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Removed (Banned)Jan 24
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Both cheapened. Listeners got alienated once internet and streaming flattened the landscape to explore or discover genres, where they can now do so in isolation, while music media journalism and mainstream criticism homogenized the focus of what got covered with Poptimism. The genres that got left in the margins were left to fight their own marketing battles on streaming platforms while hobbyists took up producing their own stuff with easier to access tech. The scene became more eclectic and also more saturated, the middle hollowed out.

And yea, “indie” and “pop” are not really music genres as much as they’re descriptors of where music is socially situated.

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I think your confusion about the “indie record” thing can be resolved once you recognize that it is a quote from Taylor Swift “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together”. Of course, that isn’t going to make you any happier .,,

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Rihanna is, like, an actual billionaire, right?

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Yep, cosmetics.

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Jan 24Liked by Freddie deBoer

I think it's axiomatic that Pitchfork had an audience, of white bearded indie dudes who agreed Daydream Nation was the best album of the 80s, then turned against that audience. And this can never be a good idea. In Britain the music newspaper Melody Maker did the same thing with the late 70s turn from prog-rock to punk. The audience only partially responded, continuing to vote Genesis albums their favourites right into the 80s, but they continued to buy Melody Maker because back then it was a source of information on gigs, releases, new bands etc. Today there's no need to go to Pitchfork for that information. And so their audience stopped and the new audience they were so assiduously courting with pieces about Beyonce being the mother of House Renaissance (what, you can be queer by acclamation now?) never turned up.

I think I've said this here before, but when I originally read Pitchfork's Best Songs of the 90s and they put Pavement's Gold Soundz at the top, I went off to listen to it. I hadn't heard it before, this was new information, I was interested. Didn't like it but whatever. When they revised their list and put Mariah Carey's Fantasy at the top I didn't go off and listen to it because I already knew it; everyone knows it. It was one of the bigger hits of the decade. It's far closer to my taste, I listen to Carey all the time, but there was no point in telling me. It's not new information. It's useless. And if you're useless, if you're only able to point your readers to stuff that's popular already, you have no purpose even if I agree with you.

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Jan 24·edited Jan 24

Ha, yeah. To me as a teen with weird taste in music, Pitchfork was essentially "a place for people who enjoy bands like Pavement and Sonic Youth to find new music." It's funny to imagine it now as "a place for people who like Mariah Carey's fantasy to find new music," since that's also, like, ClearChannel's mission.

(I know that liking Pavement is probably not "weird taste" among this group of Internet commenters. But 20 years ago when we all had to spend more time in the real world, fellow IRL teenagers were extremely annoyed every time I tried to put on Pavement and Neutral Milk Hotel.)

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I got made fun of so much for my Pavement shirt with the two sunny side up eggs on it... Also my Mustard Plug shirt. Can people not just respect quality ska?

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The funny thing is that I didn't like ska back then so I probably would've been like "he's getting what he deserves!" when the fellow teens mocked you, not realizing what was in store for me when I wore my Amnesiac shirt in the next day. First they came for the Mustard Plug fans...

(I have never listened to Mustard Plugs and am pumped to check them out on Spotify today)

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Mr. Smiley is a quality song. I haven't renounced ska but I am much more reform ska than Orthodox ska (where you have to wear at least one checkerboard clothing item and maybe a pork pie hat to show your allegiance) these days. It's such a broad genre, like Desmond Dekker is ska but is a world away from Reel Big Fish. Point being, don't be mad if Mustard Plug fails to spark your interest 😂

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This also gives me a chance to share my favorite elaborate ska pun ever filmed, the Ska Mitzvah from Delocated

https://youtu.be/oPIA5TkVJDk?si=hi4LC4QJf3nJSL9j

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Mr Smiley is their top song on Spotify. Spotify is a blessing and a curse in this way -- I feel like any band that had a following will have a few quality tunes so I am always willing to check out their top songs on Spotify. But I can't remember the last time I went down a rabbit hole with a band and listened to multiple full albums.

This is so far from our discussion but: there's something to that that "top 5 songs" dynamic that IMO is part of the problem with life now -- it's true that I no longer have to listen to boring deep cuts I don't like, but something about the ability to always be entertained and get that dopamine hit over and over and read the best tweets and see the funniest TikToks feels like it's psychologically why we're all so depressed when we put down the phone.

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Live ska is good---saw Mustard Plug, Aquabats, etc. when I was in high school, and skanking for 2 hours to live horns is just a good time. I just couldn't stand the music outside of that context. My buddies would give me mix cds and I would try them and then just go right back to Pavement and Sonic Youth.

