Ladies and gentlemen, there is something rotten in the current state of popular music.
I’m not talking about Top 40. The Top 40 is the Top 40, and it always will be. 2013 didn’t bring us much of anything new in the realm of the hyper-popular. There were club-oriented hip hop tracks, shiny power ballads, upbeat self-empowerment pop anthems, and more anonymous electro-bangers than you could shake a Moog at. We had a few pleasant surprises – the rise of a certain curly-haired Kiwi teenager, a last minute video pipe-bomb of a R&B masterpiece, a fox-ear-adorned novelty hit.
We North Americans like to tell ourselves that the new year is a time for new things, so why limit that philosophy to a gym membership? Why not extend this inevitably temporary enthusiasm to the realm of pop culture? Let’s get rid of something that’s been hanging around for years, that we all know needs to be put out at the curb: the music snob.
A music snob is not a hipster, if that’s what you’re thinking, though the two categories often intersect. Hipsterism is an aesthetic, a lifestyle for some. Snobbery is a mindset. The internet is littered with references to the term “music snob,” but few attempts to definitively describe it (although if you’re looking for a concise, zeitgeist-y laugh, go see what UrbanDictionary.com has to say on the subject). Suffice to say, a music snob is defined by their taste, taste which is obviously, self-evidently better than yours. If you listen to Led Zeppelin, they like Blue Cheer. If you’re into 2Pac, they want to know how you haven’t heard of Kool Keith.
Music snobbery has been raised to an art form in the past decade or so, creating a monastic class of scholar, lurking in both dingy record stores and the deeper reaches of the internet, hoarding information about obscure EPs and side projects, arguing about who started which movement, who’s been unfairly ignored by history.
First, there’s the state of indie rock, which has been one of the traditional domains of the music snob since its inception in the 1980s. Or rather, the term “indie rock,” which now denotes a vague sensibility rather than the status of an artist’s representation, much the way “alternative” was bandied about in the 1990s. The ‘indie’ hit of the moment is “Sweater Weather” by the Neighbourhood, which sounds suspiciously like the product of a less treacly, alternate-timeline Maroon 5. “Gangster Nancy Sinatra” Lana del Rey is corporate to the bone, but so convincingly dressed up in underground tropes that no one seems to care. Or maybe they never cared in the first place. The question is moot, we’ve reached ironic singularity, a point where it’s possible to derive as much enjoyment from something considered objectively ‘bad’ as something objectively ‘good.’
Williamsburg is nearing the latter stages of the gentrification process. Pitchfork gets tens of millions of page views per month, and it’s getting hard to tell where ironic appreciation of pop music turns into sincere enjoyment. Even those perennial hipsters over at VICE have gotten in on the act, recently declaring mildly-rebellious pop princess Miley Cyrus to be “punk as fuck.” The underground culture has lost its ‘under.’ Garish hipster Dadaism, once the province of fringe acts, has made it into the music videos our younger sisters are watching.
What I’m saying is that taste is irrelevant at the moment. Loudly irrelevant. Those long, Talmudic arguments over credibility and ‘selling out’ have been rendered moot. We need to take off the sunglasses. Attitude-wise, we need less Velvet Underground, more Meatloaf, more Celine Dion, hell, more Billy Joel. I myself used to belong to this class of people who defined themselves in opposition to the masses of ‘sheeple’ who listened to pop radio on purpose. How dare they enjoy music specifically created to be enjoyed? How dare they give over their ears to the tyranny of Katy Perry? Looking back, it all smacks of an uncomfortable elitism. What right do I have to look down on someone for not devoting themselves to the ‘correct’ musicians, as determined by a bunch of largely white affluent urbanites with nothing better to do than barricade themselves in an ivory tower of basement shows and unfindable blogs?
I propose we strip away the outer trappings of the music snob to leave the creature hidden at its core exposed to the open air: the music geek. One who is not defined by attitude, but enthusiasm. A music snob might profess to an ironic appreciation for Miley Cyrus, her punk-rock majesty, but a geek can be an unabashed worshipper. Silly? Sure, but also sincere and enthusiastic. Really, what’s a snob but a geek with a few aggressive defense mechanisms? Using specialized knowledge as a method of declaring superiority before someone could use it to the opposite effect. Abandoning these protective measures in favour of vulnerability may not be easy, but possibly worth the risk in the end.