don’t lampshade me, bro

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?

35 Comments

  1. “Why is the existence of differing opinions about music so immensely threatening to people?”
    Well, just think about what people say about music: it makes them happy, gives their lives meaning, reminds them of cherished places and people, makes them feel connected to others, etc. If someone says that OK Computer is pretentious, plebian garbage, they’re saying something about me too. It’s not too far from a ‘yo mamma’ insult. You might as well ask “Why is the existence of differing opinions about your mom’s weight so immensely threatening to people?”

  2. I think you’re missing the difference between “I don’t like this” and “You shouldn’t like this”. Bejar’s artsy-fartsy, self-important, douchbaggery feels a lot like the latter to me.

    You want to talk about how you don’t like Taylor Swift’s music. I think that’s fine. You want to talk about the kind of people who like Taylor Swift’s music? Go fuck yourself.

    And it’s not like I have any great love for Ms. Swift. My musical tastes pretty much stopped evolving shortly after Bill Clinton took office.

    It’s like that Avengers tweet you defended a while back. You want to talk about how you don’t like superhero movies. Go ahead. Knock yourself out. You want to imply that the people who do like them aren’t real grown ups? Go take a ride on the fuck yourself train.

      1. Why do you think it matters who brought it up?

        Any half-decent interviewer is going to ask provocative questions. If you allow yourself to be provoked by them and say something unfortunate, that’s on you. Bejar knew what he was saying. This isn’t his first rodeo.

        1. What he actually said:

          DB: Not too much. But, because I have a young daughter who’s in school now, I had this sneaking suspicion that Taylor Swift might be the dominant cultural theme of her generation and that I should listen to a song by her because I had never heard one. This was a couple of months ago. So I checked it out, and it gave me the willies. It wasn’t a reactionary thing. It was more from just hearing these hack nu-country melodies with dumb lyrics and some very advanced Pro-Tools production techniques that could dazzle certain music critics. I’m familiar with the fact that people who I count as intelligent are really into this woman’s records, and I don’t want to make this about Taylor Swift. I just generally have a more elemental take on things and I can’t hold up Taylor Swift as being either a figure of light or a figure of darkness because I feel like it brings down my poem to a level that’s too mundane. [laughs] So instead of being flabbergasted or outraged or dismissive, I really just want to pretend that those things don’t exist. Maybe I’ve always done a little bit of that, but I’m really steering into it now.

          ………

          Seriously? The guy is a lifelong musician and is giving an option on music and its tropes. How can this stir such visceral reactions.

          1. Because no one is allowed to imply someone who is superwealthy is less than fully deserving of it.

            That’s why.

          2. @bks

            Oh please, there is a whole industry of writers that do almost nothing but. Reciting lefty talking points is not speaking truth to power.

        2. I think it matters because he’s not slagging off T. Swift just off-hand, or out of what I would perceive as jealousy; he’s doing so in the context of an interview of what he was listening to while making his record (thus what it sounds like). Taylor Swift wasn’t a part of that, and he explains why, after apologizing for having the opinion.

          I wouldn’t think he was saying anything “unfortunate,” except that some Culture Editor took the opportunity to imply that by having that opinion Dan Bejar (and all other indie rock guys in 2015) is probably racist, and definitely jealous. As for her fans, all Bejar says is they include people he deems intelligent. It about as “It’s not for me, for these reasons” as you can get. The only group he really hits are music critics who are dazzled by Pro Tools.

          If what you’re railing against is someone telling you what to like and what not to like, it seems like your issue is with Harvilla, who took it upon himself to bravely stick up for a well-regarded and award-winning multimillionaire with a huge platform because he believes the only reason to NOT like Taylor Swift is malicious envy.

