits into the current landscape — those are all legit topics. No one says you can't like Led Zep — it's that saying Led Zep is the greatest band ever is bullshit too often passed off as objective opinion by people with encyclopedic but boring taste. There's nothing wrong with liking a song because it's good to dance to even though it has dumb lyrics, and there's nothing wrong with liking a single that you know you'll never return to five years from now. Good poptimist criticism is honest about those things.

Where poptimism breaks down for me is that it tends toward the hyperbolic language of BEST EVAR, that it doesn't recognize that there's a cost to listening to anything even if you get it for free (listening to two songs simultaneously is really hard), and the lingering habit of music critics to spend too much time describing what a band looks like and not enough what it sounds like or why that sound is something worth hearing.

"Music criticism is navel-gazey in the extreme - that is, it's about itself, the people who consume it, and what those people consume. In this realm, Taylor Swift only matters as a subject of conversation; her real world influence on music, the industry, and teen girls is only useful as spice. As the article notes, what critics say about Taylor Swift doesn't matter because her relevance comes from selling records and tickets. What matters to critics is what they say about each other when one of them admits to disliking Taylor Swift."

Aww, bullshit. Good music criticism is good cultural criticism — it allows you to hear music you've already heard in new ways or talks about what resonates with people who like or dislike it. Taylor Swift isn't just an object of relevance because of her position between critics, Taylor Swift (and every popular artist) is relevant because a lot of people like her and any time a lot of people like something, asking why they like it shows something about the broader culture. I like Taylor Swift's music OK, but I don't have any real attachment to it. But some people find that it resonates really deeply with their experience — why do they like it? What do they get out of it? That's interesting because it's both significant in popularity (number of people liking it) and because (due to her primary audience) it's exploring the feelings of a group of people who have generally been dismissed as shallow, unserious and unworthy of consideration (teenage girls). I think The National is boring as shit, and can pretty much tell why people like it with only a cursory listen — great, more earnest stories from a midtempo band about young, drunk white men New Jersey with a strong background of literary continuity. Taylor Swift, and the machine behind her, at least makes songs that are fun to listen to rather than self-serious plods.

I remember years ago taking an audio production class, and some dude was ragging on a couple of girls who had just seen Britney Spears (her first comeback attempt) — he was deep into the "She doesn't even write her own songs, and she doesn't even sing — she lip syncs!" One of the girls looked at him and said, "We know that she lip syncs and we don't care. With the way she dances and changes costume, we get a better show than if she was singing live."

You can dislike Taylor Swift all you want. But if you dislike her because of dumb reasons, that means you have a dumb opinion that no one should be obligated to listen to. If you dislike her for interesting reasons that don't devolve into "She's a young woman and they're dumb," then that can be both poptimism and worthwhile criticism.
posted by klangklangston at 2:03 PM on October 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


Most of the arguments I've seen in favour of poptimism ultimately break down into two categories.
One: "Well, X artist has sold X million records. Who are you to criticise peoples' taste? Which is to say: market fundamentalism; or:
Two: "You don't like current pop music? LOL U OLD!" Which is to say: pop shaming.

The focus on mere consumption, the absolute refusal to talk in aesthetic terms (mentioned by RogerB above) or, heaven forbid, even consider the huge marketing and production budgets that constitute pop and their role in constructing taste are really telling in this regard. The hipster's disavowal of indie and their embrace of Poptimism is the sound of the opposition ceasing to oppose. Because pop is essentially neoliberalism in MP3 format. Listening to people passionately championing one pop star or another can sound really perplexing if you're tuned into this frequency, like watching someone get really passionate about Tony Blair. The message of pop is: there is no alternative. We decide what people like, because we control the airwaves and the means of production. Get used to it. Submit.

But this all feels really belated somehow. Pop won the battle some time ago. But I do have to admit, the protracted end zone celebrations of the victors are really starting to grate.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:20 PM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Aww, bullshit. Good music criticism is good cultural criticism — it allows you to hear music you've already heard in new ways or talks about what resonates with people who like or dislike it.

My cynical response to this is that I think of most cultural criticism -good or bad- as essentially navel-gazing.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:39 PM on October 7, 2015


"Most of the arguments I've seen in favour of poptimism ultimately break down into two categories.
One: "Well, X artist has sold X million records. Who are you to criticise peoples' taste? Which is to say: market fundamentalism; or:
Two: "You don't like current pop music? LOL U OLD!" Which is to say: pop shaming.
"

"Pop shaming"? Seriously?

The first argument: Artist X has sold millions of records. There must be something that millions of people find compelling about their work, even if I don't personally enjoy it. What would that be?

