Music: Challenging the Tastemakers

by Jordan Coughenour
Special to iVoryTowerz

There's something indecent about having to explain an infatuation with a band to a few cynical music snobs, when legions of screaming teenagers present a staunch argument as to the passion with which the group is worshipped and idolized by millions. I've always happily surrounded myself with the sort of people with whom I may jointly debate for hours regarding the idiosyncrasies of Astral Weeks (by Van Morrison, for the uninitiated) or the merits of using vinyl in the contemporary age. But sooner or later, the subject of contemporary artists will come up in our discussions, and I know it will be nearing the time when I should summon the deflector rays and prepare my resistance. Even though I feel I may speak somewhat eloquently on the evolution of 20th and 21st century music, I have never sought to disguise, that at heart, and in the capacity of my lungs to scream for an extended period of time, I am a fangirl.

I've sighed at Clay Aiken, pondered on the brilliance of Green Day and in what I consider to be my crowning achievement in fandom, sang along with thousands of tweenage girls at a massive outdoor Jonas Brothers* concert. It's unnecessary to say that I am alone in these many infatuations, or that they lack in recognition. No less an authority than Lady Gaga** compared the worldwide obsession with the JoBros to that the Beatles faced in their prime. Still, showing allegiance to any of these artists is an effectual black mark against the legitimacy of one's musical preferences. As soon as Hot Topic or Claires begin selling tacky plastic jewelry with a singer’s face on it, any existing credibility of the group is immediately washed away. Simply because their music has spoken to a younger generation who feel powerfully enough about it to latch onto it with any means possible, a group can go from being called innovators to posers before their album even hits the shelves. It’s not as if these so-called sell-outs have any less devotion to their music simply because they choose to sell records rather than auction off their assets. It’s clear from his recent Rolling Stone interview that Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong eats and breaths vinyl and guitar riffs. And even though their allegiance to The Mouse† may do them few favors as they get older, the Jonas Brothers’ ability to understand and play to the devotion of their young fanbase has continued to serve them well. What these bands, and their young (typically female) devotees have in common is a recognition that while giving in to The Man may be regarded by purists as losing touch with the music, it is also a quick and effective way to spread a powerful message, as well as make some serious cash. Always choosing the album less traveled may lead one to discover musical intricacies and harmonization never to be fully appreciated by the Suits of the world, but it also results in the absence of a gratification in passion and art only the sound of thousands of screaming teenage girls can offer.

*Sometimes referred to as the JoBros, to the uninitiated.

**Lady Gaga is the stage name of Stefani Germanotta a singer and songwriter who has written songs for Britney Spears and the Pussycat Dolls, among others.

†Disney produces a Jonas Brothers television series and the multimedia giant has supported the band's career.

(To read a review of the new Green Day release,
21st Century Breakdown, please go here.)

(The promotional photo of Green Day is from Warner Brothers Records. To see Green Day play a live R-rated version of "Know Your Enemy" from 21st Century Breakdown, please check below.)


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Jeff Siegel said...

The problem is not that there is a musical elite that tells people what they can and cannot listen to. The problem is that you, Jordan, have confused artistic merit with popular merit.

For example, I like to listen to Firefall, a 1970s granola band that had a couple of big hits when I was in college. But to suggest that Firefall, artistically, has anything in common with the Bryds, who were a major influence on that kind of band and also widly popular, is silly. The Byrds invented something, a certain sound that is still heard today. Firefall had a couple of songs played on the radio. It's not necessarily better or worse, but it is different.

Similarly, the JoBros are another in a long line of teen idol bands stretching (if you want to stretch that far back) 50 years to Ricky Nelson. Pick one: Bobby Sherman, the Bay City Rollers, Shaun Cassidy. They were cute, they had bouncy songs, and girls squealed. Green Day, on the other hand, for all its popularity, is an important band with important things to say. The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and Green Day's mission is to tell us this is happening and to suggest solutions. The JoBros? Their music has none of that urgency. Again, this is neither good nor bad -- just different.

I'd argue, Jordan, that the elitists are not people who tell you should be embarrassed to listen to the JoBros, but those who tell you that's all you should listen to.

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