The Grammys? Meh.

So the Grammy Awards were last night.

I didn’t watch them.

I never watch them.

If you are among my regular readers (may the road rise up to meet you), this may come as a bit of a surprise.  Awards shows are a particular fascination and delight of mine.  I watch them with nigh unto religious devotion.  Or rather, I watch some of them.

I do not care at all about awards shows doled out by the music industry.  Watching their celebrities parade down the red carpet holds no pleasure for me.  I will occasionally flip the channel to a music awards show if there’s nothing else on, but it’s nothing like the appointment viewing that the Golden Globes or SAG Awards are, to say nothing of the Oscars.

Today I found myself wondering what the cause of my stark difference in attitude might be.  After all, the shows all offer ostensibly similar viewing experiences — ridiculously famous people mingling with each other while wearing clothing that costs more than the black market value of most of my internal organs combined.

It’s not that I think acting awards shows reward merit to a greater degree than music ones.  After all, I’ve just said that I watch the Golden Globes.  Given that I’ve made a practice of trying to predict Oscar winners every year despite having seen none of the actual nominated films, clearly I understand that they are often awarded based on factors other than the quality of said films/performances.  I don’t believe that the Grammy Awards are any more prone to this kind of thing than the ones I favor.

I will say that people tend to take the Grammys less seriously than they do the Oscars, and perhaps that’s a part of it.  Even though they round out the coveted EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) quartet, they don’t seem to be nearly as vested with meaning (real or otherwise) as the other three.  Frankly, given how silly awards shows really are if you stop to think about them, this may very well redound to the music industry’s credit.  But something about the self-seriousness of the acting awards show season makes it seem like it’s about something, and it’s fun to play along even if we all know better.

No, what I really think the difference is is “glamour” vs “cool.”

Glamour is the tinfoil for the magpie in my soul.  I love gowns and manners and things that sparkle.  I love spectacle and ceremony and all kinds of silly pomp.  Acting awards shows have those things in spades.  But we all know that it’s just a facade.  Nobody thinks Jennifer Lawrence swans around her house in Dior.  At the end of the night, the jewels go back to Harry Winston.  It’s all a gigantic game of dress-up, and even though I’m not there in a tux myself (a cosmic injustice), I can still play the home game.  (Part of what makes Jennifer Lawrence so appealing as a celebrity is how clearly she seems to understand all of this, and while it may all be an elaborate persona, she comes across as someone who’d have a good time at your barbeque if she happened to show up.)

Cool, on the other hand, is meant to be about the person him or herself.  Nothing is less cool than trying to be cool.  It’s all about some kind of innate legitimacy or credibility.  It is an attitude and a posture, and it is as much about differentiating yourself from the uncool as it is about anything intrinsic.  You can take a break from trying to be glamorous, but you’re just supposed to be cool.

Having cashed in my chips on trying to be cool many moons ago, I don’t really care to spend my free time watching people who have made a profession of it.  I can pretend at being glamorous from time to time under the right circumstances, but I can’t be bothered to try being cool.  So the one still gives me vicarious pleasure, while the other leaves me cold.

If you spend time looking at the photographs of those who attended the ceremony over at the best (non-OT) blog in the world, you can maybe get a sense of what I mean.  So many attendees don’t bother trying to look particularly good (though plenty obviously do), and are more interested in looking cool.  It’s like everything I can’t stand about hipsters in its purest, most concentrated form.  It’s probably why I don’t like James Franco, either.  He seems to impressed with his own coolness, such that he thought he could coast on it at the Oscars, resulting in the worst hosting job ever.

But the Oscars aren’t about coolness.  They’re about putting on your fancy clothes and being excited that your peers like you, they really like you.  Nobody would mistake that for cool, and that’s exactly why I love them.

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104 thoughts on “The Grammys? Meh.

  1. But aren’t both groups of people just playing to the extreme of their in-group cultural/social norms? Isn’t [insert ‘cool’ fashion trend] just the music world’s equivalent of Harry Winston? If we were to look back at the Oscars of 10 or 20 years ago, wouldn’t we see a great number of outfits that’d make us gag, indicating there isn’t some timeless classiness going on but rather an appeal to whatever the look-du-jour is? And the look-du-jour for music is just different than that for Hollywood?

    Maybe that’s exactly what you meant and you just prefer the one over the other, which you are perfectly entitled to do. I just think ‘glamorous’ and ‘cool’ are two different paths to ‘looking the part’.

    I was actually considering watching the Grammys because I was interested in some of the performances. If I had to choose between it and the Oscars, I’d likely choose the Grammys. Seeing Beyonce, JayZ, Kendrick Lamar, and Daft Punk interest me far more than seeing Channing Tatum ballroom dance… or whatever that gobbledygook was. That said, it does seem that the Grammys isn’t even really trying to get it right. I still can’t quite figure out what I’m supposed to like about Lorde or why “Royals”, a song I’m pretty sure I could write, is supposed to be so special. The lack of attention to Kanye and complete shutout of KL was borderline offensive. I get that Maclemore and Ryan Lewis are an interesting story or something because of how hard it is for white people nowadays but I can’t really construct an argument wherein they were a superior musical act to either of those other two. I guess I’ll give them credit for honoring Daft Punk because I genuinely loved that album. Also, the first person who can explain the difference between “Album of the Year” and “Record of the Year” — which often have both different winners and different nominees — gets a dollar from me.

