While it has been some time since Alexandra Molotkow wrote her Riff article in the New York Times about pertaining to the new un-coolness of obscure music and some time since I posted about Dwight Pavlovic from Secretdecoder.net’s genius response to it, some things have been on my mind pertaining to the subject matter ever since. This following excerpt summarizes quite well the perspective Molotkow was attempting to provide:
“Populism is the new model of cool; elitists, rather than teeny-boppers or bandwagon-jumpers, are the new squares. There are now artists who sell out concerts while rarely getting played on commercial radio (the Weeknd or Tori Amos, for instance), and there are commercial radio artists whom no one in most people’s hipper circles has ever heard of because they listen exclusively to the Internet (Lady Antebellum, Jake Owen - pretty much all of so-called new country).”
While this following excerpt from Pavlovic’s piece summarizes quite well why we should be critical of such train of thought:
“Interestingly, Molotkow also seems to have, perhaps inadvertently aligned her making eccentric music with knowing about obscure music, which I should think plenty of musicians, collectors, and snobs could easily take issue with - the overlap is no where near common enough to presume. In fact, the association makes her look suspiciously like a post-graduate scenester, networking in a new environment where her vacuous faux-intellectual “look how we all grew up” is happily taken up, as if Alexandra Molotkow’s habits were something all of us older hipsters can relate to. She concedes later in the essay that her pride comes from playing music she likes but knows nothing about, rather than music she knows a lot about but thinks is “lousy”. She describes her Eleusinian mysteries…”
However, I feel there are still a couple of things missing from the response to Molotkow’s piece that that are of significance. Not all of them negative, either. In fact, I would like to compliment Molotkow on an social observation I am surprised she as an individual was able to conceive based on her apparent know-how exuded from her writing. It has been interesting to see the reaction from several music blogs in response as well, it seems she hit a sort of nerve with many people.
The first thing missing is an explanation for why this writing exists in the first place - what is occurring that prompted her to publish this? I believe because the Internet, for the most part, has made it very difficult for many to keep up with the taste making change of pace. Molotkow references time and time again experiences that are supposed to be progressive, i.e. going to concerts no one has heard about, being friends with a person who has an extensive garage rock collection, etc. It seems natural to me that people who fall out of pace with this change would tend to fall back on the traditional outlets for consistency in their music listening. As a result, we can view Molotkow’s perspective as one that many could relate to. While Pavlovic touched on this element while theorizing about her “faux intellectual” environment, I believe any person actively involved in music criticism should be able to sympathize with her in such a regard as it only heightens [our] importance.
Another sad element of Molotkow’s piece that I felt went for the most part unrecognized is that snobbery and coolness are integral pieces in her explanations for why people like the music they do in the first place. These are the only elements she associates with music fan hood, not once did Molotkow cite “Art” anywhere in her essay. This represents a frustration with her own inadequateness as well as a tremendous misunderstanding for the music industry as a whole. One Direction, a boy band from Ireland, is referenced in her riff as being an unacknowledged product that we should appreciate as being cool. This band is not unlike any of the boy bands from the ’90s, formulated in the same gross manner likely using significant inspiration from the current popularity of K-Pop. But K-Pop is a music industry prone to the same fate as that of the United State’s and as it matures a larger and more influential independent scene will eventually emerge. Populism in the age groups that these bands are directed towards has always been and will remain to be present - there is simply more homogeneity among thought processes in young individuals, there has been less time for their cognitions to develop and disassociate.
Lastly, I think it is important for people to understand that factors leading up to the end-result monetization of music have already changed and how they will continue to suffice in fulfilling the needs of musicians in the future. Maybe the best example of how the industry has changed is provided by the website Stereogum. Stereogum is a once-music-blog turned advertising venue. Owned by Buzz Media, they ruthlessly publish new songs all day long every day, have sweepstakes for pretty awesome prizes and are driven entirely by advertisement revenue. Artists get exposure on these sites, which leads to fan familiarization and thus [if the music is good] growth in popularity among not just youth groups but all age-tiers of society [if the music fits the shoe]. Such a process is not unlike what culminated in a Grammy for someone like Bon Iver, who, it is hard for me to imagine as being underpaid. His popularity has and will continue to serve as an example that this new method of reparation for musicians is quite lucrative - those who are inclined to fall back on traditional outlets again are playing into the hand of those obsessed with obscure music, seeking art that will resonate with larger swathes of society once exposed. This is a systematic process, it makes sense and is actually relatively predictable.