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The Aquabats are so good live - I saw them four or five years ago in Boston and while they're getting a bit too middle aged to do backflips, they still absolutely light up the stage

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I recall having to explain my Fishbone logo t-shirt to the unknowing jocks at my HS and why Slick Nick, You Devil You was my favorite Xmas song. And introducing fellow alt music fans to the Plasmatics.

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Is it not written that the music a human listens to between the ages of 18-21 is the music that human will listen to for the rest of his life?

Didn't work out like that for me, but I grew up in the rural Midwest, where there were no non-mall chain music stores and the radio stations on offer were pretty anodyne as well. I would try to get to the record stores in the college town, but the folks there were, for the most part not helpful.

All I can say is that I am grateful for the internet!

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"Is it not written that the music a human listens to between the ages of 18-21 is the music that human will listen to for the rest of his life?"

Not 18-21, but more like 14-25. And not entirely but mostly.

I think the most common case is that, even those that still "discover new artists" later on, they will still keep with the genres liked then.

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I'm 46, and I find that the new music I find myself gravitating to generally sounds like the old music I still like. Go figure. That said, there isn't much new music I find myself gravitating toward. Most of it I find extraordinarily boring and tuneless.

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I want to say that music criticism could and should still be good even or especially when you've already heard the record. I used to believe this but the last few years have kind of eroded my belief.

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I think music writing still has a future no matter what you think of the record, but the review or recommendation which you used to hold in your head for years waiting to check that artist out has problems when you can now read it, think 'that sounds interesting,' check it out immediately and hate it.

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This is sort of what I'm trying to do on my Substack - rather than criticism, just sharing a song I like a day and explaining why I think it's good. There's so much stuff out there now that curation is almost more important than criticism.

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Jan 24·edited Jan 24

I did a blog years ago and it was fairly popular at the time, and I used to only really focus on music I liked. In the spirit of the internet always having a bunch of assholes somewhere, a few people would attack me for like 'boosterism' and only ever giving good reviews. But it wasn't like I was being commissioned to write about stuff and then praising it to the heavens, it was just that I got sent tonnes of shit and bought a load more, and therefore only bothered to point a light at stuff I enjoyed.

Not much point with obscure electronic music doing a 'don't listen to this', unless occasionally a major artist did something heralded but crap.

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This point exactly!! The whole point of pitchfork at some level was to introduce you to new music! Once it named Beyoncé the best artist of 2013 or 2012 how was it different than any other music site.

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Excellent observations. Thank you.

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The readers of Pitchfork represented a small sliver of music listeners. The about face was as much about trying to reach a wider market of readers but capturing 5% more of 0.5% of the music listening market was still a losing position. I enjoyed Pitchfork for introducing me to new music and piquing my interest in going down various rabbit holes. As time went on, regardless of its transition to pop coverage, I was finding other ways to find new music.

I'm this days old when I 1st heard Mariah Carey's Fantasy and it's because I haven't listened to top 40 radio in 30+ years but because you referenced it! There's a lot of top 100 music that I missed out over the years because I was deep into genres that weren't played on the big stations.

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Deadspin (and currently Defector) had the same issue at the end of its run. They adopted the same POV as literally every other left-leaning website. So what’s the point exactly? There was a time when Deadspin or Pitchfork added a different POV that sometimes moved opinion...but if you’re just gonna do what New York Mag and Vox are doing, it’s hard to keep a loyal audience.

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Jan 24·edited Jan 24

For various reasons tied to the death of criticism generally, I agree that people defending the need for serious writing about pop music, or positioning themselves against rock music as if it's some immovable obstacle is sort of weird now.

But I think you're wrong to conflate the questioning of rock music's position at the centre of what constitutes serious music with 2024 poptimism.

The increasing questioning of "rockism", for want of a less stupid word, was as much to do with encouraging people to take metal more seriously as it was with asking whether some manufactured pop might be more interesting than whatever then critically acclaimed rock music was.

It was also about establishing the idea that other genres are no smaller than rock music in the volume of what is produced, nor the validity of discussions about their depths, whether techno, or jazz, or ambient music, or country or whatever.

The reality was that all best albums of all time lists, of the kind that I suppose you don't see as often now that music criticism is basically dead, were the same rock albums and a weird cursory nod to arbitrary rap, techno or jazz albums, usually the same ones each time, not that anyone involved was ever really listening to these or they even made sense in such an isolated context. (I feel sorry for all the rock kids who got told to listen to "Kind Of Blue" when it appeared in NME's top 100 albums ever list yet again, when Miles Davis in the seventies is so obviously the best starting point for a rock kid.)

While whatever is left of day to day internet discourse may be dominated by the kind of poptimism you describe, that doesn't mean that the essential idea that what is ultimately valuable in music is mostly rock music has gone away.