    The good thing is that I can catch all the performances on YouTube the next day. And lookup who won the Best Aboriginal Shout-Screaming Acoustic Album.

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    • The fashions may differ, but the attitudes are the same. (For the record, I don’t think the Oscars are “classy,” certainly not along the lines of how I’d define the word in keeping with my comment on your post earlier today.) You’re right in that it’s a question of playing the part in both cases, but the way the parts are played is different.

      Look at how the guy who accepted Eminem’s (deserved) Oscar was dressed when he took the stage. He’s not trying to communicate that he’s glamorous, he’s trying to communicate that he’s cool. Which is in keeping with his industry, and more power to him. But it’s not my scene. (The lady giving out the award is Barbra Streisand, by the way.)

      The difference is, I think, is that nobody really thinks the glamour is how the Hollywood set really is. We know it’s all fake, but I enjoy reveling in all its glitter anyway. But it seems to me that we’re meant to believe that those cool edgy rock people are really cool and edgy. When they’re putting it all on just as much, and pretending they’re not.

      It’s all playing dress-up, but I think the Oscars are more honest about it.

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      • The difference is, I think, is that nobody really thinks the glamour is how the Hollywood set really is. We know it’s all fake, but I enjoy reveling in all its glitter anyway. But it seems to me that we’re meant to believe that those cool edgy rock people are really cool and edgy. When they’re putting it all on just as much, and pretending they’re not.

        This is pretty accurate, I think. The faux-cool musicians and the industry-musicians have a serious amount of overlap.

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    • why “Royals”, a song I’m pretty sure I could write, is supposed to be so special.

      Pity you didn’t. I suspect you’d be far richer. :)

      As for why it’s special, I can only give my personal two cents: It stands out, it’s simplistic in style and driving in beat, and while not ‘unique’ in any sense (no music is, these days. It’s all been done before. Simpsons did it, etc), it’s certainly stand-out from the usual suspects.

      Which tends to get one awarded, when one breaks against the grain and the result is popular.

      As to being able to write it — in all seriousness, I understand it is more difficult to write a simple song than a complex one. Complexity can conceal a multitude of sins. Simplicity stands alone.

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      • I should clarify… I mean that I could write the lyrics. I couldn’t write any music anywhere ever. I hear the lyrics being applauded. Like, seriously. When all they are doing is parodying rap lyrics. And while good parody isn’t easy (I’m not sure it qualifies as good parody, mind you), it still seems a stretch to me to applaud a chorus that simply lifts common words from other songs and sets them to a beat.

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      • I enjoy(ed) “Royals” (before it got played to death), both for its amusingly skeptical lyrics and its novel tune. But if you want a truly well-written musical critique of celebrity consumerist culture, I recommend Lily Allen’s “The Fear.”

        [Edited: Please be aware of explicit lyrics.]

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      • And while good parody isn’t easy (I’m not sure it qualifies as good parody, mind you), it still seems a stretch to me to applaud a chorus that simply lifts common words from other songs and sets them to a beat.

        The key to an effective parody is timing. It’s entirely possible that Royals would have sank without a trace 5 years ago, or 5 years from now.

        I quite like Royals, though it’s even more ubiquitous down here. The Lorde hype has completely overrun the country.

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      • That’s right… she’s from down there, right?

        Again, I’m no music expert. But if I compare “Royals” to anything Kanye or KL or Daft Punk did this year or someone like Adele in years past, it just doesn’t seem to even be in the same realm. She’s got a good voice and the song is catchy, but nothing seems special about it, let alone brilliant or award-worthy.

        But what do I know? I *love* Styx.

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      • I don’t particularily know why I like Royals but I know I stumbled across it and listened to the video she made on youtube repeatedly with great enjoyment. Then to my enormous surprise it showed up on the radio a few months later.

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  2. Does this mean you are not fond of Steve McQueen? The actor, not the current director.

    Interesting prospective. I suppose it is largely true that Hollywood’s allure still rests on glamor and cool is the domain of the music industry because it tries to sell being rebellious and free and somewhat outlawish.

    I generally don’t listen to music likely to win the grammy’s as far as I can tell. I love movies and the idea of who gave the best performance but even though I am deeply interested in clothing/fashion, I don’t really care for the sell of glamor and my personal style is more downtown than Dior. I am generally turned off by the speeches which feel false to me. I watched the Golden Globes this year with my girlfriend and all the babbling and alleged impromptouness felt too much and too planned and I generally like everyone who one. I was a bit turned off by the whole flop down on a couch thing Cate Blanchett did during her interview with Al Rooker.

    If you think I am being too cynical, I am open to counterarguments.

    Also Jennifer Lawrence is a wonderful actress but I am not sure we would get along in person because she has given interviews where she said she is a Rob Schneider movie kind of person and this is true to her Kentucky roots or something like that.

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  3. In terms of winners at the Golden Globes, I was only disappointed by Best Song. It would have shown a sense of humor if the Kennedy Space man song from Inside Llewlyn Davis one instead of the typical song that did.

