In Defense of Music Snobs

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By Confusion

It’s late 2011 and you hear Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” for the first time on YouTube. You tweet something about how this is the catchiest song out and get a reply from your music snob friend: “You just heard this? It’s been on all the European charts forever. It’s so played out.” Just reading this smug response makes you wince.

It would be months before the song would be released in the United States, many more months before it would be performed on Saturday Night Live, covered on Glee and American Idol, and propelled to the No. 1 spot on the U.S. Billboard chart, where it would stay for eight consecutive weeks. Within a year’s time, it would become one of the most viral and obnoxious songs in the country. And as much as you hate to admit it, the music snob had a point.

Music snobs get a bad rap. I know this because I get called one a lot. I probably deserve it; I have some asshole-ish tendencies when it comes to music. I’m the type to follow and support an artist right up until they break, then once they make a hit song I’ll back off or start ignoring them completely. If an artist has one song that everyone loves, it’s probably my least favorite song by that artist. If a song gets used in a commercial for a new car or a fast food restaurant, fuck that song.

I don’t mean to do these things. I can’t help it. I have my reasons.

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  • PancakeMcKennz

    It’s fine to have your opinions. To borrow a quote from Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy: “It’s the differences that make our world so rich, diverse, and wonderful”.

    I mean, nobody is obligated to like anything other people like, but as someone who really likes Pop music, what really ticks people off is when people go to Lady Gaga or Black Eyed Peas videos just to comment that what everyone is listening to is trash. It’s like, if we’re in our circle enjoying what we like, why would you leave your circle just to disturb our circle? Or in your metaphor–why would you take a dinner from Wolfgang Puck to McDonald’s and say “Guys, stop eating Big Macs; this foie gras and truffle chiffonade is what you’re missing out on”?

    Obviously some people are trolling when they do that, but sometimes it gets to a point where people just bandwagon hate like with Nickelback. And it’s just unnecessary. I genuinely like Nickelback and Avril Lavigne and I even like vanity singles like “Tardy for the Party” or even stuff from Heidi Montag’s album, but people side-eye so viciously when I say that.

    Ehhhh, whatevs. You’re damned if you’re a music snob and you’re damned if you un-ironically like pop music.

  • http://doandroidsdance.com khal

    hate is definitely healthy.

  • Logoman
  • L’z

    Great read. Pancake raises an interesting point. If it is indeed needed to maintain a balance…. doesn’t that mean neither is really superior to the other? Just differing opinions? I suppose that may be a copout argument, but it makes sense to me.

  • Confusion

    Yes, it would be nice if we could just sit back and be like, “Go ahead, enjoy the new Katy Perry single. Like what you like.” But if none of the snobs ever spoke up and talked shit on manufactured pop music, then there wouldn’t even be a discussion of music as art vs. music for money. Millions of people are going to listen to Katy Perry regardless, but I think there needs to be a certain amount of hate from people who are like, “Really, this is the type of artist that we’re going to propel to superstardom?” Not saying that’s going to change the whole music industry, but it’s important to at least think about. When we look back at our generation of music in 20 years, at our charts and best-selling artists, are we going to be proud?

  • PancakeMcKennz

    I understand that criticism is needed to make sure that we let labels know that we won’t just be complacent with any schlock they shove at us. My problem is jerks who won’t let people who enjoy the schlock just enjoy it.

    It’s like religious people versus non believers. It’s like feel what you feel about whatever but don’t poop on anyone’s parade in their place of worship and vice versa.

  • Wiggles

    So your defense of being a music snob, from the perspective of a music snob, is that the music snob “had a point?”

    I guess you don’t expect P&P readers to call you out on a weak argument, since, hey, we’re all probably music snobs if we read your publication… However, I will. While the music snob may have “had a point,” music snobbery, in the form of belittling your friends when they discover a song you discovered months ago, or disowning a band you used to love, just because their single made it to the top of the charts, only makes you childish and impetuously elitist. If the music snob really cared about the success of “good” music rather than over-produced, formulaic mainstream junk, they would spend more time evangelizing and less time bitching.

  • Confusion

    Sounds like maybe you just read the first page and skipped the rest…

    I think every music snob does their best to spread music they think is good. The point about Gotye was that yes, that song gets annoying as fuck and while everyone was just latching onto it, most music snobs could have already told you that this song isn’t a timeless masterpiece, it’s just a fiercely catchy, instantly accessible piece of music.

