This is what genres do really well, for good and for ill: They make large amounts of music easier to talk about (and, by extension, sell). Most often, genres do not stand up to scrutiny, yet they’re a fundamental part not only of music discussions online and off, but of any conversations we have about culture more generally. Particularly with the infinite online options for music access and conversation, pithy and memorable genre names can make it easier (if not necessarily accurate) to classify, discuss, and compare music. Genres arise out of tastes, and are often institutionalized (I wrote about one such example here), though online there’s infinitely more space to create, market, sort and search by micro-genres. (Remember “witch house”?) People have lengthy, years-long arguments using genres as combatants. If nothing else, genres make music easier to fight about.
This is partly our fault. We, the bourbon drinking collective, have been doing it for years now — haughtily referencing some tiny boutique bourbon we’ve recently tried. They snobbed up the beer and we said nothing. They snobbed up pub food and we said nothing. This was inevitable, and we ushered it in.
10 years ago: “Oh you like Jim Beam? You should try Maker’s Mark.”
Five years ago: “Maker’s, huh? Check out Bulleit next time.”
Two years ago: “Bulleit’s a solid starter bourbon, but next time try for a Jefferson’s Reserve. I had it at a tasting recently. You’ll hear about it soon.”
And so on. Before I knew the impact of my own pretentiousness, I’d contributed to the mania.
In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.
A critic who thought the Frick Collection “sucked” would not have a job. Yelp’s reviews are infinitely more democratic, written by anyone who cares to write them. That includes not a few masochists who hate museums and go anyway. There might be something to that. If a certain percentage of Yelpers find LACMA or the Frick boorrriinnnnggg, it might be worth knowing—to others who are thinking of going and worry they might be bored stiff. Serious critics almost never address that audience or that concern.
And they’ve got a tumblr.
We’ve all spent years talking about taste in the age of the mp3, and how listeners can shuffle happily from Hank Williams to Too $hort to Katy Perry. Minaj might force some people to accept that a musician might have more than one inclination as well — that she might, unsurprisingly, be interested in steely rapping and sugar-rush pop at the same time.
As certain foodies score points by having eaten everything—blowfish, yak milk tea, haggis, hot dogs—so the person who knows and likes all music achieves a curious sophistication-through-indiscriminateness.
Somewhat guilty as charged. See also Tyler Cowen on the internet and eclecticism.
The public does not like bad literature. The public likes a certain kind of literature and likes that kind of literature even when it is bad better than another kind of literature even when it is good. Nor is this unreasonable; for the line between different types of literature is as real as the line between tears and laughter; and to tell people who can only get bad comedy that you have some first-class tragedy is as irrational as to offer a man who is shivering over weak warm coffee a really superior sort of ice.
One result of the internet, I think, is that it makes almost everyone smart more eclectic, whether in terms of substance or presentation.
Everyday Tastes from High-brow to Low-brow. Life Magazine, 1949.
How to be a snob when drinking alcohol: “There are guidelines. First, if you’re faking it, everything is faint—you want to talk in terms of hints, notes, and shades. Give the impression that you only barely caught this delicate wisp of a flavor because you were concentrating so intensely back in Step 2.”