Those ideas are deeply rooted. They are inherent in how people think about songwriting, image, instruments, and technology. For most people, rock is the entire solar system and instrumental music, or jazz, or techno, or music with lyrics that aren't in English, or flamenco or whatever, these are just little planets at the sides.

This will never change. I don't really care, as I get older, because discovery is part of the love of music for me, but when I worked as a music writer I cared a lot because it was frustrating working against a canon.

In the end, the only real change that this movement of anti-rockism or whatever achieved was the victory of poptimism, which I think mirrors the kind of "victories" we see a capitalist society allowing in other parts of life.

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I think you're absolutely right that the "essential idea that what is ultimately valuable in music is mostly rock music has [not] gone away." The unit of worth is still the album, it's still considered essential you write your own songs, etc. America only got into dance music – which ruled Europe throughout the 90s and 00s – when Daft Punk, a proper band who do proper albums, did a proper tour. Only when using the grammar of rock did their music become considered as valid.

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The grammar of rock is a really good way of putting it. Is that not also how the current pop stars are eulogised? Albums, tours, treated as deep and serious artists. Nobody bothers even exploring the process by which they make their songs, which I personally don't have any issue with. Lots of great music, and not just pop music, has come from performers working with songwriters who are somewhere in the background.

But in pursuit of some kind of critical equality even pop artists are sort of elided into being rock stars, as if we only have one way of really valuing music.

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“ Lots of great music, and not just pop music, has come from performers working with songwriters who are somewhere in the background.”

I was always tickled that Bernie Taupin and Elton John have essentially maintained the opera roles of librettist and composer for their long partnership.

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Disagree, the unit of worth is is a single, albums are an afterthought for most modern artists.

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The unit of worth for a listener is and pretty much always was a single. For music criticism it's an album. Dance music struggled to make inroads with the music press in the UK until the Chemical Brothers and their albums came along. Singles are too ephemeral and easy to like.

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The album is such a modern construct and yet some people act as if it's some hallowed eternal artefact.

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Jan 24·edited Jan 24

Totally off-point, but I find it fascinating when one scene just will not sell across the pond or whatever.

For maybe twenty years (ca 1990-2010), we in the States were hearing that euro-style DJ music was going to be The Next Big Thing, but for all the hype, it never really took off outside certain hipster circles.

For that matter, Robbie Williams was The Man Who Bankrupted EMI. He was a massive star in Europe and Asia, but in the States, he literally could not give away tickets. EMI literally bet the farm on the proposition that they could make Robbie Williams a star in the American market, and it backfired. His entire schtick just turned Americans off, and the more they saw of him, the less they liked him.

In the UK, the joke was that when Robbie Williams was moaning about the travails of stardom and how he wished to be anonymous, he should just move to LA, where he couldn't even get arrested.

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I remember the big push to make Robbie Williams a thing.

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It is fascinating, because for 20 years over here what you refer to as 'Euro-style DJ music' and we largely put under the umbrella of dance music was just youth culture. Sure there was other stuff, like Britpop, but it existed alongside it; there was no feeling of cultures blending when Pulp did Sorted for Es and Wizz or Noel Gallagher did songs which the Chemical Brothers. Everyone went out and did all that shit, everyone was mad for it, there were always new club compilations or killer new tunes, every region had its own superclub. At 4am at any motorway service station you'd find like-minded ravers. And, like rock 'n' roll, it came from America and we were ready for you to take it back new and improved as you did the Beatles. But you didn't...

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Sure - I recall a Bulgarian girl who was horrified to find that there were still Americans who listened to rock music. As she put it - maybe, like the engineering students back home still listened to guitar music, she wouldn't know, but the cool kids didn't.

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I was a teenager in the early 90's in Arkansas (Arkansas!) and rave culture was huge where I grew up. Granted, it was a college town, but tons of people in my high school went to raves. We would have to call a hotline which told us where to go to get a map (usually a particular gas station which was colloquially dubbed "the rave station" by my friends), and then we'd have to go find it. Sometimes we'd spend half the night looking for the rave itself. What a time. Kids today will never understand how awesome that was.

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Ah, that's exactly the British experience. Seeing a load of loudly-dressed freaks by a phone box, pulling over, them asking 'Have you got Macca's number to find this place?' and you've never heard of him but are sticking to them like glue until you arrive at the party. So it was replicated in parts, and Arkansas is probably bigger than Britain anyway...

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Robbie Williams really is, to use the parlance of the Limeys, an utter cunt.

I'm tempted to want to lump Oasis ("The Bargain Basement Beatles") into that bucket, but in fairness, they got more American success than even lamer artists like Robbie Williams did.

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Oh man, in the early aughts, I loved RW. That reminds me I should break out those old CD's (which i still have) and give them a whirl. I was very into "rock" at that time, and I think the mass American rejection of him made him more palatable to me. "Well, if he's cool in Europe...."

