Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Firing the arcade, abandoning the hype

(Many blogs are geared toward keeping on top of breaking news. My site has mastered the fine art of commenting long after nobody still cares. It's all about finding one's niche.)

Listening to a Soundcheck podcast from a few weeks ago where two music critics debated Arcade Fire. This was back when the band's latest album, The Suburbs, was #1 on the charts.

One was fond of the new album, the other not so much. The latter was turned off by what he considered a humorless self-importance, the former liked the subtleties to be found upon repeated listens. In short, it was the same sort of "why is there so much hype?" exploration of Arcade Fire that the Culture Gabfesters tackled a few weeks ago.

All that comes to mind of any novelty is that when they opened the discussion over to listeners (the podcast is a recording of a live radio program on WNYC) and encouraged comments on the show's web page the overwhelming number of them (as reported by the producer) were negative. But of course they were; it's much easier to express one's dismay when there's something achieving popularity that you don't believe is worthy of that status. That's what riles up those who would be inclined to chime in on such a forum. It's much easier to tear them down than it is to defend them (and those who did referenced their live show really being the selling point, not so much the albums themselves, which seems to be fairly universally agreed upon).

No one is arguing that the album or the band is bad, that they're utterly talentless; they merely refute that the hype surrounding them is warranted by the quality of what is produced. And certainly one can hold that opinion, but at that point it becomes a statement about the speaker's personal perspective on hype than it offers any specific insight into the album or band. For my money I'd much rather have a band like Arcade Fire—whom I do consider to be talented and worth hearing, even if they're not the best band around—atop the charts than flash-in-the-pan, manufactured pop stars (I'm looking at you, Ke$ha). That gives me much more hope about the future of popular music.

Sure, that's more a claim that I like the idea of Arcade Fire more than the band itself, and I suppose to an extent that's true, but I'm not trying to pretend that's not the case. I'm not cloaking myself in any self-importance to judge the band for not being what I want them to be like I think those who are not on the bandwagon do.

I continue to have the measured response to the band wherein I compare it to my response to Mad Men, where if it doesn't appeal to you, I completely understand—I can't quite put my finger on why I like either, nor would I attempt to convince anyone to like either—I merely know I do enjoy them and believe they display some level of empirical quality that even if someone doesn't like them it's still not worth directing any significant vitriol toward them (unless you wish to demonstrate your insecurities about your relationship to popular culture).

In short: Quit expending energy on whether they live up to any externally generated hype, concede they just don't float your boat, and move on with your life.


I fully admit that's making a statement about me, by the way. I may be an overly analytical a-hole but I'm not a hypocrite.


Of course, it is worth acknowledging that those who go on these debate shows (be they about music, sports, politics, or any other subject) or who write about these topics are probably expected to assume a very polarized point of view for their rhetorical purposes; to get out there and submit a balanced argument without claiming that their position is infallible (and implying that anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot) is failing to meet the tacit obligations of the medium. What the audience wants is to be entertained, not to be educated; only unmitigated praise or disdain will draw listeners/readers.

That there's these rules to follow does not make following them any less flawed.


That I've over-generalized for effect does not make that last part any less believable by those who choose to see the media a particular way, even though it's blithely dismissing the faction of those engaging in actual rational discourse. You know the ones—they don't get mentioned much by the larger media outlets who have nothing to agree with or to rally against.

Taking the time to listen only interferes with reinforcing one's preexisting beliefs.

I don't know whether my being quasi-provocative with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek makes this any less objectionable to those who would like to see the reasoned discussion suggested above. I really don't.


Sometimes these things just get away from me.



  1. Um, okay, in the middle of all that, I got the urge to check out Arcade Fire. I think that was your intent. ;-)

  2. Okay, Marvin, if I'm supposed to have intention with these things then that's really going to hamper my style.

  3. I read this in an alternative weekly newspaper about a local band but it can apply to all bands.

    It's cool if you're the first one to discover [name of band].

    The band becomes popular.

    Then it's cool to be the first to hate [name of band].


So, what do you think?