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I Liked Them Before They Became Popular

When I was thirteen, I was initiated into what people online called "real music." My cousin encouraged me to listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and he later downloaded their entire discography for me via Limewire. I eagerly listened to each song through the shitty speakers of my HP laptop, gradually developing a genuine appreciation. Before I knew, I found myself becoming one of those people who I now mock vivaciously—posting comments under Nirvana videos saying shit like:

"I'm only 14, none of my friends appreciate this music, but I love it. Sorry for grammar mistakes, English is not my first language."

Unsurprisingly, my comments were often applauded by who I assumed to be 60 year old loners with nothing better to do on their free time to write long comments under videos talking about how degenerated the current kids are.

As a young and impressionable kid trying to shape my identity, I began to define myself by the music I listened to, wearing it as a badge of honor. I bought way too many band t-shirts that I can't even count, all off-brand with horrible quality prints that stuck to your chest and gave you rashes. This era was highlighted by online friends made through music, who later became real life friends, who later became strangers. We thought we were the edgiest people ever to walk the earth because we liked Guns N' Roses, stopping people in the streets to quiz those wearing band shirts to name 'five songs' like fucking nut jobs.

Before my frontal lobe fully developed and I realized the absurdity of pigeonholing myself based on my tastes, I discovered Tumblr—a glittering haven that indulged my ego-driven hunger for individuality. I was fed millions of GIFs from The 1975's "Robbers" music video, Lana Del Rey posing with an American flag and cruising to distant places, and Arctic Monkeys lyrics. I devoured it all. Those oversaturated, vivid images seared themselves into my psyche, dictating how I defined myself. Ironically, back then, I believed my experience was truly unique, convinced that my eclectic taste was beyond the grasp of "normies." Today, ask any twenty-old something about their teenage years, they'll recount the same experience as if we have all collectively memorized a manifesto: Sitting behind our computers, curating playlists for our Tumblr homepage using a basic HTML code, feeling like Steve fucking Jobs. Reposting endless variations of the same four posts, we felt superior to our peers simply because we successfully downloaded Arctic Monkeys' "AM" album onto our trusty iPod Nano amidst a minefield of virus threats.

At 24 years old, I am now the editor-in-chief of this very web-zine. I would like to think that I had developed a more professional outlook on music, no longer allowing it to entirely shape my personality or wearing my tastes like a costume, as a weird status symbol. Yet, to my surprise, old habits die harder than expected.

One of my all-time favorite artists, Charli XCX, released BRAT last month to a frenzy of public acclaim. Seeing an idol I've admired as an anti-pop star transform into a global sensation, with all my friends now enthralled by her and becoming huge fans, stirred something unsettling within me. I found myself tempted to shout, "I LIKED HER BEFORE SHE BECAME POPULAR! OKAY?" My irritating instinct led me to think about the construction of fandoms and why ownership is still this prevelant. After all, all of us have had a good laugh about the millenial hipsters a couple of years ago judging them for their perceived pretentiousness and snobbery. Why does the need for early recognition and validation in music tastes still holds such sway over fans, influencing how they engage with and perceive their favorite artists?

One of the biggest reasons for claiming ownership over a certain artist is the desire for exclusivity. When an artist crafts immersive worlds, fans find their niche within these realms, diving in head-first in hopes of connecting with like-minded individuals and shaping their identities around that community. Those who discover artists before they achieve mainstream recognition often perceive themselves as cultural insiders, while newcomers may be seen as intruders disrupting an "established order." By flaunting their early knowledge or appreciation, individuals accumulate symbolic capital (Hello Bourdieu !) because God forbid people don't know that you're a long time fan of a super obscure band from the 80s. You'll notice how people will always find a way to mention their early investment in an artist, squeezing in a little "I knew that artist long ago" somewhere in their discourse, whether it's relevant or not.

There's also an anomaly within gatekeeping that can be best explained as 'Shifting Gears.' You'll notice that over time, fans can turn away from their favorite artists and communities because what initially defined their niche identity has become mainstream. There's this belief that something enjoyed by fewer people must inherently be more esoteric and deserving of deeper analysis. This belief fuels the age-old clash between rockists and poptimists, where one side venerates the obscure, dismissing popular taste as shallow, while the other champions the mainstream as a democratic reflection of cultural relevance, accusing elitists of clinging to outdated notions of exclusivity.

It stems from the insecurity that your admiration is somehow hollow unless you can justify it with intricate lore, putting forward your impeccable analysis skills of something that is not yet understood by the mainstream public. Is a song really worth recommending if you don't preface it with, "You're not going to like it the first time you hear it'?" If you're still stuck in the '50s, jerking off to Adorno and Horkheimer, you risk becoming one of those people who reject popularized versions of your once-beloved artists in favor of more obscure ones even if there is no decline in the quality of their music. Which, at the end of the day, raises the question: Did you even appreciate this for what it is, or were you simply reveling in the exclusivity of your taste?

I've come to understand that the best "gatekeepers" are those who balance passion with open-mindedness, avoiding the closed-off mentality of a cult member. Music thrives on being shared and discussed—I probably wouldn't have pursued a career in music journalism if I didn't believe that. Engaging with culture demands navigating its intricate layers and nuances, even when that "nuance" manifests as a 63-year-old drunk ranting under Nirvana videos, cursing today's youth for liking Cardi B, or a Taylor Swift sub Reddit making rules about joining a the fandom as if it were Scientology.

1 comentario

han gu
han gu
7 days ago

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