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The funny thing is that RW was popular in Europe but not necessarily "cool".

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I’m about as divorced from modern popular music trends as possible (I was shocked that Andre 3K made an album tailor made for me). But even I have noticed how weird it now is to watch concert footage from the late 60s and 70s and see all the young women so enthusiastic about rock music.

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Can I ask what you mean by this? The last sentence and usage of young women here kind of comes off as misogynistic. There are scores of young women still enthusiastic and interested in rock/alt music, both contemporary and older stuff.

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I’m sure there are, just as there are “scores” of young women who are into jazz, classical, and blues. But “scores” isn’t really that many people in the music business. I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial, and definitely not misogynistic, by noting how young women at one time were a large demographic audience for rock music but at some point they stopped being that.

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If there was a movement of young women away from rock and towards pop music, I would say that that kind of young woman was never really there for the music. They were there for the images of the bands, and the mystique surrounding them. Which is very easy to translate into another genre entirely.

Sort of like how in the goth scene (which I was not a part of, but I was adjacent to for my teens/early 20s) there were always music goths and (for lack of a better term) "style" goths who didn't really care for the music as much as the aesthetic.

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Same with the hippies - some really are into the music, others the style and scene

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Go to a Billy Strings show. It's a bluegrass/rock blend and full of women who love it, including my wife. The jam band scene is pretty much rock and full of women, but somehow invisible to most of our culture.

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Billy Strings is fucking awesome.

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that’s cuz jam bands can’t make good rock, jazz, or fusion, so they call themselves jam bands and drone on for audiences so drug-addled that they couldn’t the difference between melody or feedback. Mostly /s.

Bully Strings is fantastic.

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True of many...and probably true of all at times in their careers...but those bands absolutely can and do make some of the most amazing music around.

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Black Sabbath were the exception. To quote Ozzy Osbourne, "whenever we saw girls at our concerts, we assumed they were there by mistake"

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Twenty years ago, I knew a human female from Bulgaria.

She was shocked and horrified that that there were still people in America who listened to something so utterly uncool as rock music.

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What a weird way to phrase it.

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As has been chronicled here, that Pitchfork re-ranking piece from a few years back is one of the great signposts for where we are as a culture.

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Totally agree with the general thesis and thoughts that are in this piece -- as someone who is younger (21) I've never cared about Pitchfork or considered them to be relevant when it comes to the kind of music that I am interested in. I am curious, however, about when you say that there isn't indie music in 2024. I've seen a lot of people lamenting that rock is a dead genre, it doesn't matter anymore, no one is making rock music or whatever, and I guess I'm just kind of confused by that rhetoric. There are lots of smaller artists making interesting, underground, and independent music that isn't overly commercial or concerned with massive success. And while they might not be getting nods from publications like Pitchfork or Rolling Stone, there are still people who are invested and enthusiastic and rolling out for basement shows and standing room only small venues. I guess as someone who goes to a lot of concerts, some of them big stadium shows but a lot of them 200/300 capacity type deals, I feel like when people opine the death of rock music/underground culture it strikes me as melodramatic/overly pessimistic. Music is hellishly commercial but people were saying that same shit in the 90s. Art and passion persist regardless.

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I'm too old to know about those venues or to go to those shows ergo they do not exist

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Remember when this clip got passed around?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tp3pNzkKKa0

The background that makes it funny is a shared set of cultural assumptions that simply don't exist anymore.

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Looking back at how prominent certain parts of the indie scene were to culture during the Bush and Obama years, it's very clear that indie music is much less prominent. You can say that Pitchfork didn't matter to you, but no other organization really took their place and played as public a role. (Other sites that played a similar role, like the Onion AV Club, are also a shell of their former selves.) What you're describing is a more ad hoc scene compared to a decade ago. It's like how punk never re-gained the prominence it had in 1970's London and New York.

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That's fair! That's why I was curious about the assertion, I haven't ever been around for a significantly different cultural moment which is why I was curious. I agree that there isn't any sort of current, trusted, alternative music publication, like I said, I really agree with the piece.

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RIP AV Club, I'm still grieving for what it once was

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Compared to the vibrancy of even just a decade ago in 2013 when pitchfork’s poptimist turn was well under way, the underground music scene is not doing that great. It turns out that little labels (like smaller than matador and 4AD little), small venues, and small bands need critics functioning properly (as a champion of the little guy) to really thrive. Sure, all of these entities persist to some degree, but they all enjoyed greater reach and prominence when they had the backing of publications that believed in the value of subcultures that ran in opposition to the mainstream. For what it’s worth, poptimism isn’t just a problem for music critics-10-11 years ago I noticed that interviews with musicians showed a shift toward genuflecting toward the Beyoncé’s of the world at the expense of peers or so-called little brother bands. Some of this affection was genuine and can’t be faulted but some of it feels performative in retrospect, like the musician had gotten the message from their PR person that mentioning pop acts they could tolerate was either an important box-checking exercise or a means of gaming SEO. Whatever the case, the rot goes deeper than just music critics, the scene as a whole feels rigged to satisfy identity politics like the upper echelons of academia or publishing.