The second argument: You don't like pop music? Why? Because it's a) current pop music, b) it's ephemeral or novel, c) it appeals to a demographic you're not a part of? A) You're old — you just aren't very likely to have much of interest to say, and aren't likely to have examined, considered opinions. B) There's plenty of pop culture from the past that we now recognize as significant. Arguing that it's ephemeral or novel is not an argument against significance or enjoyment. C) Again, it's not likely for you and your opinions are unlikely to be considered or interesting.

I don't like very much singer-songwriter confessional acoustic stuff, what I'd broadly term "coffee house music." I don't think it's because it's all crap, but I don't care enough about it to consider how any one example might be significant in comparison to others. Some of it I like, just like I like some contemporary country and some contemporary R&B, but I like it for reasons outside of it being exemplary of the genre. Guess what? My opinions on that style of music are not very interesting or considered!
posted by klangklangston at 2:42 PM on October 7, 2015


"My cynical response to this is that I think of most cultural criticism -good or bad- as essentially navel-gazing."

That just reduces to thinking that everything — good and bad — as essentially navel gazing. At which point, who cares what you think?
posted by klangklangston at 2:43 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not really; I think that a good navel-gaze teaches us about ourselves and society (if we care about such things). It just does little to have any meaningful transformative impact upon it. It's entertainment in and of itself.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:51 PM on October 7, 2015


@grumpybear69 you can like or dislike any piece of music that you like or dislike. You can like or dislike any genre of music, or style of singing or method of production or what instruments get used.

No one can argue with "this artist's music does not speak to me..."

Some people can argue with "I find this music problematic because [reason] and I'd like you to think about this [reason]...", and it can be an interesting and worthwhile discussion. And it can be navelgazing. And it can be both, or neither.

Once it becomes, "it doesn't speak to me, and it shouldn't speak to you either" or "it doesn't ring my bells and the people who like it are wrong/dumb/shallow..." and you are publishing these words, you can expect criticism, scrutiny of your opinions, and allegations of snobbery and various cultural -isms.
posted by elr at 2:54 PM on October 7, 2015


If we're going to talk about poptimism as "shaming" older people, I think it's at least as valid to point out that the author of this article attempts to "shame" pop-appreciators by implying that there must be something wrong with their taste if it's shared by too many young people ("Should gainfully employed adults whose job is to listen to music thoughtfully really agree so regularly with the taste of 13-year-olds?’"), regardless of any specific merits or demerits of the music under discussion. The association of "pop = neoliberal capitalism, indie = opposition" also strikes me as a little facile in a world where "indie" bands regularly sell out stadiums and do targeted promo spots and get significant proportions of their income from car ad synchronizations, which has been the case over at least the last decade or so.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:22 PM on October 7, 2015


Once it becomes, "it doesn't speak to me, and it shouldn't speak to you either" or "it doesn't ring my bells and the people who like it are wrong/dumb/shallow..." and you are publishing these words, you can expect criticism, scrutiny of your opinions, and allegations of snobbery and various cultural -isms.

Well, of course.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:31 PM on October 7, 2015


And the indie music scene has shown itself to be just as vulnerable to orienting itself around "consumption" as pop music: in indie's case, it is more about the accumulation of a particular type of cultural capital by "collecting" lesser-known artists. I think you could argue that articles like this one are not actually primarily concerned with music as an object of study (after all, there's very little criticism of pop music itself in this article; more of the criticism is directed at pop enthusiasts and writers) and are actually more concerned with protecting this type of cultural capital from devaluation.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:37 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Rhe focus on mere consumption, the absolute refusal to talk in aesthetic terms (mentioned by RogerB above) or, heaven forbid, even consider the huge marketing and production budgets that constitute pop and their role in constructing taste are really telling in this regard.

I think it was telling that your criticism if poo music actually said nothing about the aesthetics of pop music, instead babbling about neoliberalism and hipsters and Tony Blair and...seriously? Am I actually supposed to think this has anything to do with music?