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  4. By the way, I am very excited for our Espy’s viewing party. Any time we can watch gargantuan men after having conversations about whether they should go with the triple-breasted or quadruple-breasted suit jacket is sure to be a good one. Self-awareness is a rare commodity among athletes.

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  5. I’m not big into award shows generally, but I still get a chuckle out of the classic clip of Faith Hill *not* getting Female Vocalist of the Year by the CMA.

    Granted, I feel a bit bad about my glee. It’s most likely the case that someone told her that she was going to win. I can only imagine the embarrassment. Even so… [chuckle]

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      • “Before Elvis, there was nothing” – John Lennon

        “Rock critics like Elvis Costello, because rock critics *look* like Elvis Costello.” – “Diamond” David Lee Roth

        Try to imagine a world without Elvis’ titanic influence – you can’t.

        Now, try to imagine a world without Elvis Costello’s influence.

        That’s easy, my friend.

        It’s basically the world we live in.

        I don’t deny Costello’s talent, he’s a good songwriter and a passable singer; but to put him anywhere *near* The King is pure, utter nonsense, and I won’t abide it.

        No sir.

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      • Yeah, but imagine a world without Diamond Dave…

        The thing about Elvis Costello is that he was only influential for a short period, and that was a long time ago. Music history is littered with people like that, the Televisions, Ian Drurys, Coleman Hawkins and such. In the end, the effect that they have is like X’s effect on Civil Wars.

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      • What bands are currently influenced by Diamond Dave and Van Halen very clearly?

        If anything it says something about being X that they can influence bands that formed 20-30 years after their hey day. The world will also be filled with bands like the Velvet Underground which were not popular but liked by the right kind of people and I’d rather be a Velvet Underground than a Van Halen.

        This is almost certainly snobby of me.

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      • If Elvis hadn’t died, he’d be Dean Martin by now. In fact, he was pretty much Dean Martin when he DID die.

        Male Model Looks + Charisma does not win out over talented songwriter, lyricist, and symphony composer. Except, of course, in Vegas. Or Branson. Or the Grammys.

        It’s like saying because so many people have James Dean posters in their dorm rooms, he was a better actor that Olivier.

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      • On the other hand, we don’t know what kind of actor James Dean would have morphed into because he died young. He was considered to be part of the Brando method-acting revolution that eventually led to the Hollywood Renaissance in bringing a new intensity and personal nature to the screen as opposed to old school film acting which as considered highly stylized.

        We also don’t know how Buddy Holly or Richie Valens would have matured as artists/performers because of their early deaths.

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      • In that matter I already know I am in the minority.

        There are some dead actors who we all call great young actors whom I believe were physically attractive terrible actors. Monroe was one. (I have never bought the “comedic genius” line, and suspect it’s similar to the condescending “my young attractive secretary here REALLY runs the company” line).

        Dean is another. The overacting in Rebel is painful to watch, I think, if you remove the “but he’s one of history’s greatest stars” narrative in your head hen you watch it.

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      • With Diamond Dave, I was half making a joke, but half serious. The DLR years of Van Halen are some of the most loved moments in rock, in much the same way that Elvis Presley is much loved to this day.

        As for X as lived through acts such as Civil Wars (by the way, just awful), my point was that for someone with fairly deep musical knowledge, it is pretty obvious. But I would bet that the Civil Wars were at best only vaguely aware of X, and the reasons that they would be considered a direct descendant would not be known.

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      • How does acting now compare to action decades ago? Sometimes I watch “classic” movies and it doesn’t really look like anyone is acting.

        How much did “method acting” change things?

        Fun fact: I taught Lee Strasberg’s grandson. Anna Mizrahi was an incredibly nice lady during the half-day I spent with her.

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      • What bands are currently influenced by Diamond Dave and Van Halen very clearly?

        Unironically enthusiastic rock has been dead since about… 1993? Maybe there are new kids doing it, Glyph or Chris would know better than I would

        Early Van Halen was a pretty exemplar group of unironically enthusiastic rockers, though.

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      • I’ll have some of whatever you are smoking, sir. Granted that Elvis lost his way – but considered as a singer and a performer (and a cultural force), The King is Godzilla, and Costello is just a wee little man fleeing blindly through the streets of Tokyo.

        And that band? Scotty Moore, son? Are you kidding me?

        But hey, don’t take my word for it.

        “Elvis is the greatest cultural force in the twentieth century. He introduced the beat to everything, music, language, clothes, it’s a whole new social revolution – the 60’s comes from it.”
        -Leonard Bernstein

        “…it was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody’s ear, and somehow we all dreamed it.”
        -Bruce Springsteen

        “When I first heard Elvis’ voice, I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss…Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.”
        -Bob Dylan

        “I wasn’t just a fan, I was his brother. He said I was good and I said he was good; we never argued about that. Elvis was a hard worker, dedicated, and God loved him. Last time I saw him was at Graceland. We sang Old Blind Barnabus together, a gospel song. I love him and hope to see him in heaven. There’ll never be another like that soul brother.”
        -James Brown

        “It was THE beginning of rock ‘n’ roll.”
        -David Lynch

        “His kind of music is deplorable, a rancid smelling aphrodisiac…It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people.”
        -Frank Sinatra

        “If ever there was music that bleeds, this was it.”
        -Greil Marcus, From his book “Mystery Train,” remembering the 1968 TV Special

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      • Elvis was a bridge crosser.