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I kind of wonder how the hell someone like Phoebe Bridgers even happened this decade. She's so clearly a musical throwback to like 20 years ago. Her greatest influence is Elliot Smith. She's friends with Connor Oberst. She fucking dated Ryan Adams (ew!). Yet she's reasonably famous and seems to be friends with Taylor Swift.

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I can’t find the article - it was probably on The Honest Broker’s Substack - but “death of a genre” is probably best understood not in the sense that it doesn’t exist or that not enough people like it, but in the sense that it isn’t evolving any more, and that the artists remaining are more caretakers than anything.

Sort of the difference between someone browsing galleries in 1884 and someone going to see a Seurat painting in a museum. Both people may love pointillism, but it’s still different - one person is there during a living and evolving artistic movement, and one is looking back on it fondly. You can still purchase newly made pointillism paintings, but the artist will just be imitating something long gone. Reverently! With talent and expertise! But still copying. Greta Van Fleet might be terrific but they’re not part of a living movement.

Lots of this in jazz.

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Jan 24·edited Feb 5

You have to admit that Rock no longer has broad cultural relevance the way that Taylor Swift does. Indie was always a bit of a niche (which was the point, obviously), but I'm old enough to remember when even my boomer parents had at least heard of Green Day and knew a few lines to When I Come Around. These bands were every bit as big and relevant as any Pop or Rap Star. Despite being constantly complained about, mainstream Rock served as a kind of feeder into Indie, and now that's just gone. I'm not entirely sure what the last Rock song to hit #1 on the Top 100 was, but it certainly was pre-2010. 2008 Viva La Vida/ Coldplay maybe? Even before that people were calling Arcade Fire the saviors of Rock, because it was clearly dying.

Every musical genre becomes culturally irrelevant eventually, so I don't begrudge this, but if you're young and into Rock today, you just don't get what it was like when our music felt like it held sway over everything. We all sort of respected Rap and were (mostly) indifferent towards Country (in all its forms), but I'll say it, making fun of Pop back then was just fun; our vicious, vicarious, and ultimately meaningless little pleasure. To us, people who liked Pop were like people who thought WWF wrestling was real. They didn't write their songs, they didn't play their own instruments, they didn't matter; they might be performers, but we refused to call them musicians (except Michael Jackson for some reason).

What pissed us off the most was that most of the pop stars images were carefully curated and clean; and they seemed much more managed by record labels. They never showed pain or angst, Backstreet Boys and Christina Aguilera never trashed hotel rooms and were wholesome enough that they could be invited onto daytime talk shows. This enraged us for some reason, musicians were supposed to be tortured and too pure for the world and the grubby business side of the music. I remember basically memorizing Kurt Cobain's suicide letter when I was 12 or so and we all talked endlessly about the 27 Club after that. Our view was that if it was truly about the music, then the trappings of celebrity success that it brought should only bring misery and that suicide (either quickly or slowly through addiction) was a reasonable response to that. I guess we were too dumb to realize that the mystique of young and tragic death was being conveniently packaged and sold to us by the same people wo promoted the endlessly upbeat pop stars. We thought it was more profound, but it was actually just more neurotic.

Freddie's trying to soften how awful and pretentious we were about it, but we were both in spades; a bunch of Holden Caulfields raging about how everyone was such a phony. We were every bit as pretentious about Red Hot Chili Peppers as anyone ever was about Dvorak (and that doesn't even scratch the surface of how nose-in-the-air the small niche of Prog Rock guys were). I'm not old enough to remember when Rock fans basically intentionally and successfully (in the US at least) murdered Disco, but the attitude of our clear moral and aesthetic superiority to all other popular genres (again, with the exception of rap) was just taken as axiomatic. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disco_Demolition_Night.

All that said, given what's replaced us, however, I have no regrets.

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Man, I don't even know what cultural relevance is supposed to mean. Showing up in the tabloids? I don't read them and can't imagine anyone else I know doing so. Society or Culture pages of the paper? Likewise. Airplay in supermarkets and (if anyone still cares) malls? That's purely self-referential.

So no, I don't really admit it, because as far as I can see there's no such thing as cultural relevance anymore. Subcultures *won*.