      2. Mr. deBoer,

        In an article with Ms. Swift (2x) in the header, guy writes a sleepy article about Mr. Bejar, with the general impression that he likes him. Sounds like a win for Dan Bejar (good!), and mebbe you are fussing over nothing.

        have a good one

  3. It’s not about the music, of course. Teen pop music isn’t a product intended to be used alone, good heavens. It’s just the hook for the whole brand lifestyle consisting of pop music, designer clothing, live shows, licensed merch, and timely, regular consumption of related social and other media*. What you might be seeing is the effect of a well-practiced, comprehensive lifestyle marketing campaign targeted at vulnerable, conformist populations who are coming of age and aching for a context, and instead given content: an instant tribe, an airbrushed, liquified, suggestive caricature of a human youth to idealize and fall short of, a collection of arbitrary aphorisms that may or may not have been uttered by said youth (e.g. YOLO), and an iTunes gift card — because the first one’s always free.

    In short, consumer piety, perhaps with a little access journalism on top, is what makes such cultural bunting as pop music objectively Important and keeps pop culture critics in work.

    * Including pop music publications and other culture rags.

    (In the interests of full disclosure, I was one of the metal kids, but I left any piety behind when I left high school.)

    1. You could say that about just about any genre of music, really. Fealty to a style or artist is often more about actual or desired tribal affiliation that is ever about the appreciation of the esthetic elements of the music.

      1. You could, but it would not be universally true. I am an old, nerdy, white collar minor bureaucrat, and I listen heavily to fairly “extreme” heavy metal.

        Not really a member of the “tribe”, although one could argue that the metal tribe is actually more inclusive, in some ways, than the pretty popular kids tribe of pop music.

  4. It does seem like an incredible coincidence that the 12 artists who the big music corporations decided to promote this year are the only 12 artists in the world who matter. I mean, with hundreds of millions of songs available online and more being added every second, what are the odds? It’s like some kind of miracle.

    1. The music that they play on the radio is not dictated by the record companies. I am sure the record companies (along with faded pop stars like madonna, black eyed peas etc. ) would like to be able to dictate who listens to what but that isn’t how it goes. You are right that promotion is needed and that very little music even has a chance.

  5. My stabs at answering the last question:

    – Narcissism. The need to be viewed in the way you view yourself. “People who appreciate good music have these opinions. I am someone who appreciates good music. If you don’t agree with my opinions, who am I?”

    – Subjectivity under neoliberalism placing enormous stress on promoting your individuality and “competing” in the “social marketplace”. Music is ubiquitous and in most every communal space, so it is the site of the most intense battles over social cache.

  6. Well said. The lampshading technique is a way to duck having to think critically and instead assert one’s opinions as if they were an argument. Besides being lazy, it’s also boring.

    I think a lot of it is just the internet. For the most part, in person discussions will be more productive, interesting and civil than arguing with strangers online. (Though there are certainly sites and blogs where good discussions can be had.)Not that people don’t dump on each other off the internet, it’s just that the objects of their scorn usually don’t hear it. (And how unsatisfying is that?)

    I spent a long stretch of years as first a punk and later an indie-rock snob who would happily hold forth on the inferiority of taste of all who listened to pop, and would eagerly stoke arguments to “prove” the superiority of my aesthetics. In fact, in my 20s, I’d argue at length on just about anything with anyone game to take me on. (In person, of course. This was the ’90s.)

    Now, in my 40s, I don’t have the energy for that shit. I’ve also noticed an inverse shifting of my tolerance levels as I’ve gotten older: I can stand things I once hated (Top 40, modern R&B), and have no patience for things I once appreciated (free jazz, ambient).

    As to Swift v. Bejar, well, thanks to my kids I’ve gone from tolerating to actually liking Ms. Swift. Can’t stand Destroyer. Though it’s totally something I would’ve gotten into (or convinced myself I was into) at age 26.

    1. Yea, i swear we must have met in the ’90s then. You were telling me that liking Jane’s Addiction made me a sheep, or something to that effect. Glad you got over that, it was tedious.

      1. Ha ha! Maybe for a brief moment in the late ’80s before I dropped acid that first time and listened to “Nothing’s Shocking.”

