Is Music Really So Bad? Another Music Snob’s Dissent

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Daughtry is America

Yesterday, my Riff cohort Gary posted a diatribe against Americans’ terrible taste in music. The commoners like their trash, for sure, and it’s not restricted to music by any means: “Everybody Loves Raymond” lasted nine seasons, and I believe George W. Bush actually got a majority of the popular vote in 2004. It’s tempting to curl up into the fetal position and whimper, “why, why, why,” and it happens to the best of us: Idolator recently mocked a College Times writer for, ahem, “waking up to discover people have lousy taste,” and he covered some of the same territory:

…we all might not always agree on what’s great or even good, but shouldn’t we be able to come to some kind of consensus on what sucks beyond all compare? When an “American Idol” castoff who sounds like a watered-down version of Nickelback (No. 6 on the Billboard chart, for the record) sells more albums in a year than any other artist in any genre, I can’t help feeling like I’m fighting an unwinnable battle. When a song like “My Humps” that literally sounds like it was written by a 12-year-old becomes a breakaway hit, my disdain for the song is overshadowed only by my confusion as to what everyone else finds so appealing about it.

Idolator’s snark-meisters went for the jugular:

I know, dude, why do we even bother? Did people even read your Coheed & Cambria piece in October? How is that not the biggest selling disc of the year? Slightly more seriously, is there a music journo gambit more exhausted than calling the public out for having bad taste?

Ouch. I won’t give such a severe beat-down to my fellow Riffer since I too feel a little sick just looking at Daughtry’s album cover. But Idolator correctly points out that dippy pop trifles have always been popular (John Fred & His Playboy Band had the biggest-selling single of 1968), and remember, the differences between critically-acclaimed underground tunes and trillion-selling singles fade significantly with time. I won’t defend Daughtry here, but allow me to mount a defense of “My Humps.” …Perhaps “mount” isn’t the best word there. Anyway, I’ve always hated the Black Eyed Peas’ cartoony pop, but the first time I heard “My Humps” on the radio, it wasn’t back-announced, and I was 100% sure it was a classic ’80s freestyle tune that I’d somehow never heard before. Its bare-bones production values were straight out of Miami circa ’85, and the nursery-rhyme melody fit right in with classics like “When I Hear Music” or “Don’t Stop the Rock.” Moreover, the lyrics are so nonsensical they’re almost stream-of-consciousness, repeating words over and over (“get get get you drunk”) to fill the rhythms as if they’re making it all up on the spot, which for all I know they did. Plus, the word “humps” itself is such an unattractive way to refer to any body parts, it has a kind of child-like prurient giddiness. I like to think that its popularity meant everyone was in on the joke of its winking tribute to silly freestyle jams. Of course I got pretty sick of the humpy humps myself, but don’t tell me the Surfaris “Wipe Out” is any smarter.

Perhaps more importantly, let’s look at the charts this week: Radiohead’s awesome In Rainbows fell from #1 to #2 (knocked off by the tolerable Alicia Keys), and the “Juno” soundtrack‘s intriguing mix of The Kinks, Sonic Youth, Bell & Sebastian, Cat Power and the Velvet Underground is in at #3. Even wordy MySpace starlet Kate Nash managed to debut at #36 this week. I’m just saying: there’s signs of life.

So, I hear you. Rage against the dying of the light, for sure, and if you ever want me and my religious cult to surrender our compound, playing Garth Brooks or Hannah Montana at a deafening volume would be a pretty smart tactic. But don’t despair: this country may be full of North American scum, but sometimes we get it right.

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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