In what I truly hope is the nadir of pop fans whining about the mere existence of people who don’t like what they like, Rob Harvilla deploys a tactic I’m seeing more and more of lately: preemptively acknowledging a broader controversy as a way to avoid having to comment on it, when the subject of your piece demands engagement. Harvilla is mad that a single indie rock guy dared to publicly express his distaste for a popular artist. Because pop hegemony is now so complete, and the social pressure to like pop music so intense, Harvilla has to trot out every cliche and produce some obligatory, exhausted pro-pop shaming. This is, undoubtedly, a part of the great Poptimism vs. Rockism “debate”– a debate as real and evenly matched as the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals– even if Harvilla would prefer not to cast it in those terms.
Rather than confronting that facet of his argument, though, he’d prefer to avoid it. So he lampshades that debate: he nods briefly in its direction as a way to placate criticism for avoiding it, but doesn’t actually do anything to satisfy his need to talk about it. It’s a very neat trick: I don’t have a way to respond to this kind of criticism, or else I just don’t want to have to be bothered to respond to it, so I’m going to throw in a few words that wink at the fact that it exists and carry on my day. I see this all the time from professional opinion writers now, and it’s so, so lazy. “I know that this criticism exists, now let’s move on” is not cutting it, you guys. What’s your response to that criticism?
As for the debate itself, well, I think it’s as tired as Harvilla claims it is– and yet he still finds it necessary to embrace its most tedious cliche, which is the poor lamented downtrodden millionaire pop star. Taylor Swift has millions of dollars; she’s an idol to millions of people; her records receive not just critical respect but critical acclaim; she is literally broadcast into all of our homes. There are very few laurels our species gives out that we have not already awarded to Taylor Swift. And Bejar goes so far to try and ward off criticism like Harvilla’s. It’s as mild and unassuming as criticism gets. But in today’s world of total pop hegemony, even that’s too much for Harvilla: someone else out there doesn’t like something he likes, so it’s time to take to the battlements and punish the apostate.
This is just true in my own life: when people tell me they don’t like what I like, I say “It’s not for everyone.” If it’s a friend or someone who I think is on the fence and could find an explanation of what I like helpful, sure, I’ll tell them why I think the stuff I like is good. And I’m not going to change my mind and say “you’re right, it’s bad, only pop is good.” But always, I’m willing to say: it’s not for everyone. Like its inverse, “it’s not for me,” saying “it’s not for everyone” is a way to acknowledge the wonderful diversity of legitimate tastes. That’s what makes art great, difference, difference of opinion and of method and of style and of genre and of goals. When I tell people online that I don’t like Taylor Swift? They tell me that I’m out-of-touch, snobby, elitist — “you like things other than the things I like, so you are a bad person” — or even worse, they tell me that I’m lying, and that I don’t really like the things I say I like — “no one can possibly like things other than the things I like.”
I will never in a million years understand it. Why is the existence of differing opinions about music so immensely threatening to people?