It's no wonder that I see an agenda here that has nothing to do with the actual music itself, given that people are talking about all kinds of nonsense OTHER than the music. And again, I want an explanation as to all the drama about "Oh noos! Pop has destroyed music! Hipsters! Tony Blair!" appears on threads about female pop musicians.
posted by happyroach at 4:17 PM on October 7, 2015


poo music

tee-hee
posted by Going To Maine at 5:29 PM on October 7, 2015


One: "Well, X artist has sold X million records. Who are you to criticise peoples' taste? Which is to say: market fundamentalism;

As I was saying above though, for the most part it's only certain pop stars who really get critical respect and attention. On way to interpret this is that poptimism has in fact done what it was meant to do - produced critics who believe not that pop is automatically good but that it's worthy of criticism - and that the pop stars that critics like are the ones that are doing something that's worthwhile. I think the first part of that is more true than not. Critics may like pop more now but they haven't stopped liking independent singer-songwriters or experimental electronic drones have they? I also think there is kind of an artificial "we all love Taylor Swift/Drake/etc., right?" thing in the air, but that's much larger than music criticism - it's a confluence of media and marketing that I think of as a paradoxical reaction to the overall fragmentation of tastes in the Internet era.

I think it was telling that your criticism if poo music actually said nothing about the aesthetics of pop music, instead babbling about neoliberalism and hipsters and Tony Blair and...seriously? Am I actually supposed to think this has anything to do with music?

I assume this in response to Sonny Jim's own assertion that there's a "refusal to talk in aesthetic terms" in music criticism now, and I'm pretty sure myself that he's wrong about that. But he does actually have a point in the rest of his comment - the critique of "manufactured" pop music used to be bound up with a critique of capitalism, which poptimism does generally abandon. That's a (arguably THE) legitimate angle for criticism (meta-criticism?) of the "movement" in my opinion.
posted by atoxyl at 5:45 PM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


That is certainly fair comment, Happyroach. For what it's worth, I loved me some Debbie Gibson during the summer of 1987.

I think one of the reasons this drama has dragged on is that we aggrieved indie fans always thought we were punching up (by rejecting glossy corporate blah blah blah) and now we're being told we've been punching down this whole time (by being sexist and racist) and it's making our heads explode cuz there's a lot of truth to it.

Hopefully we can resolve this cognitive dissonance and get on with our lives.
posted by ducky l'orange at 5:46 PM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think one of the reasons this drama has dragged on is that we aggrieved indie fans always thought we were punching up (by rejecting glossy corporate blah blah blah) and now we're being told we've been punching down this whole time (by being sexist and racist) and it's making our heads explode cuz there's a lot of truth to it.

There's truth to both angles, which is one of several reasons we should probably work on a new metaphor before someone dislocates a shoulder.
posted by atoxyl at 6:07 PM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Emily Nussbaum on art and commerce in TV land, sharp and wide-ranging piece:
And yet there’s something in Trow’s manifesto that I find myself craving these days: that rude resistance to being sold to, the insistence that there is, after all, such a thing as selling out. ...

Advertisements shaped everything about early television programs, including their length and structure, with clear acts to provide logical inlets for ads to appear. Initially, there were rules governing how many ads could run: the industry standard was six minutes per hour. (Today, on network, it’s about fourteen minutes.) But this didn’t include the vast amounts of product integration that were folded into the scripts. (Product placement, which involves props, was a given.) Viewers take for granted that this is native to the medium, but it’s unique to the U.S.; in the United Kingdom, such deals were prohibited until 2011. Even then, they were barred from the BBC, banned for alcohol and junk food, and required to be visibly declared—a “P” must appear onscreen. ...

In one notorious incident, the American Gas Association sponsored CBS’s anthology series “Playhouse 90.” When an episode called “Portrait of a Murderer” ended, it created an unfortunate juxtaposition: after the killer was executed, the show cut to an ad with the slogan “Nothing but gas does so many jobs so well.” Spooked, American Gas took a closer look at an upcoming project, George Roy Hill’s “Judgment at Nuremberg.” The company objected to any mention of the gas chambers—and though the writers resisted, the admen won. ...

There’s a common notion that there’s good and bad integration. The “bad” stuff is bumptious—unfunny and in your face. “Good” integration is either invisible or ironic, and it’s done by people we trust, like Stephen Colbert or Tina Fey. But it brings out my inner George Trow. To my mind, the cleverer the integration, the more harmful it is. It’s a sedative designed to make viewers feel that there’s nothing to be angry about, to admire the ad inside the story, to train us to shrug off every compromise as necessary and normal. ...

Are you asking me how I feel about product integration?” Matt Weiner said. “I’m for it.”
Some commentary from Freddie Deboer, "Our Brand Could Be Your Life":
I think of Liz Phair, or more precisely, Liz Phair. I will be restrained and say merely that this self-titled album is shockingly bad. Much worse than bad, from front to back the album is generic in a bone-deep way. The single, “Why Can’t I?,” easily Phair’s biggest hit, could have been sung by almost any pop singer of its time. I’m sure the album bought her a house, and good for her, get your house. And certainly everybody is free to disagree with my take on the album. But if you too think it’s as bad as I do, and if you too think it’s a shame for as distinct a voice as Phair’s to be rendered indistinguishable from everybody else’s, then you should consider the obvious. You should consider the possibility that selling out actually is real, and that it actually is pernicious, and that it takes talent and difficulty and individuality and sands them down into whatever the market demands, and that there’s nothing particularly secret about any of this. I want you to consider the possibility that life is not as complicated as a thinkpiece pretends, but as is simple as a smile bought with a $5 bill.

