I was one, to begin with. I was a filthy music snob who called herself a hipster. Unironically.
We're starting the article with a confession but don't worry, I haven't always been that horrible.
The first thing that sparked my interest in music was VH1.
When I was 10, I would sit in front of our TV and waited for the commercial breaks to pop up. To me, these little breaks were way more interesting than the music videos. I would play a little game in my head where I tried to guess the lineup of songs that will play during the break and I did a pretty good job. My brother and I loved to make fun of the clothes that people wore, the way they acted. It all seemed theatrical. I didn't think they were cool people at all. It was just funny at the time. I would later learn that these people were very popular people like Sade, Mick Jagger, Ramones, The Ting Tings and Madonna. After learning the big names behind my favorite "guess who?" game, they seemed "cool" before anything else. I didn't think that they looked funny anymore.
When I was 13, my cousin introduced me and my brother to Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was my first official introduction to the kind of music that I listen today. I was very fascinated by him at the time considering that he was older and wiser. He would play RHCP songs on his guitar and we tried to guess which song it was. He liked The Doors, Led Zeppelin and basically all the "cool" bands that we know and have listened to at least once because we thought it was "real music" and we were "born in the wrong generation."
I would go on Youtube to listen to a song by Nirvana and saw a bunch of comments that said " I'm 12 but I'm listening to this while my friends are filling their brains with trash pop bands like One Direction." Oh, okay. That's the way to go I thought. To be different, to be unique and cool. I wore nothing but band t-shirts, filled my iPod with rock songs that I didn't even really like. Me and Iron Maiden? How was that ever a thing?
So I'm finally going to ask THE question: Who decides what's cool? Is it the Reddit communities or rateyourmusic, is it Anthony Fantano? Is it big music publications like NME or Pitchfork? Who is it?
While I was growing up, it was my dad. I though he was cool, so what he liked must have been cool either. I trusted his taste and took it as mine. After that it was the faceless strangers on Tumblr I didn't know. Now for everyone, it seems to be the very-selective-and-criticizing men in rateyourmusic. Something doesn't sit right.
Indie music is probably the biggest victim of snobbery. It's meaning may have drastically changed over the years but initially, indie music meant everything independent and free-spirited. It was born against the corporate excess of pop and glam rock. The root of the genre we can safely say, relied on being against the mainstream. This alone explains so much.
Pitchfork is “widely believed to have the power to pluck a band from obscurity and thrust it into the indie consciousness, and to push it out just as quickly.” (quote from https://blogs.uoregon.edu ) So what about the rest? It's plain douchebaggery to distinguish a few essential albums and pretend that the rest doesn't matter. First of all, it's like saying "Fuck you!" to musicians who aren't as recognized yet. It's like saying "Pack it up newbie, you're never going to have my respect until you make an album like In The Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel." It's not Pitchfork to blame ofcourse, it's the mentality that the readers and fans have around it.
Anything could be "hip" and mainstream depending on who likes it. People would easily dismiss pop albums but once it becomes "critically acclaimed" it starts to have a cult following. When these records are reviewed by big publications, they are put on a pedestal and their influence on music is eternally justified. Once again, we should be asking the same question: Who decides what's cool? Is it music blogs? If so who are the faceless people behind it? At the end of the day aren't they music enthusiasts like me or you? What makes their opinion more defining? I'm not going to play dumb and pretend that I don't know the importance of music publications on shaping opinions. However I'm trying point out a pattern.
Fiona Apple's Fetch The Bold Cutters was an instant hit. It was one of the few albums that Pitchfork gave a 10/10. This got people talking. Even the ones who would never listen to a Fiona Apple record streamed her album to see what the fuss was about. On one hand, this was an amazing exposure point for her but on the other hand, the fact that the record got a 10/10 was more brought up than the brilliance of the album itself.
Music forums and communities should be discussing music, duh. However when you look at some forums that "music connoisseurs" are a part of, you will see that it's nothing but a sexist shit-posting board. There is no problem with liking the modern cult indie classics but when you insult somebody else just because they didn't enjoy an electronic loop... uh that's not "hip" at all. Liking esoteric shit that were made in the 70's with a clogged sink sound doesn't make you a snob. Liking that and shutting down every possible conversation around it makes you one.
Indie music is often considered to be marginal which never made sense to me. It wasn't until the last few years that everybody finally looked around and said: "Wow ok LITERALLY everybody listens to Tame Impala and MGMT." Indie music isn't against the mainstream anymore it is the mainstream. However people think that they gain a special pass for criticizing people's taste after hearing Kid A by Radiohead once.
Everything becomes popular very quickly and fades away equally quick. BROCKHAMPTON was the one band that every "cool" person listened to two years ago. I remember seeing their songs pop up on everybody's playlists including mine. However recently I've realized that people collectively started hating BROCKHAMPTON, all of a sudden. It was almost as if all the cool kids had an overnight vision about them never being good in the first place and woke up hating them at the same time.
At the end of the day, preferences, hence our music taste is a big part of our identity and who are we without our identifying traits? Without realizing or not, we might aspire to find the genres and bands which are the coolest that we think will fit well with our desired/romanticized personality. However I think that there is something beautiful in that too. It's a part of getting to know yourself and realizing what you actually like and what you pretend to like. Have I listened to the whole discography of Swans because I really liked it? Really? At least now I can have an honest answer.
It's okay too. How else would we know what we liked without experimenting with different genres. In your personal quest to identify what you like, these tastemakers could be great sources however they could also suck you into the illusion of "being cool and different." Honestly, just close the Pitchfork tab and decide on your own. Maybe you weren't made to enjoy My Bloody Valentine anyway, go try Britney Spears. Believe me it's just as cool.