        But most of the really interesting stuff is on the other side of that bridge. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Elvis, but from the standpoint of doing things with instruments and voices and rhythms and makin’ stuff happen, Elvis wasn’t half as interesting as Ray Charles.

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      • – and Elvis would have told you that his own damn self. Until he got drug-addled, he was by all accounts clear-eyed about who and what he was, and even humble about it.

        In an interview he gave to Jet in which he unequivocally denied some racist comments that had been attributed to him (that appeared in the time’s version of The Enquirer or other gossip rag, second-hand, unsubstantiated, that persists unfortunately to this day) he said:

        “I never said anything like that, and people who know me know that I wouldn’t have said it…A lot of people seem to think I started this business. But rock ’n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. Let’s face it: I can’t sing like Fats Domino can. I know that.”

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      • I must admit that Giant is probably one of my least favorite movies.

        This is probably I can make a post on and you would need to get into the disputes between Stella Adler (who taught Brando) and Lee Strassberg (who taught Pacino and many others). When Strassberg died, Stella Adler remarked that a 100 years would pass before the damage Strassberg did to acting began to disappear. I would say that we are still in the world of Method Acting (both Adler and Strassberg are considered Method systems) and only some experimental and avant-garde theatre groups like the Wooster Group use non method acting.

        I’ve taken Adler and Strassberg acting classes. The short version is that Strassberg focuses on psychology and using your deepest personal memories and traumas to enhance performance. Adler focuses on analogy and imagination. An Adler exercise would have you pick and expression like “Proud as Peacock” or “Sly as a Fox” and then begin imitating the animal. You would then take that into your scene and use it to get what you (the character wants). I much prefer Adler.

        I’m not so sure. Every high school has a handful of students who latch onto and identify with the trends and rebellions of a previous generation over their own and this would include kid’s who find X or the Smiths or Black Flag or the Hollies over whatever is popular with their peers.

        The non-irony is a good point.

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      • “This is probably I can make a post on…”

        I was hoping you, specifically, would say that.

        I may be using the term “method actor” wrong. My very amateur and ignorant perspective makes me think that for a long time actors just played themselves on screen and were rewarded for it. Nowadays, the most well-regarded actors go very far to immerse themselves in their character. The latter approach seems not only more difficult but to yield better results. I mean, was anyone doing what Christian Bale is doing 60 years ago?

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      • I think Brando gave some wonderful performances like in On the Waterfront and the Godfather. He was positively charming in The Freshman. Though Rod Steiger was the better actor in On the Waterfront. I would possibly give up part of my liver to see Brando perform in the original production A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway with Jessica Tandy as Blanche and directed by Elia Kazan.

        What we probably don’t realize is how revolutionary Method acting was to audiences at the times. Marlon Brando was really the first or one of the first to bring it to a wide-audience. There was the Group Theatre in the 1930s but their influence was after the fact through their students. Both Strasberg and Adler were actors and directors with the Group Theatre during the Depression.

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  6. http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/music_box/2014/01/_2014_grammy_winners_daft_punk_macklemore_and_other_white_people_triumph.html

    The usual beef against the Grammy’s is that they are very white it seems.

    This might be one area where I am deeply ambivalent or do a slight split from the left. I ambivalent the idea that there is a moral requirement to like certain artists or kinds of music. This seems to be a hot topic among a certain part of the left. Disliking pop music and/or hip-hop shows you as a secret uber right-winger or something.

    And I remember when suburban kids were mocked for liking gangsta rap and pretending to be tougher than they were. How things change.

    Hmm.. I wonder if there is a post in this.

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    • Another example of this is when NPR published a poll of their listener’s favorite albums.

      http://www.npr.org/blogs/allsongs/2013/07/09/200471775/results-the-albums-everyone-can-love

      The results are what you would expect if a lot of boomers and probably male and white boomers participated in the poll. This does not surprise me because I suspect that the average NPR donater and heavy listener and poll responder is a boomer and probably a white male. The Beatles appear four times. The rest are Otis Redding, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Same Cooke, and Marvin Gaye.

      In younger and more progressive circles, I saw that this list was denounced as a pitch-perfect example of privilege as opposed to just a bunch of old dudes expressing their nostalgic likes. The list is certainly not what I would pick for my top choices but I don’t understand how the progressive/liberal cause is helped by having old people say that they prefer Jay-Z and Lorde and whoever to the Beatles and Sam Cooke and Miles Davis.

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      • Don’t you think it would be kind of creepy for a middle-aged guy to listen to Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry? I’m pretty sure a guy who attended a Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry concert without his daughters or nieces would get labeled creepy so it seems like a no-win situation.

        I don’t dismiss it out of hand. There is pop music that I like. Though I would describe it more as indie-pop than pop but others disagree. My love of Stars is apparently surprising.