  7. I think the anger, at least in this case, is because this Harvilla guy, somewhere in his frivolous mind, is actually embarrassed that he listens to Taylor Swift. He knows that sharing and enjoying music that tween girls are “super into” is kind of vapid, at least in the case of Taylor Swift. Maybe I’m wrong, but isn’t it kind of normal for adults to outgrow bubblegum pop at some point? I know its an old-fashioned idea but I wonder, does Harvilla attend Swift concerts and dance with 11 year old girls too?

  8. QUOTE: ” I really just want to pretend that those things ( sWIFT)don’t exist. ”
    NO criticism, just : u do not exist!
    u r not worth a meaning!
    This is the worst u can do!
    Arrogant conceited jerk!

  9. “Most indie types who make a big public show of refusing to make vapid, catchy, enjoyable pop music want you to think they can, but nobly chose not to, when the truth is, they just can’t.”

    That’s a silly thing to say. There’s about 30-40 professional songwriters in the western world that are are retained by record companies to churn out songs like that. Most have been in the business for decades and have resumes that span from The Jonas Brothers to Rihanna. They’re mostly multi-millionaires recording in home studios that pitch rough draft tracks to producers over the phone.

    Defensiveness like this reminds me of a touchy, 20-something WWE fan. Having aged a decade past the illusion of professional wrestling, they now start to defend the honor of the weird machinery behind the product they love. “Let’s see Frank Mir take a fall like that! You think Jon Jones could do mic work like The Rock? Please. Wrestlemania is better than ever, the biz is in great shape.”

  10. I had to check myself against this sort of thing when I listened to last week’s Slate Culture Gabfest and each of the three panelists dismissed Mad Max: Fury Road. My initial reaction was irritation at their refusal to get in line praising this obviously great movie. Then I thought, “Wait, what do I care if they didn’t like it?” and I moved on with my life.

  11. I don’t really understand who or what’s stopping you from “liking what you like.” That sounds dick-ish and I don’t intend that tone, but I don’t know how else to phrase it. I very much look forward to reading your Mad Max posts once I’ve seen the movie (hopefully very soon), and would love a post on good new books or music, I’ve got some recent favorites to contribute to that discussion too. I don’t think these debates are very productive and I don’t think Harvilla is flying the poptimist flag either. Yes the post has Taylor Swift in the headline but the point is tangential to her and in the comments section…no disrespect is intended Freddie but you come off more defensive and less nuanced than the Gawkerers. Just my two cents, take it for what it’s worth. I do agree with you on geeks complaining when geek culture is ascendant, and I tend to agree with Harvilla that an eventual backlash will/is forming to the “bow down to Beyonce” twitterati, which is the annoying side of poptimism. I just don’t think his post was the best example for you to make your case, he “lampshaded” the poptimism debate because he isn’t really taking a side in it. He clearly likes Dan Bejar overall, while at the same time having some disdain for the trope of “indie rock dude throwing shade on big female pop star.” Which yes the interviewer did force into the interview, and then it becomes Taylor Swift clickbait in the original and recycled form, but that’s more of a beef with the structure of online media, and the media reporting on art and music, than it is fodder for the poptimism debate. Just my two cents, your blog is one of my few reliable stops on the internet so I hope this isn’t received as an attack.

    1. 1. “He clearly likes Dan Bejar overall, while at the same time having some disdain for the trope of “indie rock dude throwing shade on big female pop star.”

      That trope is powerless in our culture. It is almost nonexistent in real life, and where it does exist, it exists in this form: in the totally innocuous, mild, and self-deprecating criticism of a single musician. Why does it require such vocal reaction, when those reacting against it are by far the dominant cultural force?

      2. The fact that the clickbait economy causes shitty writing does not create in me a sense of obligation to avoid calling it shitty.

      1. 1. Where’s the “vocal reaction?” There’s a much more vocal reaction happening here in the comments by Chuchundra than there ever was from Harvilla, or the other Gawker writers you picked a fight with in the comments there. It just seems like if your point here is this strong you should be able to pick an example that hews much more closely to it.

