Why We, As Journalists, Need To Shut The Hell Up Sometimes
We all know the problem. A media outlet picks up on the ‘hot new music scene coming out of Korea’ or the ‘subset of youth culture hailing from Chicago that may only be 10 people now, but it’s going to be hot!’ or the ‘five totally unrelated people doing something similar-ish with guitars’ or the ‘Wow, I didn’t know Italians could rap! How adorable! What should we call it?!’ The instantaneous frenzy begins, an official ‘scene’ is begat, then it’s over-saturated, jargon-ized and manipulated. Then, by the time every involved party has been interviewed by every outlet cashing in for the sake of its own credibility, the ‘scene’ is done and dusted and dried up.
We know, because we do it, too. (Except the condescending parts.)
If you’re in the media, you know it feels good when we first “discover” things, because we’re giving some highly-deserving people a great deal of publicity, all in good faith. But once every outlet picks up on it, the competition for exclusives and discovery bragging rights commences, and the music takes on the shape of something it never was: a “scene.” A scene with a name, with prime players, and wannabes.
While music pigeonholing has been happening since the dawn of time, it obviously occurs at a far more alarming rate in the Internet age. On the plus side, we have gained a gluttonous portion of amazing music every day, as well as a more populist outlook on things — as opposed to relying on two or three magazines, channels or labels. However, in the process, we may have lost some things we’ll never get back: mystery, true rebellion, and a lasting impact.
When I’m bored sometimes, I ask myself these questions: would punk or grunge or hip-hop even happen if they surfaced for the first time, right now? What if Kurt Cobain tweeted? If we knew what he had for breakfast every day, could he still be a legend? What if Chuck D was interviewed by every two-bit ironic blogger on the planet? Indie kids would be tripping over themselves trying to categorize the “emerging style of rhythmic spoken word” until nobody cared anymore. What if there were Iggy and the Stooges memes in the 60s? Then you get this.
History would suck.
But what about the present? And our children? And our children’s children? Will they experience any real scenes, or is everything an overexposed flash in the pan from here on out? In the past, we’d hunger for information about groups we loved, which only led to further mythologies and worship. Now, we demand instant information, and we typically get it. Unfortunately, there’s only so much reporting you can do before you exhaust every last impressive detail about a “scene” …which is a dirty secret, that many “scenes” are actually, at their core, quite boring.
Furthermore, it’s impossible to scare people anymore. While hip-hop and punk rock were eventually commercialized to death, it at least took a little bit of time. There was a solid minute when people were genuinely scared, giving their rebellious kids room to canonize the scenes forever. These days, if anyone is scared at all (think Zef, or Odd Future for two seconds), within no time we are tweeting, analyzing, updating, snarking, and effectively grinding them into overblown, commercial dust. Then you’re stuck with EDM.
Of course you could argue that, on the upside, bands are challenged to work harder to stand out. However, that doesn’t stop the media from killing them where they stand. We as an entity need to come up with more inventive ways to deal with this stuff, or take a decade-long furlough so musicians can create seriously cool shit.
More likely though, we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing, and occasionally vent about it, just to add to the noise.
Photos from Getty