There's a doozy of an essay by the 27-or-so-years-old Alexandra Molotkow in this weekend's New York Times Magazine. "Why the Old-School Music Snob Is the Least Cool Kid on Twitter" argues, in a meandering, ultimately unpersuasive manner, that listening to obscure music was once cool, but snobbery has been replaced by populism. While there is a fair argument to make about the Internet democratizing not just access to independent music, but mass media to those who might otherwise have ignored it were they not confronted by page after tweet after Spotify Facebook update of it, Molotkow does not go there.
Instead, she accepts the idea that "it was very cool to know about obscure music" not as a relic of shitheaded, skewed teenage priorities, but as the way things actually were. Egocentrically, she conflates cultural change with her own taste development, and what's worse is that she hasn't really changed at all. She's still defining her tastes vis a vis what other people think — of what she's listening to and of her for listening to it. She decries what she perceives to be a widespread lack of knowledge that people have about the music they listen to in 2012. (As there is no survey cited, we can assume that she is projecting her own ignorance.) She then frets about that ignorance because she's afraid she'll be called on her shit while she's DJing songs that she doesn't know very much about. She may have shaken the shame of enjoying mainstream entertainment, but she's still viewing it through a snob's narrow scope with a snob's neurosis about what other people are doing (everyone liking what you like is considered a "downside"). Molotkow needs to get over the concept of "guilty pleasures" and just enjoy pleasure.
There have always been people around to argue for pop music's coolness. In the ‘70s, Throbbing Gristle's Chris Carter openly championed ABBA while his band referenced Donna Summer. The Village Voice critics survey Pazz & Jop, which polls tastemakers with more sway than some snot with an MP3 blog, is always full of mainstream acts (check out 1997, 1998 and 1999, a big period of up-its-own-ass indieism, and see how many names of artists and record labels you recognize). Robert Christgau, in particular, has said terrifically funny, smart things about pop (his review of Summer's Love To Love You Baby is a classic). At any given point, there was a new crop of former indiecentrics learning the error of their ways — even without the Internet. Molotkow's 2012 is another listener's 2002 or 1992.
Molotkow seems deeply conflicted, grasping outside of the work she's engaging with instead of the work itself. Taste is less about what than why, and, "Because other people whatever," is a really shitty why. Despite waffling several times (she actually describes her argument as "deeply stupid" at one point), she seems steadfast in her juvenile ways, too: "Like friendship, taste should be somewhat exclusive — your friends are the ones you choose above all the other bozos. If everybody is friends, then no one is, really. The same applies to being fans of Arcade Fire." But the Arcade Fire aren't your friends, and if you really like them, you're choosing them above all the other bozos. So what's the fucking problem?
Despite not ending here, this seems to be the nut of her essay:
"My quarrel here isn't with the idea that cool people don't know as much about stuff as they used to. If you really want to drill deep into your interests, you still have that option. You just have to accept that most of your findings will have no social value."
Oh, on the contrary. They could easily help you write better.