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Jan 25·edited Jan 25

The cultural world might be fractured, but it's not that fractured. There are still some pop cultural touchstones that you would be surprised if someone you spoke with didn't know about. I'm not even a Taylor Swift fan, but she was completely inescapable last summer for almost everyone as were the Barbie and Openheimer movies. The decline of Rock in popularity compared to other forms of music is well known, that premise isn't really possible to disagree with. Quit being a contrarian annoyance just for the sake of it.

> I don't read them and can't imagine anyone else I know doing so.

What does that have to do with anything? They still get sold, so someone is, I guess. People are still reading about movies, sports, tv, etc. They are just doing it on reddit. The fact that you might be too old to be with it anymore doesn't mean it's not there, Mr. Jones.

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I know some Swift fans and *still* heard nothing about her last year until December when people started arguing about whether she would or should get Time Person of the Year. Contrast with Barbenheimer, which actually *was* ubiquitous. Everyone lives in a bubble and yours happened to care about Taylor Swift - that's not a universal.

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Dude, stop, you're embarrassing yourself. You're paying attention to who the Time person of the year is and you think I live in a bubble?!

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Do you have an argument that you don't, or just name-calling?

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The weirdest thing about the modern criticism landscape is when they decide to throw a metal band a bone for no particular reason. E.g. when Sleep came out with their first album in many years, Pitchfork and NPR did glowing reviews. Which is good, I guess - The Sciences was a pretty good album. But when I'm reading this stuff it seems more like marketing that criticism. I wouldn't mind the tone if unadulterated aw shucks gee whiz what neat metal men these Sleep boys are if it was coming from some individual blogger or big fan of the band, but I think music criticism should try to approach its subject with some approximation of a "view from nowhere," using aesthetic principles and the writer's knowledge of song structure etc. to come up with an analysis.

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for some reason Metal is the rock genre that's still cool in these circles. No idea why.

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It was so strange when they tried to make Deafhaven a big thing and praised them to the moon... It's like uh yeah have you heard there's this thing called black metal it's been around for a while

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Jan 24·edited Jan 24

The Pitchfork/Vice crowd already loved black metal because some of the second wave Norwegian bands and their successors were more repetitive, lo-fi, and texture driven than most metal they had heard (it's metal that sounds like shoegaze/krautrock was the pitch I was given as a young Post-Punk fanatic). In addition to this, Vice was hyping up all the ca-raaayzy antics of the musicians. This tended to go hand in hand with an(in hindsight especially sinister) radical chic fascination with far right politics wrapped up in a gawky condescension/fetishism (see the vice doc where they hung out with Ghaal at his house and talk about how "he might kill us in our sleep lol").

Many of these future "hipster" black metal fans didnt really care for Metal in general or have a particularly wide or deep knowledge of Black Metal writ large, so when people who looked and talked like them made alt/indie crossover Black Metal, it sounded completely new while also allowing them to stake a cultural claim on it and act like what they were doing was an unprecedented leap forward for a moribund, insular subculture populated by fashy nerds (Vice published an extremely long and petulant article in which namedripping deafheaven to a metalhead bartender chick failing to earn the author a bj was cited as proof of this thesis).

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Because it's nearly impossible for nearly anyone to hear something by Black Sabbath and not think it's fucking awesome. I think a lot of the "profound new respect" for metal among these otherwise useless music reviewers and pundits still owes everything to Sabbath. Could be wrong.

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imo micro-demographics -- a lot of people who wind up working at these publications were theater/band kids. more of the nerdy type of metalhead in those groups. otherwise it's showtunes, pop, classical. not much rock.

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Now I'm imagining a music criticism scene where everyone tried to emulate ANUS.com. It's probably for the best that didn't happen, it wouldn't be healthy for falsely accusing people of having died of AIDS to be normal.

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I'll never forgive them for giving Hobo Johnson's best album such a low score because he's an incel, as if writing music about desperation and trouble getting dates has inherently less value.

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"Williamsburg at this point is like a neighborhood-sized artisan coffee shop where the napkins are ethically sourced and the labor non-union."

I can't shake the feeling that indie is no longer cool because the popular image of the left is no longer cool. It's just old, tired and beat to death--the inevitable fate of anything that descends into cliche.

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Back in the day, hipster was a slur like yuppie that no one would admit to being. Because it was something of an anti-scene, it was pretty easy for it all to just be memory holed as some sort of joke.

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Can always count on Freddie to punch through the b.s. and speak truth to power. Thank you, Freddie. This is why I pay you.

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You pretty much summed it up. A major reason behind Pitchfork's demise after the fervent editorial turn towards poptimism is that this basically removed its reason for existing. Pop music needs no champion, no editorial page, no grizzled tastemaker to pass an opinion on it. It already is popular and has the full force of the market behind it. Poptimism was theoretically and in practice the self-destruction of Pitchfork.