    If you want to talk about weak arguments, what about yours and Taylor Swifts? People don’t hate music BECAUSE the single made it to the top of the charts. The fact is TO GET to the top of the charts, you usually have to make music that is basic and obvious, otherwise people can’t latch onto it. There are exceptions to this, but especially in our times, they are rare.

    Half the reason I started this blog in the first place was to share music regardless of popularity or label affiliation. But no matter what anyone says about blogs and the Internet and the industry changing, major labels and radio still have almost all the power to make or break artists on a large scale.

    Pancake, you’re right. It sucks when snobs try to shit on you for liking Nickelback or Heidi Montag, but as much as it sucks feeling like snobs are shitting on you for what you enjoy, to ME it feels like Nickelback and Heidi Montag are shitting on something I love. Only not just a personal, half-joking, playful jab… a giant, violent, offensive shit piled on something that means a lot to me. It makes me sad and embarrassed.

    I know that sounds dramatic, but I really feel like my generation is getting ripped off. I think of growing up when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones or Michael Jackson were topping the charts and then I look at what we have. Like labels just discovered, “Hey, this would all be a lot easier if we could just pick a pretty face, write catchy songs for them, get them the best producers in the world, and pump out hits for as long as we can.” So yeah, I’m sorry that it’s annoying when people like me get mad at you for liking mindless pop. I get hooked on some of it too (and I eat McDonald’s sometimes), but when I stop and think about the bigger picture and what it is that I’m supporting, I get mad. And I get annoying. That’s what snobs do.

  • PancakeMcKennz

    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  • SK

    fuck the free world

  • Bryan

    Confusion bringing the heat

  • Batmayne

    Maybe music just isn’t as important to people as it once was. Everything happens in cycles so there is hope. You have artists like Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean with successful and respected commercial debut albums. This is could be the start of something new. Hopefully it carries on into other genres and we can finally enjoy amazing music together.

  • gk

    there is nothing wrong with basic and obvious music. it’s enjoyable and it has its place.

    you’re saying radio’s presence will ruin music as an art form and that is insane. the radio exists to reach the broadest number of ppl because not everyone has the patience to do what we do which is enjoy all different kinds of music and expand our horizons.

    take your food analogy. is mcdonald’s presence choking out the existence of 5 star restaurants??? no that doesnt happen and it never will.

    BECAUSE ppl will make art for art’s sake no matter what. because you’re implying that pop music will force all artists to conform to a singular and unappealing (to you) form of music and that simply isn’t true.
    there will always be ppl with good and new ideas who want to make art because its fun for them rather than for the money. its cynical to think ppl like that will disappear because of pop music..have some faith in humanity yo

    and i think pop music can provide emotional connections for ppl. i’m sure there are ppl out there who have had life changing experiences connected to their favourite radio hits and feel extremely attached to those songs the same way you do to the songs you listed on page 3. remember, music is incredibly subjective.

  • patches ohoulihan

    The problem with music snobs and the music snob culture is how much they have to over-analyze everything. There’s definitely a notion that the music we listen to somehow is representative of ourselves and our character, and music snobs take this to completely irrational levels. There is a complete fear of liking something everyone else likes, because a music snob’s “superior” tastes are what sets them apart in their own minds. I know, because I used to think this exact same way. I eventually grew out of it after high school because I realized how silly to think that way.

    I love plenty of “pretentious” music (the new my bloody valentine rules) but also can fuck with Ke$ha or Britney Spears because they serve different purposes. Sometimes music is meant to make groundbreaking artistic statements; sometimes its only meant to be catchy and danceable and entertaining and there’s nothing wrong with that. The former is certainly more impressive than latter, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and place for the latter.

    I’ll finish by continuing the food metaphor. Of course, it’s not healthy or rewarding to be eating Mickey D’s every day, but sometimes I’m just in the mood for a big, greasy cheeseburger. Nothing wrong with that.

  • Confusion

    Not saying that radio only playing music that is unappealing (to me) is going to stop artists from making art for art’s sake. Just saying that if the mainstream only offers what (to me) is shallow and basic forms of music, an important part of our culture is being molded by record labels and business instead of creative people who care about the music.

    The bottom line is that there needs to be a balance. I know that some people have deep connections to manufactured pop hits. I’m just saying that the person who calls that music out is also just as necessary. I’m not calling for the death of pop music and radio and record labels. That all has a place. Just saying that there’s also a place for the people who are so strongly against what the music industry has turned into that they can’t help but act like snobs. And I think those people should speak up instead of just “letting people like what they like.” If you think something is terrible and harmful to the overall culture of music and art, then call it terrible. That opinion should be shared.