When I read John Hermann’s mournful response to Nussbaum, I want to say, to him and to Nussbaum, hey, punk exists. There’s a lineage here, there’s a discourse, there’s a whole tradition of aesthetic resistance. And when I say punk I don’t just mean punk, but a whole long family tree of aesthetes and bohemians and crabby old refuseniks and lonely old hermits and honest-to-god starving artists smoking cheap cigarettes in their dirty garrets and the prematurely aged, like me. I want to say there are countercultures. But of course there aren’t, anymore. We smothered them, under a blanket of ironized mainstream culture, pathetic petty resentments of those we’re afraid are cooler than we are, the semantic horrorshow that is the term “hipster,” and that commissar’s ideology, poptimism, enforced with a predictable progression of complaints: first that these countercultures were in fact the constricting authority, then that they were ridiculous, then that they were elitist, finally that they were sexist and racist and whatever else. We’re left with where we’re at, where we’re allowed to love everything and question nothing.
posted by grobstein at 11:25 PM on October 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


there’s a whole tradition of aesthetic resistance

... which you can see either as miserably co-opted by the mainstream, or more positively, you can choose to trace its pathway from margins to the centre. The link to the 'Call Me Maybe' engineer's walkthrough is about this, because he's a guy who previously played and produced with Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails, Einstürzende Neubauten and other avant garde groups; now he's creating the sound-world of 'Call Me Maybe' and in the article he describes in detail how "I was trying to get the same feel in 'Call Me Maybe' as in a Nine Inch Nails song". With informed listening to the actual recorded sounds, you can hear this exchange going on.
posted by colie at 12:26 AM on October 8, 2015


We smothered them, under a blanket of ironized mainstream culture, pathetic petty resentments of those we’re afraid are cooler than we are, the semantic horrorshow that is the term “hipster,” and that commissar’s ideology, poptimism, enforced with a predictable progression of complaints: first that these countercultures were in fact the constricting authority, then that they were ridiculous, then that they were elitist, finally that they were sexist and racist and whatever else.

something Robert Anton Wilson said comes to mind. "A liberal thinking human can easily become a conservative thinking human in twenty years. All you have to do is not change a single idea." (or words to that effect)

I find it keeps percolating up as I try to track the ongoing, ever evolving (and devolving) culture wars, and in fact, it sends me back to that period through the mid-80s (when I was in my mid-20s) when it didn't take twenty years for the big shift to happen, it took maybe five. That is (and I'm talking about music here) something like hardcore managed to shift from radical and dangerous (to the status quo) to orthodox and boring (to anyone with half a brain) without really altering a note. Meanwhile, someone like Prince just kept getting more and more relevant, because he was constantly altering everything. And Prince was selling bucketloads of albums and most hardcore outfits never got much past selling their 7-inches off the side of the stage after their gigs, so filthy lucre had little to do with it.

So how do you maintain relevance? You gotta move. You gotta realize that sometimes the thing that matters is so deep underground you actually have to do your own digging whereas other times it's so in your face all you've got to do is open your eyes (and ears). It's culture, a living breathing, multi-headed, multi-everything force of nature and/or chaos. If it plays by rules, they aren't man's rules. So what's a human to do? Stop trying to nail the thing down. Better just grab one of its many wild tails and just try to hang on.

Which doesn't mean that every now and then you shouldn't take a stand on something, which is why I keep coming back to certain hills that require fighting for, maybe dying on. One being that Journey really do suck.
posted by philip-random at 9:11 AM on October 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Which doesn't mean that every now and then you shouldn't take a stand on something, which is why I keep coming back to certain hills that require fighting for, maybe dying on. One being that Journey really do suck.

Surely a band that recorded this song can't fully suck.
posted by grobstein at 9:18 AM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


it's the performances I take issue with, not the songs themselves.
posted by philip-random at 9:32 AM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


"We smothered them, under a blanket of ironized mainstream culture, pathetic petty resentments of those we’re afraid are cooler than we are, the semantic horrorshow that is the term “hipster,” and that commissar’s ideology, poptimism, enforced with a predictable progression of complaints: first that these countercultures were in fact the constricting authority, then that they were ridiculous, then that they were elitist, finally that they were sexist and racist and whatever else. We’re left with where we’re at, where we’re allowed to love everything and question nothing."