I have to admit, Poptimism dovetails very closely with neoliberalism's dictate that whatever wins in the marketplace is inherently the best. That what sells the most has arrived at the position via merit, who are we to argue with the superior understanding of capital. To be cynically about it, Pitchfork's ham-fisted attempts to slap a progressive veneer on this dynamic amount to little more than putting a coat of paint over it. Sadly, this mirrors the general trajectory of centrist liberalism in the 21st century, putting a progressive veneer on things completely divorced from any material or economic understanding.

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Pop music, by definition, is also easy to like.

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Is it? Or is it just what's left standing when all the subcultures have split off to do their own thing?

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Jan 24·edited Jan 24

I've always wanted to say in one of these comments sections: I am a rockist and I'm not apologizing for it.

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You're going to jail.

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Me I'm an electronicist. Give me some atmospheric soundscapes like The New Law or give me death.

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I like every genre, but rock was the best because most of the artists both wrote and performed their own material. There would be like 4-6 people involved with the music creation, max. There was an artistic purity to it that hasn’t really been matched by other genres before or since. When a rock song or performance was good it was like magic, because usually it was the product of a few young unruly morons. Rap is maybe the closest to that, but it’s heavily reliant on the work of others (whether thru samples or hiring of an army of studio musicians or producers).

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I know I mentioned this in earlier responses, but it remains fascinating to me that the market for music criticism has essentially died over the last 20 years, while criticism of TV and movies has flourished on the internet, to the point that aggregator sites like Rotten Tomatoes have huge influence on the industry. The same seems to be true to some extent when it comes to books, FWIW. I've seen guides to prospective authors to look for comp titles on Goodreads, for example. But it seems part of the wider shift of the public away from music. Youth culture during my teen years in the 1990s was defined, in large part, by what music you listened to. It is no longer. Music taste is now for middle-aged people.

A bit of an aside, but if anyone wants to see poptimism done right, you should check out Todd in the Shadows on Youtube. The dude is an uncool straight dude pushing 40, and sincerely evolved in the aughts to have a genuine love of pop music, and will give good ratings on everything from hip-hop tracks to pop-country. That doesn't mean that he uncritically loves all pop music though. He will rip terrible pop tracks, regardless of the devoted fan bases of the artists, and laud good tracks from problematic artists (he rated one Morgan Wallen song as #5 on the top pop songs of 2023). And he's funny as hell (Lindsay Ellis's ex, FWIW). Everyone who is a lover of music will find something interesting in his back catalogue of videos.

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>But it seems part of the wider shift of the public away from music. Youth culture during my teen years in the 1990s was defined, in large part, by what music you listened to. It is no longer. Music taste is now for middle-aged people.

This really crystallised something I've been noticing in the background for a while. You're completely right, your taste in music was really how you defined your tribe in the 1990s. And... that doesn't really happen anymore. Having music taste is indeed now for old people.

One of the most sobering conversations I had was with a younger member of my friend group (I'm late 30s, he's early 20s). He mentioned getting into a music genre I really like, and so I tried to chat about what bands he was enjoying. Except... he didn't know. His 'getting into the genre' was pressing 'play' on genre playlists on Spotify, and using them as background music.

I know it's only an anecdote, but it's something I've really noticed. Caring about bands, listening to albums... it's mostly an old person thing now.

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"His 'getting into the genre' was pressing 'play' on genre playlists on Spotify, and using them as background music."

That's depressing. Enough internet for me today.

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People generally understand that music is communicative and that this is an important aspect of music, but I don’t think as many realize how aggressively the function of music as a social communicative tool has been subverted exclusively for product commodification and entertainment experience.

As much as music tastes used to more strongly form social identities a few decades ago, the fundamental function is that of establishing a social space where dialogue can occur and sentiments may be expressed by any party engaged in making or experiencing the music in question. People became alienated when the internet made it easier to access your music tastes in isolation, so it’s important to remember what the fundamental function of musical expression and communication offers people.

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This is an excellent point. We used to discover bands in youth from older siblings, friends, random mix tapes, etc. It was explicitly something through word of mouth and peers, so of course it would become part of peer culture.

Now, it's akin to collecting cat memes or watching the new episode if Is It Cake? on Netflix.

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What the hell are you on about? Music isn't about _dialogue_, it's an art form about making something beautiful. This view of things you have is just as political and bizarre as poptimism.

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I am a musician, and also a political scientist. What the hell are YOU on about?

Acting like politics don’t get expressed through music is naive. Pretending that music isn’t a way of communication is ignorant. Suggesting that music exclusively serves the production of abstract artistic values and aesthetics, and is not equally a demanding form of labor that is severely undervalued by an economy that fetishizes commodity products for entertainment, is downright offensive.