        On the trope being powerless in our culture, I see your point though I wouldn’t say it’s completely without power. I would appreciate if Harvilla backed up his point there with more evidence, I can’t get his original post to load now but as best I remember he had one other example of an indie rock guy criticizing a prominent female pop star. Do Indie Rock guys really criticize female pop stars more than male ones? Maybe, maybe not. You’re right that that might just be lazy on Harvilla’s part. That said it’s a far cry from what he wrote to ALL BOW DOWN TO THE CULTURAL HEGEMONY OF T-SWIFT.

        And I do think Harvilla highlighted a more interesting dynamic with the indie rocker who self-sabotages (with Bejar promoting his album of obscure genre mashup which doesn’t sound too appealing to me either) and perhaps underestimates the craft that goes into big pop songs. I would guess some of those issues are explored at greater length and in a more personal, interesting way in the book Your Band Sucks by Jon Fine which I heard about on a podcast the other week. And I know the self-sabotaging creative type is explored in a more interesting way with the documentary “Dig!”, specifically the Brian Jonestown Massacre half of it. All that said, those are a book and a movie, respectively, for the length of the post he was writing, for me what Harvilla wrote was a relatively enjoyable, nuanced read.

        2. Shitty is stretching the point, and is this really the shittiest? We all have only so much time, why is it your obligation to “call out shitty writing” as you see it, instead of say, devoting your time to writing about “liking what you like,” or using aspects of clickbait posts you think are lacking as a jumping-off point for more interesting discussions in a forum of your choosing, such as your own blog? That part is just not adding up for me.

        I know that “let me make your point better for you” is an annoying move but even if it’s not as timely, I think you’d have a lot better fodder for your anti-poptimist crusade with, say, the backlash to Beck winning the Grammy over Beyonce (the Grammies are dumb and all, but that really did make people mad). This example just doesn’t seem that on-point to me.

  12. “Why is the existence of differing opinions about music so immensely threatening to people?”

    Perhaps because music is deeply personal to folks for all sorts of reasons, many of which are inchoate . Of course, there are different ways we respond to music — emotionally, intellectually, sexually, sentimentally, tribally.

    But because music is so deeply personal, some folks are simply prone to feeling misplaced or un-understood, unsettled, if the people they like or respect don’t respond to music in the same way they respond. It’s like sexual incompatibility. And reconciling the difference feels oddly important, takes on a quasi sense of internal urgency. It’s just a specific form of immaturity most people outgrow.

  13. I would say that I personally have received less pushback for what I don’t like than for what I do. If I tell someone that, say, movies based on comic books are not my cup of tea there might be a brief look of disappointment but the individual soldiers on. If I tell someone that I enjoyed a movie that falls under that person’s general “art movie” umbrella the derision is immediate and undisguised. It’s as if I can be forgiven for not liking what they like, but not for liking what they don’t. Weird.

  14. I went over to that obscure website — I had never ever heard of it before — and read Rob Harvilla’s post about Taylor Swift and Dan Bejar. I got an eerie feeling that I’d been there before. It reminded me of my experiences in an institution that was once ubiquitous in America but slowly died out with the relentless suburbanization of the country: the neighborhood or corner bar. You can still find a few in the older cities of the east coast and they still survive in much of Europe.

    In those days, you could walk into the neighborhood bar and there was sure to be at least one patron, slightly sauced, who had a strong opinion about some contemporary topic and was more than willing to share it with everyone else. That led to lots of amusing and mostly friendly bull sessions.

    Now, I’m sure that Rob Havilla considers himself a universe apart from some blue-collar working stiff who’s blowing off steam after work, but his rant isn’t all that more sophisticated than what you’d hear in the neighborhood bar. He’s a hipster version of the Cliff Clavin character in the ’80s TV series Cheers.

    In the 21st century this seems to be how we congregate. I, for one, miss the yeasty smell of draught beer that would greet you when you walked into your friendly neighborhood bar. It made all the difference. And the beer made it a bit easier to swallow some of the cheesier opinions being bandied about.

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