        We just need a better dialogue on these things because when I hear people discuss it, they seem to want to psychoanalyze the unconscious about why people prefer rock over pop, etc. Again this seems like a no win situation where “I don’t like pop music” is never let be as a simple explanation or “I just prefer to listen to the Decemberists over Kayne”

        I was in 7th or 8th grade (I think 8th grade) when the Chronic came out and Gangsta Rap exploded into the mainstream. I knew many white-suburban and well-to do kids who took up with gangsta rap and adopted the fashions. Even at 13, I thought it was absurd over cool or transgressive that well-to-do classmates were trying to mimic what they saw in Snopp Dogg videos to appear transgressive or tough. For better or for worse, I felt the Smiths, Velocity Girl, Decemberists, etc were more authentic to my emotional experience as a well-educated upper-middle class suburbanite and now urban dweller. Eventually media began to mock the white kids who listened to hip-hop and tried to be gangsta. Our own Conor P. Williams noted cognitive disonnace cons who love gangsta rap but spend the day being ultra-right wingers. One of them just resigned from Congress. I will note that not all white suburban kids who like hip-hop are conservative.

        So which is it? Is it absurd for me to like hip-hop because of my upbringing or is it showing privilege to prefer indie rock? It can’t be both. And yet it seemingly is.

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      • I think the answer is often “It depends.” Chris and I have gone back and forth a good amount on Kendrick Lamar. Chris loves Kendrick Lamar. I don’t. I think he is immensely talented as a lyricist but when I listen to music — especially rap music — I tend not to put so much emphasis on the lyrics themselves. That’s just how I roll. So, naturally, I am going to be drawn more to some of, say, Kanye’s earlier stuff which had some so-so lyrics at times but remarkable music going on because I put more emphasis on music. And Chris — a big fan of lyrics — is going to be drawn to KL or Kanye’s most recent album. Is one of us right? No. And I think we both get that.

        There is some pop music I listen to because it’s catchy and feels good on my ears. I’ll rarely argue the artistic superiority of it but, hey, if it gets your toes tapping, why pretend otherwise?

        Over time, I put less and less stock in the relationship between someone’s background and their taste in music. I think the former can influence their relationship with the latter (e.g., liking rap because it sounds good versus liking rap because it reflects your life experiences), but I don’t know that one really makes someone a better or more authentic fan of the music. My only thing is that people should be able to back up whatever they say. If you’ve listened to a ton of rap and somehow come to the conclusion that Vanilla Ice is the GOAT… well, so be it. But if all you’ve listened to is Ice and some MC Hammer, excuse me if I don’t take you seriously. Not because I disagree with your taste, but because you are simply uninformed.

        This is why I tend to enter any music discussion with a disclaimer about my general musical ineptitude and ignorance and an acknowledgment that I’m going to focus on what makes me want to shake my butt. Which is why I like Usher so much.

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      • I don’t listen to pop music mostly because I don’t seek it out and I have no exposure to it. I tend to like one new pop thing once every four years ago.

        But I have a deep aversion to people who only ever have canonical taste in movies. When I first met my husband, I was a little suspicious of him, because he only had excellent books on his shelf (turns out, the crap he likes is in music form!)

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      • I don’t listen to pop music mostly because I don’t seek it out and I have no exposure to it

        This, basically. I don’t think I ever heard a Lily Allen song before today. In HS/college, working retail, you get exposed to top 40 constantly, like it or not.

        These days, I have no idea where I’d hear this stuff.

        Maybe I need to watch the Grammys, except they’ve always been ridiculous.

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      • @newdealer:
        ” I knew many white-suburban and well-to do kids who took up with gangsta rap and adopted the fashions. Even at 13, I thought it was absurd over cool or transgressive that well-to-do classmates were trying to mimic what they saw in Snopp Dogg videos to appear transgressive or tough. For better or for worse, I felt the Smiths, Velocity Girl, Decemberists, etc were more authentic to my emotional experience as a well-educated upper-middle class suburbanite and now urban dweller.”

        The only thing I would say regarding this is that the early teens (as I am sure you well remember) are an emotionally fraught time, and kids will reach out to that which seems to fulfill the inner view they have of themselves. When I was 13, rap was just breaking – think Run DMC, early Beastie Boys etc.- but as my personal life was a disaster I fell in with hardcore punk as it just felt right for what was in my head. I grew up in a small, liberal college town, and on the face of it there should be no reason for the aggression and anger that I felt. I can see kids that you grew up with doing the same thing, only using that which shows that anger in the time they are growing up. So for a kid that is having a tough time at home, Gangster Rap might be the perfect expression of how he feels, regardless of his SES.

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      • My girlfriend once asked me if I ever read for fun because all my favorite novels tend to be considered literary fiction and I read a lot of non-fiction. Other friends have commented about how I sincerely like high culture whereas they think most people just pretend to like it.

        My answer to my girlfriend and anyone else who accuses me of not reading for pleasure is of course I do. Reading is one of my joys and why would I read a book that I find unpleasurable? I just happen to really like reading things that most people consider on the boring side.

        I personally don’t feel the need or desire to read Game of Thrones, the Hunger Games, most thrillers, etc. A book like “The Making of Victorian Values: Decency and Dissent in Britain: 1789-1837” is a thousand times more interesting and fun for me than A Game of Throne or any non-fiction bestseller.

        There is popularish books I love like The Goldfinch and the Secret History, Michael Chabon novels, Haruki Murakami novels, John Irving novels, etc. The Ciderhouse Rules and The Hotel New Hampshire are two of my favorite books. Both were pretty popular. There are also plenty of big and mainstream movies I will see but sometimes grumble about. I’m tired of the overuse of special effects and spectacle.

