Pop is the new indie.
[Note: For the sake of clarity, by “pop” I strictly mean music that is popular or known by a very large portion of regular music listeners. By “indie” I mean the broader alternative scene, otherwise largely ignored by mainstream stations.]
Not too long ago it seemed most independent bands either denounced all pop music as unoriginal, boring, and mass-marketed tripe, or were apathetic towards the topic. Which is why it’s interesting to notice a changing shift in attitudes towards commercial mainstream artists today.
The time old view by some musicians that all pop music is rubbish and biased is unreasonable. That said, I believe the majority of today’s popular music is over-sexualised, shallow, and largely uninventive – and as a result I listen to very little of it. Most would argue that it’s popular because it’s uninventive. It appeals to people’s established notions of popular music, and through its refusal to stretch boundaries, it is easily accessible. But I digress.
Recently, the attitude amongst independent musicians, and some listeners, appears to be leaning towards an acceptance and enjoyment of pop. Is this a bad thing? Of course not. To be able to enjoy a form of music regardless of listener base or popularity is a desirable trait. We are too often influenced by stereotypes and manipulated into assuming a certain artist is “bad” – or “good” for that matter – that we subconsciously form part of a judgement before even listening to the song. To try and judge music on its individual merits, and to block out misconceptions surrounding its popularity, shows a strong sense of independence.
There is however, what appears to be a bigger issue.
Subcultures are present all over society, and the predominant one ingrained within the independent scene has now evolved into the hipster subculture. Which summed up in a musical context, is elitism based on musical preferences, with an accompanying fashion aesthetic. Sure, not everyone who enjoys indie behaves like a hipster, but the subculture itself exists, and behaving in such a manner serves no purpose. It doesn’t encourage people to broaden their musical horizons, and it creates a misplaced sense of entitlement and worth. What is important is that hipster-ism isn’t just a subculture – it is a counter-culture. It appears to actively go against the grain. Hipsters gain their sense of worth by standing out and listening to small independent bands most people haven’t heard of, and they sometimes use this to belittle others – in short, they gain their worth by being different.
Of course standing out from the crowd or listening to small bands isn’t bad and shouldn’t be chastised. But to actively seek out new ways to be different for attention, or to abandon bands once they become popular, is pointless.
As independent music becomes more accepted and well known within broader society (bands like Phoenix, Vampire Weekend, and Arcade Fire are prime and outstanding examples), hipsters everywhere are facing a problem – their counter-culture is slowly losing its “counter” aspect. As the hipster aesthetic and musical mindset become more widespread, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to be different for the sake of being different. They no longer stand out.
The hipster subculture is by no means changing. Whether we will see a large increase in future years as the subculture reaches its peak will remain to be seen, but like the wave of “emos” that came through in the early 2000’s, it appears the subculture will slowly be abandoned by those originally devoted to it, especially as it becomes over-populated by new people interested in the next big trend.
So, what is happening? What’s my point? I believe we are seeing a certain mindset developing in opposition to the onset growth of hipster-ism.
We are seeing an increase in musicians (and probably some listeners of indie as well) who are proclaiming their love of pop music. This is of course completely reasonable, if they truly love and are influenced by pop music. However, the ironic part is that the majority of these artists don’t create pop music, and are in fact largely independent. The music they create may be “pop” in the sense that it’s upbeat and cheery, but it is rarely targeted towards a mainstream audience.
So what? Just because they enjoy pop music doesn’t mean they have to write it as well. Yes, very true.
However, and call me cynical, but from my perspective that may mean that people are not developing a more reasonable and open approach to their music and their tastes. They may not be breaking down musical barriers associated with popularity.
Maybe all this change embodies is another counter-culture. A counter-counter-culture, if you will. A simple reaction to the growing number of hipsters. How many artists and listeners are saying they like pop music now, merely to be different? Merely to go against the grain, and stand against everything hipsters stand for.
Will we see an increase in exclusive indie kids and hipsters, alongside the beginnings of a new counter-culture? Time will tell. Let’s just hope that anything new will be less arrogant and elitist. A broader acceptance of music, and judgement of art on its individual merits alone – whether it exists merely as a counter-culture or for the right reasons – will at least be a step in the right direction.