Music, like any other artform, has it’s share of hypocrisy. Essentially every “scene” that exists bashes outsiders for not being open-minded enough to accept their astounding contribution to the world’s auditory discourse, and yet they immediately avert their eyes from anything labeled “pop,” commonly without even giving it a listen. What once was labeled the “counter culture” of America – our youth at clubs and concerts, famously at Woodstock – is now sponsored by Xbox, Honda, and Hot Topic. Wristbands and hair spray are flying off of shelves nationwide, and gradually the bands that the average consumer is exposed to sounds less and less sincere.
That’s what it’s really all about now. Sincerity. Hip-hop calls it “street cred,” punk calls it “underground,” but the concept is the same. As long as no one else knows you, the few that do will insist that EVERYONE is missing out. And when EVERYONE finally dials in, suddenly the climate has changed and you’ve been rejected by the fanbase that worked to get you where you are today. My Chemical Romance is a fabulous example of a band that was touted by their followers as something everyone had to hear. Two singles later, they’re lambasted on blogs, deleted off of Myspace accounts, and their singer was even accused by some fans of carrying on a relationship with the singer of The Used.
What the hell happened?
There was a time in the “music scene” where there were no “scenes.” There was a single, simple division: the cultural values of yesterday that kept fucking up the country, and a growing, stirring mass of youth armed with their own unified culture and a demand for their own voice. The 60’s sparked a flourishing counter culture united against inequality, deceit and hypocrisy. The community at Woodstock gathered and danced to music from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, swayed to Jefferson Airplane, and sat in awe as Jimi Hendrix performed his own magic on stage. The culture had no need for divisions and silly politics: the only “street cred” you had to have was a desire to share a message and a willingness to listen to others. Sure, practically everyone was on acid, but their enjoyment of the concert was still a beautiful expression of acceptance in a society struggling with Civil Rights and a war that was going nowhere.
Almost fifty years later, our music scene has degenerated into another product. I don’t mean to speak mercilessly against the record industry, because their ultimate goal – that is, to mass distribute music – is something that I don’t think anyone could disagree with. Their methods, however, are an entirely different discussion altogether. We are well aware now of record companies paying for radio airplay of select singles, or their insistence on taking more money for a cd than the band that wrote it. Still, record companies respond to the consumer: their decisions and actions are more of a reflection of the BUYER.
That means that the problem ultimately lies with US, the listeners. We are the ones who have fueled a music scene that puts more effort into economic competition than artistic discourse. We are the ones who find it so necessary to say that anything we don’t like sucks. We have entire magazines devoted to telling people whether or not a cd is worth buying, and there are actually people out there who read a negative review somewhere and immediately develop a negative opinion for a band that they’ve never even heard. Imagine if hundreds of years ago there were publications circulating where critics could write pieces stating that Van Gogh’s latest painting was missing the intensity of his previous works, or that da Vinci should retire because his style was straying into unfamiliar and unlikable territory.
Which leads to the ultimate hypocrisy in music: art is relative, and therefore an objective review or discussion about a band or album is impossible. We all have different tastes that have been shaped by countless factors that we could never even begin to decipher here, and sometimes we enjoy music that we feel we really shouldn’t be enjoying (“Guilty Pleasures.”) But it isn’t as simple as saying “try everything!” either. Can ANYONE deny that there is a noticable difference in effort and general enjoyability between Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and anything ever released by Shakira? I would hope that the average person would prefer Pink Floyd, but do I have the right to say that they should in the first place?
I don’t really know the answer, and I don’t think anyone ever will. A solution isn’t entirely impossible, though. Rap seems to have gotten to the point where it embraces the popular AND the unknown as equally enjoyable. Jay-Z is practically worshipped by the entire culture, and we all are well aware of the martyrdom of Tupac and Biggie. But there is also a love for newer artists such as Lupe Fiasco who bring a truly unique approach to their art, and Common has managed to somehow remain both underground AND well known. The double standards in hip-hop seem to actually tie it closer to the culture that supports it: it both brags of it’s poverty and aspires to wealth. It speaks against the violence that has plagued it for years, but does so in threatening and violent terms. But make no mistake; there is much more unity in hip-hop than essentially any other genre of music. Rappers who are hated are still respected for their talent and pursuit of success. Imagine the average emo fan saying “I hate 3 Doors Down’s sound, but I really respect what they’re doing.”
It seems that we will never be able to eradicate the double standards that music has developed, but ultimately our generation is faced with an opportunity to reverse this decline in acceptance by changing our approach. Rather than classifying something that we don’t enjoy or even loathe as “horrible” or “sucky,” we can just accept the fact that for every 10 cool people you meet, there’s always at least one bizarre asshole, and he’s probably the guy that enjoys that song. His enjoyment isn’t something you have to understand or explain, nor does it make him wrong. It just means that that’s what he listens to, and you don’t enjoy it. We can share with others music that touches us or we feel deserves more attention, because art is something that should be shared and discussed with others. In doing so, hopefully we will start to be happy for the bands that do succeed and accept that more fans equals longer lines, less intimate venues and higher ticket prices, but in exchange the life of the band will be extended and enriched with the support it needs. If the musical community stops trying to politicize and narrowly define the sounds it demands and instead simply applauds and supports what it enjoys, we’ll be exposed to more and more artists unafraid to push the boundaries of what we think is possible in this medium of music.