        Maybe this marks me as a member of the old-school but I don’t understand why there is a new and seemingly moral requirement for the intellegensia to prefer pop culture and TV over non-mainstream or what used to be labeled “high culture?”

        And I dislike it when people ask me questions like “you don’t really like that stuff, do you?” when I talk about how Truffaut and Kore’eda Hirokazu are my favorite directors.

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      • There’s something to be said for enjoying some sorts of lowbrow things.

        There is nothing to be said for pretending to enjoy some sorts of lowbrow things, though.

        You can sub in “high” for “low” in those preceding two sentences without losing any truth.

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      • Well, I was writing a Wednesday Music Post about Daptone, but now I see that I’m going to have to do pop. Gummy, silly, stringy, bubbly pop. And you’ll listen to it, damn it. You will listen to it!

        (You don’t actually have to listen to it. Hell, I may not even finish it by Wednesday, in which case, it will be Daptone.)

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      • I would be surprised if many people over the age of 20 liked Perry or Cyrus, but they are not all there is to pop music. I’m not a Beyonce fan, but you’d be surprised how many people my age are. And there is a lot of other pop music out there that’s less blatantly teeny-bopper.

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      • I’m 30. I heart Beyonce. Not only is she probably on “my list” but I enjoy a good amount of her music.

        Then again, she’s 32.

        I’ve liked a song or two by Cyrus. Swift, too. Perry never really did it for me (but seeing a cover band do hard rock versions of some of her songs was fun).

        It tends to be harder to acknowledge liking Cyrus or Swift than Beyonce. I don’t know how much of that is the age thing and how much of that is because Beyonce seems like a cool chick while Cyrus seems like a (potentially racist) psychopath and Swift comes across (to me at least) as annoying.

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      • There are things to be said for reading highbrow stuff even if you don’t get all of it. I’m glad I finished reading War and Peace, even though I didn’t love it, and I’m sure I missed some of what Tolstoy was doing. But if I ever decide to read The Hunger Games, it’d better grab me by page 20.
        A Game of Thrones had grabbed me by page 10, and didn’t let go until the fourth volume started to drag. Not that that’s a fair comparison either; GRRM is a very skilled writer.

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      • My taste in books is actually fairly canonical, although I enjoy me a good mystery or historical romance. Movies, I think the canon is just mistaken, and has an odd preference for incredibly boring stuff with cheap symbolism. That is the European canon (possibly excepting British). American canonical films are indeed mostly awesome. (Truffaut is better than the rest of the French Wave, which is near unwatchable to me.)

        And, , agreed. Nobody needs to pretend to like anything she doesn’t like. Let’s all love one another despite all our crappy/snobby taste in everything.

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      • I’m also a fan of Rhomer. For Goddard, I liked Band of Outsiders and Masculine Feminine. I’m glad I got through 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her and Perriot Le Fou but their non-narrative nature is jarring.

        I do like Bergman and Bertolucci and Da Sicca and some Felini. I never cared for Pasolini or Antonioni.

        There are a lot of Hollywood films that I really like and enjoy but I’m tired of every other movie being a comic book or special effects franchise and as dhx noted I do rebel against the current geek zietgeist that keeps cultural likes and mores around the level that a 12 year old can appreciate.

        SF movies will always be around and there are some that I like and enjoy but it would be nice if we can bring back movies like the Philadelphia Story or Bringing Up, Baby and add more jauntiness to our action movies instead of plodding seriousness. Erroyl Flynn is inherently more interesting than an overly-serious and obtuse lecture from Aaron Eckhart as Frankenstein. The dialogue in many super-hero movies tends to favor overly pompous exposition.

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      • I suspect that I’m as well read in literature as most folks here, and I’m listening to Monk as I type this, but I can still listen to Lily Allen or Ingrid Michaelson and enjoy it.

        I don’t think there’s anything about loving a $200 bottle of Scotch that’s stopping me from enjoying a $20 bottle. That’s not to say you have to like the $20 bottle, but if you never try anything but the $200 bottle, I have a hard time thinking that your taste is any more well-rounded or sophisticated than the person who thinks anyone who doesn’t only drink $20 Scotch is a snob.

        There are a lot of wonderful things in the world, and I see no reason to limit myself.

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      • I think one of the most interesting things about rap and hip-hop is that we have had very few successful white hip-hop groups besides the Beastie Boys. If hip-hop emerged earlier than there would be white hip-hop groups that acted as a bridge to bring a “safer” version of hip-hop to white audiences. That happened with rock, r&b, and disco to an extent. Music is more segregated these days in that certain styles are very closely associated with certain groups in away that didn’t exist in the past. Pop in the Katty Perry/Beyounce/Lady Gaga mode is the only exception.

        When Kurt Cobain died, one of the music magazines had a letter from a young African-American boy who wrote about how he got shit for liking Nirvana and other grunge rock bands more than hip-hop.

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      • Mike Drew,

        My personal theory on why there hasn’t been that many white hip-hop artists that were genuine successes stories besides the Beastie Boys is that its basically a side-effect of the 1960s. Before the 1960s, there wasn’t really much of a demand for authentictiy in pop music. Most pop music of any genre were written by professinonal song writers and performed by somebody else with a few exceptions. Nobody really cared that Elvis Presely didn’t write his own songs for the most part or that Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly did.