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The music critic market died because musical mesoculture got steamrolled by industry consolidation and the division of music-as-art vs music-as-labor. If performers don’t have a viable means of generating a working “musical middle class,” you’re left with small alienated pockets of musical taste hiding out in the margins, or the Poptimism that’s been put on display by mainstream media and internet attention capture.

Sure, people can freelance their opinions like in other art and culture scenes, but pop music was homogenized, and the writers with jobs were left with no other options. That, and I think many of them confused the need to promulgate Poptimism for academia’s resistance to embracing serious consideration for Rock, Hiphop, etc. and not the music and media industry’s ability to commodify music as an entertainment product that subverts aesthetics for politics.

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Again though, criticism has absolutely flourished for TV and film. There's entire subsections of Youtube associated with media criticism. But filmed media is by far the most capital-intensive creative art, and very little of said criticism focus on what could reasonably be called "indie films" these days.

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What I’m saying is that TV and film have not been homogenized by media.

There are subsections of YouTube devoted to both music education and music criticism, and there are music critics on blogs like Substack. That doesn’t change the fact that there was no incentive for mainstream music critics to write on niche genres when their platforms began to fixate on Poptimism, which is what homogenized music journalism.

Any genre that became an outlier to cover was subverted for political moralism instead of exploring the aesthetics of the music in question.

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Right, but there are two different issues here in music.

1. The death of non-mainstream, homogenized tastes.

2. The death of criticism.

In filmed media, I think one can argue that the first is happening. Arthouse-style films still exist, but they're being squeezed by the death of theaters into streaming-only releases subject to the whims of a few major companies, with movies increasingly dominated by big-budget blockbusters.

That doesn't mean criticism has died though. If a prospective blockbuster with a $300 million is shit, critics (not just internet randos, real critics) will, at best, give the film a mixed response, if not outright lampoon it. The same is simply not true of music. It's simply impossible to imagine a major release by a top-level pop star getting pilloried by critics, unless the star themselves engaged in problematic behavior.

Maybe that's the difference, come to think of it. Cinema is by definition a collaborative effort, even if there may be a big-name director or a notable lead actor. So you're not directly attacking any one person if you say a film sucks. In contrast, music tends to be associated with the nominal "star" - even if they have an external songwriter and a team of performers and producers behind the scenes. Attack an album, and it can be twisted into a personal attack on the work.

This is particularly true since so few genuine groups exist any longer, outside of maybe K pop. Not all of this is even due to the death of rock music. There aren't really rap crews any longer, indie-ish stuff is dominated by singer-songwriters like Phoebe Bridgers and Mitski, and even pop-country is mostly defined by individual "artists" - not bands. I just looked at the Billboard top 100, and the only groups I could find were a few Tejano/Mexican American groups. Music is just about one person now, so the music can be associated directly with their personality.

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Exactly, that’s what I’m saying. Music criticism has withered because the media surrounding the coverage of music (Poptimism) homogenized tastes and gets incentivized to be covered.

Unfortunately, despite current popular music having roots in Rock, Hiphop, R&B, etc., that’s not how coverage of the music is handled. Aesthetics have been subverted for politics, which makes it easy to consolidate discourse.

Despite arthouse film dropping off theater premieres, Hollywood still produces a variety of film *genres.* the variety of pop music industry “genres” have all been amalgamated into some nondescript “pop” genre; instead of paying homage to the roots that different pop styles derivate from, critics fixated/fixate on the “pop” portion of it all.

Movie stars and directors get attacked for their decisions or performances like frontmen or solo acts all the time, dunno what you mean they’re both collaborative fields. Collaboration doesn’t have any influence on what critics focus on. And the likes of Bridgers and Mitski aren’t indie, that’s not really a factor in pop music anymore.

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"Feeling disenfranchised and hopeless about achieving real material change, while empowered within the cultural and intellectual industries, a lot of young liberals became emotionally overinvested in the positive potential of treating artistic consumer tastes as political acts in and of themselves."

That is the story of academic musicology (the field in which I have an ancient A.B.D.) over the past thirty years; they just apply it chronologically backwards as well as forwards. That is also why I can't listen to music--any music, pop or rock or classical or what have you, any more. It's all so overcommitted.

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One of the things that cracks me up about current orchestral music is that it’s mired in an artistic ghetto, but talk within the industry and what press covers it is focused on making it more accessible. That’s truly an admirable goal, but the way accessible is defined is in strictly in terms of representation. What are the demographics of composers receiving commissions? Of the conductors? Of the musicians?

Meanwhile, as a living art, it’s MFA graduates writing for the MFA graduates who award grants and commissions, and there’s rarely a melody that someone new to the genre can find to hum in the shower the next morning. So the popular gateway — for however many people pass through it — remains *dead, white men.

*Which, in a roughly 400 year-old art form, I’m not going to penalize everyone involved for not living until 2024.

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