    As far as the McDonalds thing, it’s about balance again. Sure, have a greasy McDonalds burger when you’re in the mood. But you should probably have some fresh fruit and salad sometimes too. Eating nothing but McDonalds and having no awareness that fresh fruit even exists is a bad thing.

  • Said Deep

    Ah, a good debate. I like.

    I read the post twice and I think you’ve done a good job of explaining where you land on the state of music today. As a fellow music fan for my entire life, and a reader of your blog, I think we probably would stand on the same side of the debate on most current music topics. However, I do have some thoughts.

    First, I think there is a point to be raised that some people don’t want to be challenged by art. The desire to find complexity and layers of meaning in art is not a commonly shared trait, as you already know. To some people the Velvet Underground is noise, Picasso is a scribbler and Crime and Punishment is a doorstop. I can’t fault someone for not enjoying the nuances of a well crafted song over radio pop if that is not something they are driven to seek. For some people, music is only a trivial part of their day to day life and they are just not interested in being challenged or putting in effort to find and relate to independent music. Kind of how I feel about the NBA.

    While I think the history of popular music has been largely been worthless pop drivel, there are still great artists who break through to the mainstream. Didn’t The Flaming Lips and Radiohead get their big break on the bro-rock station with “Vasoline” and “Creep” respectively? Of the influences you mention, you have to remember that Michael Jackson, 2Pac, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles were all exceptions to the pop machine rule. As time goes on, it’s easy to forget that between the hits of the artist you tag as inspiration was a giant pantheon of one-hit wonders and other less-than-memorable pop music. But the great ones are remembered in time. But please remember that these influences were also multi-platinum selling, chart topping artists. If, in their time, you were to have turned your nose up at all mainstream music, you would have to have ignored almost every artist that you mention as a influence. So, maybe even today among the Top 40 are a handful of artists that will rise out of the mire and be the influences of the future for the next crop of music lovers? The rest we can just agree to forget. Looking at you Nicki Minaj.

    I think my only real criticism here might just be in your choice of words. I don’t like the idea of being a ‘snob.’ Music snob, art snob, food snob, movie snob…it all just implies thinking you are better than someone else because of what YOU like. Music, like all art, is subjective. Expecting that any other person, even a fellow music fan, should have the exact same tastes as you is a fairly simplistic outlook for such a subjective commodity. I understand the desire to think your music tastes somehow imply an artistic superiority on others in the ‘mainstream’ music fandom since we put so much time and personal interest into our musical journey. But, the sad truth is that the mainstream music world doesn’t give a damn about the independent music world. They’ll gladly concede us our local rock clubs, college radio stations and vinyl-only stores. They’ll always have their 96Rocks and corporate amphitheaters and Best Buys. And I think we may be all better off that way.

    Let’s be real honest here, do we really want the mainstream to get onboard with the music that we love? Sure, I’d love my favorite band or DJ to make the millions I think he/she/they deserves. But would it make their music any better? And at what cost? Mainstream success comes with a lot of hoops and I think we’d all just prefer to have our artists be able to make a living doing their art and hold onto their artistic integrity and license. And, for all the influences you mention, the mainstream didn’t pan out too well for those guys. Jimi OD’d, Lennon got shot, 2Pac got shot and the Stones lost Bonham and probably should have lost at least one or two more from all that major label excess.

    For us, music is a central part of our lives and helps define how we see, and hear, our day to day existence. But that’s not a universal ideal. I say we just take pride in the artists we love and put our efforts into fostering those sounds. We can just let the rest of Owl City and Flo Rida fans do as they will. And we’ll expect the same in return.

  • shoe

    I respect this article.

  • dragons12

    Well just to comment on one part of your article, just because a artist is mainstream or makes pop music doesn’t mean people can’t relate or be touched by the music. And why can’t one listen to Madonna and Britney Spears and also listen to Radiohead etc?? I think people listen to music depending on the mood they are in so I think its bettter well rounded instead of relegating yourself to only one genre/type of music.

  • Jnc1987

    Thank you for this article. I could go in depth about why i appreciate it so much, but i don’t think that’s necessary.

  • Lol

    You’re just another hipster douche music snob.

  • Oughden

    God bless you, you understand.