Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Sucky band shorthand

Illustration for article titled Sucky band shorthand

After reading this gleefully shit-stirring blog post by my main man Jason Heller last week–thanks by the way for the bait, J, even if it left a bitter taste in my mouth after swallowing it whole in the comments section—I got to thinking about something I like to call sucky band shorthand. This is when one band is supposedly so sucky it is used to signify the supposed suckiness of an entire genre of music. In the case of Jason's post, Band Of Horses (excuse me, Band Of Goddamn Horses), M. Ward, and Rogue Wave were referenced as examples of (I'm paraphrasing Jason here) how boring, watered-down, boring, limp, and also boring indie rock has become.

Now, Jason probably could have just referenced Band Of Horses (and dropped the hands-tipping "goddamn") and made his point more succinctly. Because for whatever reason, Band Of Horses has become a go-to band for people who like to talk about how much they hate indie rock. That is, if they don't use The Decemberists first, which is probably the No. 1 sucky band shorthand indie rock band at the moment. Let me just say right away that I happen to like Band Of Horses and The Decemberists. But if I hear someone say something like, "Band X probably appeals to Decemberists fans," I know that person isn't paying Band X a compliment. Rather, I know that person is calling Band X boring, watered-down, boring, limp, and also boring, because that's the kind of music Decemberists fans (like me) enjoy. I like The Decemberists, but I also recognize that they signify the softening of underground music this decade. I think that designation is grossly unfair–surely no one band should shoulder all the blame or criticism for indie rock's listlessness–but singling out one or two bands is easier than taking each "offender" on one-by-one. It's also a quick way to make a point. Why use, say, Okkervil River (another band of pussies I really love) when the words "Colin Meloy" already have so much hateful baggage?

Readers often complain about how record reviewers will write about bands by using other bands like adjectives, but this is something we as music fans in general do all the time. I, for one, am as guilty of it as anybody. We use old bands we like to describe new bands we like, and we use old bands we hate to describe new bands we hate. This is nothing new, and I don't see it changing any time soon. What I find fascinating is that certain bands become so reviled (while also being popular enough to act as reference points) that they achieve universal sucky band shorthand status pretty much by sheer force of their apparent offensiveness. Right now, Nickelback is probably the No. 1 sucky band shorthand band in the land. The phrase "Nickelback fan" is pretty much synonymous with "person who has horrible taste in music." Celine Dion and Britney Spears belong up there, too. (I'm sure when Celine Dion hears someone described as a "Celine Dion fan," even she assumes that person is a dolt.) Several years ago Limp Bizkit was probably No. 1, followed by Creed and N' Sync. For contemporary country music, Toby Keith gets the nod as sucky band shorthand for macho, uber-patriotic, and plain dumb music enjoyed by Wal-Mart shoppers. ("Wal-Mart shoppers" being another handy shorthand for "idiots I look down upon.") For Top 40 rap, it's 50 Cent who represents the music's wanton materialism and thuggery. (Using some hii-larious fake ebonics while mocking 50 Cent helps to make this criticism more clear.) As far as I know, there was no election that made these people our sucky band shorthand leaders. (In fact, I think some of them are actually pretty good.) Their current status comes completely from the grassroots, though a few snarky music writers probably helped along the way.

Anybody have any thoughts on why certain bands or artists come to be used as universally recognized shorthand for "bad" music?