Satire is a powerful weapon. Using techniques like hyperbole and exaggeration can undermine the state of things by exposing problematic underlying principles and assumptions. For example, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove effectively mocks Cold War politics from diplomacy to mutually ensured destruction by creating an overly silly cast of characters to play out the conflict. With that arrogant introduction settled, I’d like to declare that I am exhausted with music journalists addiction to genre labeling.
Recently the New York Times came out with an article responding to the “news” that “a few weeks ago Hipster Runoff, a blog that ridicules bohemian culture with hilarious precision, began advertising a “genre shirt.”” Hipster Runoff, a satirical site run by some lolcat loving, smart ass named Carles, is selling shirts “which ask, “What kind of music do u listen 2?” and offers, in a matrix of small type, more than 200 underground musical styles, both real (shoegaze, crab-core) and fake (Sufjan-house, crab-gaze).” Both Hipster run off and the NYT article get at a growing problem in music journalism. Genre labeling is running rampant. However, it is my opinion that this ritual of glorified tree pissing needs to stop. Essentializing new musical acts into quaint, cleverly titled categories doesn’t make one knowledgeable or innovative. Rather it stratifies music, alienates listeners, and loads hapless expectations onto songs and artists. It seems like music journalists have shifted their focus from the music to themselves. When once it was about the Beatles’ process in the studio, now it is about writers scrambling to break and brand buzz bands. I’m all about new music, but I’m into just that, the music. Let’s skip the bull shit behind classifying new sounds and work toward understanding their production and appeal. That seems like the most worthwhile pursuit to me