        The 1960s changed all of this. It started with the folk scene, where the value of authenticity and the idea that musicians should perform their own material became very important. Thanks to the Beatles and other 1960s rock bands this idea seaped into rock music when it previously did not exist. Its at this time as Elijah Wald pointed out that rock music turned from dance music into pure listenting music. Motown, R&B, etc. were somewhat immune to the authenticity forms but a lot of white people stopped listening to this type of music. When hip-hop emerged as a musical force in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the idea of authenticty was so important to many listeners than white musicians really couldn’t cut it.

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      • very few successful white hip-hop groups besides the Beastie Boys. If hip-hop emerged earlier than there would be white hip-hop groups that acted as a bridge to bring a “safer” version of hip-hop to white audiences.

        We remember the Beasties as socially-conscious good guys now, but the Licensed to Ill tour, with the inflatable phalluses (spellcheck doesn’t like that word – guess it’s phalli?) and the beer on women in cages and general bad behavior (IIRC, their tourmate Madonna – MADONNA! – thought they might have crossed some lines into bad taste) caused a level of hysteria about moral decadence perhaps not seen here since the King’s gyrating hips were making headlines. “Safe” was not something they were considered.

        And it doesn’t necessarily take away from your point, but I think a little white rapper named “Eminem” has made some inroads:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eminem#Awards_and_nominations

        Interestingly, Chuck D drew a line between Elvis and Eminem when publicly revising some earlier opinions (not even Chuck D could Fight The Power of The King, ultimately)-

        From wiki:

        in 2002, Chuck D, in an interview with the Associated Press in connexion with the 25th Anniversary of Presley’s death, explained how his feelings for Elvis’ legacy were no longer those as originally suggested by the lyrics in “Fight The Power”, a song which he had written 12 years earlier. When broadcast as a part of the NBC-produced documentary “Elvis Lives”, Chuck D had the following to say about Presley. “Elvis was a brilliant artist. As a musicologist — and I consider myself one — there was always a great deal of respect for Elvis, especially during his Sun sessions. As a black people, we all knew that. (In fact), Eminem is the new Elvis because, number one, he had the respect for black music that Elvis had”.

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      • Michael, that NYT article is bulls___ (sorry, I don’t want to spoil Russell’s comment section with the words I would really use). Take this sentence:

        Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, the Seattle duo that has spent the last year upending the rules about how hip-hop interacts with mainstream pop.

        No! No they haven’t! Hip hop has interacted this way with mainstream pop since at least the mid-80s. Think LL Cool J, MC Hammer, Run DMC with Aerosmith, Will Smith, Shaggy, Eminem in his Slim Shady years, Nelly, Kanye, and a whole bunch of other artists who’ve either crossed over, collaborated heavily with pop artists, or been thoroughly part of the pop scene.

        Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have experienced a very peculiar sort of hip-hop fame, one that has little to do with approval from the center of hip-hop, and it has unfolded largely without black gatekeepers

        This isn’t peculiar or entirely true. For one, Macklemore has gotten some approval from some of the “gatekeepers,” black and otherwise, and from the center of hip-hop, but again, this is a misunderstanding of the way hip hop culture works. Hip hop and pop have fuzzier boundaries than, say, the genres that arose out of alternative rock in the 90s have with pop (though that’s changing a lot, because hip hop influence has changed the ethos of many genres, particularly electronic music… I actually wrote about this last night for a Wednesday post, so I may be repeating myself later). Success, radio play, winning a Grammy or 5, doing endorsements, putting your music in commercials, palling around with celebrities, dating Beyonce or Kim Kardashian, etcl, are just part of the hip hop world in a way that they have not been, for the most part, in rock since the days of Motley Crew and White Snake.

        Look, Macklemore and Ryan (mostly Macklemore, let’s face it) have been really successful. They’ve made pop rap, or pop hop, and it appeals to a lot of kids (under 16, say) in a way that most (but not all) mainstream hip hop does not, but there have always been artists like that, and as far as I can tell, the only reason Macklemore is getting the sort of attention he’s getting — the attention that makes him seem like an innovator or revolutionary — is because he’s white, and white people who know very little, if anything, about hip hop are taking notice, the same way they did with Eminem and Vanilla Ice before him.

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      • Glyph, when I referring to safer versions of rock I was going to the 1950s when the covers done by the earlier white rockers bowlederized some of the raunchier and more explicit lyrics in the original song. By the time the Beasties appeared, this sort of thing was not viewed as necessary by the business anymore even if parents wished it were so.

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      • Thanks all for sharing your thoughts.

        My reaction was something like Chris’, but I have only a fraction of his familiarity and perspective on the history of hip-hop. So I was kind of looking for confirmation. Thanks, Chris!

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  7. Reading all the comments on this post, I feel like Jacqueline Bouvier (the ancient animated one with blue hair): I don’t know who that is.

    And I was crafting the Franco joke in my head while reading the post, until I got to the bottom. Dagnabbit!

