Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Is This It? - This is It: The Rise of The Democracy of Pop

In October of 2001 The Strokes released Is this It? With it, a previously trite 20-somethingism, rang oddly true. The Strokes were the reflection of a generation of disaffected youths at the turn of the millennium. This massive youth culture was slowly coming of age and was not happy with what they saw. Actually, it was more about what they didn't see, themselves. Now, almost exactly 8 years to the day, the film of Michael Jackson's concert rehearsal is soon to be released and is titled This Is It. In those 8 years what was "it" to the Strokes slowly approached its demise, and the Michael Jackson film (and corresponding death) marks that finally that "it" will no longer continue to exist. We have witnessed the fall of the King of Pop and in his wake has arisen The Democracy of Pop*.

The Democracy of Pop is defined by three features:

1) The Democracy of Information
2) The Democracy of Content
3) The Democracy of Fame

The Democracy of Information is the most simple of the three concepts. With the Internet reaching near omnipresence there is no longer exclusivity to information. Before bands like Dirty Projectors were relegated to radio station kids, but now they can just as easily be heard on a particularly adventurous suburban 13 year-old’s Bar Mitzvah mix. Similarly, give me a week and the Internet and I can become an authority on any somewhat relevant director of the last 90 years. The result is a marketplace of experts, who both contain a greater passion for culture and demand more from what they take in. From this stems…

The Democracy of Content, which is a concept I touched on with “Why doesn't anyone talk about how bad a name ‘The Beatles’ is?” No longer is our popular culture defined by its monolithic entities. In its stead we have a fragmented culture meant to appeal to niches of varying sizes. We have a generation of individuals looking to separate themselves from the masses, not find their place within. Democracy of Content means the individual has complete control over what they involve themselves with and those in power are forced to respond to these demands as best they can. Still, it doesn’t matter if they fail to because the content’s creators themselves have the tools to reach its audience due to…

The Democracy of Fame, which is a concept I touch on with “I Haven't Read 1984 in 9 Years. You?” and “Isn’t it weird that Marketing sounds like Marketing?” Fame in the broadest sense is now remarkably attainable by the masses and in turn has become much more desired. We are able to put ourselves out there in ways never before possible and to a scale never before imagined. And it is more than just reality television, for the ascension of the Internet has allowed artists direct access to their audience. A band can develop a noteworthy national fan base without once playing a show outside their hometown or receiving any major press. Like Bon Iver, who recorded a simple 10-song demo alone in the Wisconsin wilderness with no intention of releasing it. Yet slowly but surely a hungry marketplace was able to seek out his remarkable music. He became a legitimate superstar (to those who care to know him) without really doing much other than genuinely creating his art. Democracy of Fame means everyone has complete access to fame and an equal say in who becomes famous.

Subsequently, just like our political democracy, there cannot exist a ruling monarchy. There cannot be another Michael Jackson (at least not for this generation) because our culture is no longer built for it. Maybe we can have a President of Pop** or some Senators and Governors. These hypothetically appointed positions would be filled by artists that honor the fundamentals of our democracy. Meaning, there will be a rise of artists who have reached their stature directly as a result of their fan-bases and who respect their role as part of a culture of niches.

Like The Strokes did as a young New York buzz-band who begged the question, “Is This It?” which for last 8 years has seemed to be an ever present nagging to our culture. Every step of the way the question was there – when Ruben Studdard won American Idol - when we cared that Kim Kardashian had a sex tape – when Radiohead let the individual decide how much they wanted to pay for a record – when Kanye West asked Jon Brion to produce Graduation - when Grizzly Bear had a Top 10 album without any semblance of mainstream publicity - when food blogs readership surged as Gourmet was going under – when 4 of the members of The Strokes released side-projects that sounded like niche versions of The Strokes. Almost poetically, the lead singer of the Strokes is set to release his solo record on October 20th, perfectly timed to be his (and everyone else for that matter) last chance to rally against the “it” of the last 8 years. For just a week and a day later “This Is It” will be released and serve as the goodbye lap for the “it.”

Michael Jackson will be projected on thousands of movie screens, a shell of what he once was, singing the songs that united the globe. This film will seem quaint in the coming years, not because the songs will feel like classics (which they are) but because the concept of a globe uniting song will be oddly dated.

Now, I am aware this sounds particularly unromantic, however I very much beg to differ. I think the fact that I can genuinely record whatever music I want to with no backing money - no big studio production - no marketing push – and be able to have it listened by anyone all over the world is romantic. I think that a college student through the viral promotion of his Facebook group was able to raise thousands of dollars (and a ton of awareness) for Darfur is romantic. I think that an art collector being able to bypass the major gallery system and buy a photograph off an art student’s Flickr page is romantic. We are a generation that has been told that we can do anything we dream of, and maybe that means we are millions of capricious ne’er do wells, or maybe it means we can do anything we dream of. Maybe “this” was not ”it.”

* Consider the phrase coined!!!!

** I will not alone appoint a President of Pop because that would go against the Democracy I am currently celebrating (though Justin Timberlake and Kanye West are possible candidates). Still for fun, I would like to bestow the position of House Minority (maybe Majority) Whip to Girl Talk. Who to better rally people behind a fragmented popular culture than a man that will mix dozens of songs into one track. One song in the first 70 seconds layers Lil’ Jon on top of Procol Harum, which leads into Kanye West and BLACKstreet, which then leads into Michael Jackson and a different Kanye song and Radiohead, and it continues from there still while maintaining a breakneck pace. What Girl Talk is doing throwing everything out there and letting the individual choose what to respond to. I might like 7 of the 35 songs he will mash-up in any given track, but I will be really happy when they come up. Moreover, Girl Talk is known for his live shows, yet he doesn’t really do much onstage. Instead, his shows are selling out large venues across the country because of the fans. People go see Girl Talk to be part of the show, not to see him put one on. What could be more democratic than that?

1 comment:

  1. I really like the way that you link things. I never would've thought of the parallels between "Is this it?" and "This is it," but somehow you make it work, and it makes me think. Well done.