Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
We all know at least one person who, upon the conception of a popular music discussion, will uphold the notion that “music just isn’t a good as it used to be.” Most of us are barely old enough to have been alive at this mystical, glorified era of “good music,” and yet rockism still rears its ugly head from time to time. Rockism can be simplified as the bias against music that is categorized as pop, producer-driven and commercialized, as well as the preference for an idealized era of classic rock.
Rockism is not a new concept, and the clash of shiny and new dance music against the gritty remnants of classic rock has been around since the 1980s — which, not coincidentally, was the decade when both MTV and modern pop music were born.
But if rockism is as old as electronic pop music itself, why bring it up now? Why talk about what has been deemed a close-minded mentality fueled by nostalgia and superiority? Because we don’t consume music the same way we did in the ’80s or even 10 years ago. Rockism has become, as a mentality, far more diffuse, constantly contradicting itself in ways that it hasn’t before. Rockism is dead in a formal sense, apart from a few stubborn purists who will contend that no one will ever be better than The Who or Led Zeppelin. Rockism is dead because of, wait for it, memes.
No, a cape-wearing Pepe didn’t fly through the Twitterverse ready to defend the likes of Kesha and Taylor Swift. But Drake’s dad-inspired dance moves from the Hotline Bling music video did. Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger did. Lady Gaga’s 2017 Super Bowl performance, recontextualized into hundreds of internet-wide jokes, did. That is not to say these artists are regarded similarly by critics or received similarly by audiences. But the way they’ve been translated into memes matters.
The Lady Gaga Super Bowl show received roaring praise from both fans and a slew of diverse celebrities. Lady Gaga has stood for almost everything Rockists cannot stand. She was influenced by the theatrical sexuality of Madonna and Michael Jackson and arrived on the scene with heavily produced club jams like “Poker Face” and “Just Dance.” But, like many pop artists before her, Gaga has taken fervent political stances in the past and released poignant power ballads that, while not for everyone, make rockists question what it is about The Beatles that distances them from artists like Gaga. Is it simply that The Beatles came first? But back to the serious, important topic at hand: memes.
The meme culture of recent years has thrown dirt on rockism’s grave. Yes, there will always be serious music criticism in forums like Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, etc, but as long as there is a constant humorous critique of even well-respected artists, the wall of condescension breaks down. Just like when dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp marred a Mona Lisa postcard with a mustache in his 1919 piece “L.H.O.O.Q.,” we make memes of well-respected and widely detested artists alike. Duchamp raised the question, “What is good art?” And so the Twitterverse raises the question “What is bad music?”
Everyone has an opinion, but no one really knows, and maybe that’s the goal.
Erin Hill is a freshman psychology major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.