Paging Malcolm McLaren, Malcolm McLaren to the courtesy phone…

The problem with this reactionary call to elitism, this dismissal of pop as a form, and this indictment of poptimism as a "commisar's ideology" is that it is a return to the failures of the past without recognizing why they failed, a return to the resentments of the privileged against the populist, and a return of the hypocrisy of the establishment's presumption that only its critiques of itself are valid.

The first thing worth noting is the problem of irony to begin with — it's always a double meaning, and there's never a guarantee that your reader will catch the subtext along with the text. That's what makes it such creative legerdemain, the thrill of catching something clever that wasn't explicit, the genuine reward of communication by two people across distance, without even necessarily knowing each other — that sense of knowing someone's intent, "getting it," that's incredibly powerful. Or at least can be. It's also something that can be discarded, something that the audience can ignore in favor of the text itself or their reactions to the text, or simply their desire for aesthetic pleasure, which is itself legitimate. Earnest anti-capitalism is generally medicinal and overtly in opposition to the pleasure that capitalism offers; ironic anti-capitalism recognizes that pleasure but risks having any criticism of that pleasure subsumed.

Second, to deny that countercultures have always been so partly because of internal orthodoxies and exclusions is to reveal one's opinion as deeply ignorant of the work one ostensibly praises. Punk is real? Punk's rejectionism requires an underlying constriction of the possible. Even Crass or the Ex recognized the tensions inherent — why can't Freddie?

Third, to address his conclusion prior to other claims that are best seen as subordinate: Rock orthodoxy is racist and sexist. Flat out. This is a genre that started with white artists appropriating "race records." This is a genre that excludes women, where "Under My Thumb" and "Stupid Girl" routinely showed up on Best Ofs, where one of the most famous legends is of Led Zep assaulting a girl with a mud shark — this is a genre that has been throughout its history an outlet for angry white men, and as those white men aged, they positioned it as the legitimate cultural metric — it wasn't disco fans burning KISS albums at a ballpark. So yeah, it was and is sexist, racist, homophobic — and it's not like punk doesn't share a lot of that same lineage. Do your fucking research, Freddie — read Christgau's old slags of "chicks" and his description of David Bowie as "an English fairy."

(This doesn't mean that all angry white men's work is worthlessly riddled with sexism, racism, homophobia — but speaking as a sometimes angry white man, we sure did a shit job of telling the racists, sexists and homophobes to fuck off. DK's not enough when Rolling Stone becomes the mainstream.)

From there, yes, the rockists are elitists, they are ridiculous — racism, sexism and homophobia are fucking ridiculous, at the very least. To distill that down to "where we're allowed to love everything and question nothing" is bullshit — you're not allowed to question whether a woman is a serious musician just because she's a woman, and if you are questioning it, you'd better have more than "she doesn't write her own songs." Poptimism doesn't mean that nothing can be questioned in terms of music — it means that everything can be treated as a valid source for a question. Everything can be examined for meaning and its place in culture. Instead of recognizing that this radical populist explosion is arguably one of the best parts of the legacy of punk and DIY (and hip hop), DeBoer echoes de Klerk's notions of cultural purity.

I can somehow hold in my head that both Merzbow and Beyonce, both Skrillex and Kleenex, both Taylor Swift and Spoon are worthy of critical attention, and that the rules of criticism that were developed to define a counterculture that failed to counter culture need to be revised to reflect that.
posted by klangklangston at 10:24 AM on October 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is a genre that started with white artists appropriating "race records"... it wasn't disco fans burning KISS albums at a ballpark. So yeah, it was and is sexist, racist, homophobic

It certainly was in plenty of ways, and it's pretty hard to dispute the specific assertion that a big driver of the disco backlash was the perceived effeminacy/gayness of dance music. There's some nuance that gets lost though throwing together "racism, sexism, and homophobia" as the cause - the white male Boomer rock fans (my parents' generation) I know loved Chuck Berry and Sly Stone and Joni Mitchell and B.B. King and Aretha Franklin and George Clinton and Motown and Bob Marley but lots nonetheless still think disco was a joke if not a menace. And I think many of them are/were more aware of the actual racial roots of Rock n' Roll than kids born twenty or thirty years later. This is not really to dispute your point but to support it (I think) - what I want is not criticism built on rejecting the whole "rockist" perspective as contaminated but criticism that learns from it and doesn't get stuck at the same dead ends.
posted by atoxyl at 1:36 PM on October 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


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