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  8. How are we defining highbrow and lowbrow? I love Rush and Stars. Both are broadly part of the rock/pp music scene and can be considered lowbrow that way if rock is still lower than jazz, classical, and opera in terms of taste. However, I imagine in the rock/pop music hierarcy, they would be considered niche. Is Brother Cadfael lowbrow or highbrow? I love Brother Cadfael.

    My issue is that people seem to tell me I have a kind of moral/ethical requirement to enjoy pop culture and should spend some of my precious freetime watching the popular TV shows of the moment instead of doing what I wish to do with my free time and I seemingly required to watch or catch-up with Parks and Rec, 30 Rock, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Girls, Dexter, and many more . I don’t have time to DVR and watch every must see TV show without taking a serious chunk out of my reading and movie time. I also don’t own a DVR. Yet it is seemingly snobby of me for suggesting that people go to the symphony on some other night than Video Game or Lord of the Rings Night and possibly check out some Truffaut or Ozu along with whatever Special Effects spectacle is big for the week.

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      • I wouldn’t call myself a superfan but I have some albums* and saw them in concert once (when I was in 8th grade)

        *Isn’t odd that we still use the word album even though vinyl is largely for hardcore music fans? I don’t even own a record player and I still say album.

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      • Well…I still dial a phone, or hang up on someone (phones still “ring,” for that matter. Rewind a minute to see something again. Trailers used to come at the end of movies. And I’ve always been pleased that while “talkie” is gone with the wind, we still use the word “movie” about the amazing technological marvel of the motion pictures.

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    • My issue is that people seem to tell me I have a kind of moral/ethical requirement…

      Yeah, unless that sentence ends in, “… not to shoot people” or something else of equal weight, I mostly pay attention zero.

      I regard people who have moral or ethical requirement entanglements to their free time recommendations to generally be highly correlated with the sort of people that I would beat to death if we lived in the State of Nature.

      I have some high range hearing loss, so I don’t do too much opera because all the soprano parts buzz in my ear and almost all the operas are pretty heavily invested in first soprano leads.

      Gimme mezzo-sopranos any day. I adore Risë Stevens.

      But there’s a lot to be said for the symphony.

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      • He didn’t say he hasn’t seen them. He’s said he doesn’t have time to to watch them, i.e., every episode or most episodes. That’s roughly how I do it. A show initially has about five minutes to grab me, then half an episode (whether 15 or 30 minutes) to get me to think about giving it another episode, and then has to get through that same gauintlet on the second exposure again before I might consider making a semi-date with it. There’s just too much TV out there that will suck your life away otherwise, and these days it seems like there’s a committed fanbase for about three-quarters of it who’ll take offense if you don’t watch. (We’re living in a Golden Age, after all – hadn’t you heard?)

        To my mind, even apart from the proposition that a TV show is inherently more likely to be a waste of time than not, it’s reasonable to conclude that a TV show is a waste of your time after an exceedingly limited sampling because of how much TV is out there, and how much of a demand on your time full attention to any TV show is.

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      • Fair enough. I take it back.

        Two of my favorite shows, though, I had given one episode and decided they were crappy. Then I was convinced by others to go back and give them another go, and they remain two of my favorites.

        On the one hand, snobby people, from the high-culture POV or the low-culture, can be really annoying. On the other hand, it’s lovely when someone can get you to see something in a new way, or explain why something’s wonderful, or show you a wonderful new artwork. So I wouldn’t want people never telling me what to watch.

        Actually, now that I think about it, the fact of my love of TV is not particularly high-brow, but I suppose I have high-brow tastes within TV.

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      • …And, yes, my method does produce misses. If something comes with a strong recommendation from a trusted friend, it obviously gets a more extended look. And, indeed, that usually takes the form of more short opportunities to make a good impression rather than a longer initial audition (though sometimes it’ll get both if I’m really trying to like it).

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      • There are currently hundreds if not thousands of books that I want to read and this list keeps growing. There are also a ton of places I want to see and movies that I want to watch.

        The chances of me being able to do all of this above is close to nill unless I became super independently wealthy and devoted the rest of my life to reading, travel, art, and film.

        TV and Video Games get kicked out in my system. I simply don’t have time to keep up with all art forms and those are the ones that I care least about it. I would like to keep up with new music more but also find that very hard to do.

        Reading and Theatre are tied at number 1. Then come film and visual art at number 2. I see dance when it looks interesting. Music is something I should pay more attention to but is also time consuming.

        A typical season of TV last around 13 to 26 hours it seems. I can read 2-4 books or watch many more movies with that same block of time. Adding numerous must see TV shows radically decreases the amount of time for my principal pleasures.

        And I feel guilty for not knowing more about poetry because most of my reading time is devoted to literature and history.

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  9. Re: Exposure to Top 40. Not necessarily thanks to Pandora and the Internet. There are some local places in SF with really good music. Or at least music that would be appreciated by Gen Xers who attended high school between 1985-1998 and were of an indie rock disposition. One of my friends told a bagger/check out clerk at a local grocery that they play very good music and the 22 year old kid replied “according to some people.”

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  10. I was never really big on award shows and the like, but Twitter has had a noticible impact on my viewing of these types of events. I now tune in more often to things like this, but more as Twitter fodder and to give context to others’ tweets than for enjoyment of the program itself.

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