Month: November 2012

Why, and for whom, a great song going mainstream is bad

I don’t usually write propaganda articles, it is not my forte, but I have recently seen a lot of hipsters going under the blade because they say things like “another song ruined by mainstream”, or “fucking sellouts”, or “I heard them before it came on House”, without any proper defence. I am here to say that they have a point, and that they are totally justified in letting their wrath out on songs or bands that get mainstream.

First up and most importantly, exclusivity and the feeling of being cheated upon. There is something about having your own little discoveries that no one else knows that are reflective of your dedication to discovering new music. And when you have searched long and hard for a gem only for it to get mainstream a month later, it can piss you off. It’s no longer your baby, it’s a whore now, playing everywhere. You cannot share it even, because everyone knows it already. This feeling is crucial to the enjoyment of any song, and without this, a lot of the juice of the song goes away. When you spread the word about a lesser known band and everybody appreciates them, they are not just a band whose music you listen to, but you now become a member of their band, obviously not musically but emotionally. This is critical to any band getting recognition. Once the band becomes famous, you no longer are a crucial member of the band, your appreciation and word is no longer important to them, you are just one of the crowd that oh so loves them.

Secondly, for the artist, displacement of motives and dilution of quality. In most of the cases, art is created by an inspiration from within, a feeling that is alien to anyone without this sensibility. But artists are human too, they need love too, they need appreciation too, they need money too, they like fame too. When a particular song gets a disproportionate amount of success compared to their other songs, they are tempted to make more music like that, and though it may be great for the new labels and the new fans who think that this sort of sound is cool, it is no longer a genuine form of art but insecurities and desperation masquerading as new art. This is loathsome to the fans who loved them from earlier days, because they are more discerning than their current followers, and know they are being cheated. This boils to foaming rage in some cases.
While I do acknowledge that going mainstream is not necessarily bad and creativity can still flow, it is very difficult for naive artists to avoid such traps. I am quite sure that if a band manages to retain its strengths, the loyal and intelligent fans will still stick around, albeit with pouted lips about they no longer being as special as before.

There are two type of hipsters, one who have no choice and the others who choose to be hipsters. Needless to say, the second type are the ones that are generating all the flak hipsters receive. It is just like artists, some people have no choice but to be artists, the ones I call genuine artists, and some choose to be artists because being an artist is “so fucking cool, right?”, the ones who, even if they produce something valuable, are disgusting in a stomach churning, vomit inducing way (Andy Warhol, for example).

Maybe, as Don’s mother in law in Mad Men says, a hipster is a person with “the artistic temperament but is not an artist”.