B12 Solipsism

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Never Heard Of It Grammys

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Kaulana O Hilo Hanakahi by The Kalima Brothers

I was amused that so many folks twittered complaining about their lack of knowledge about Arcade Fire that some wag created a tumblr blog devoted to the phenomenon. For the record, if you pay attention to a certain kind of music critic, you had heard of Arcade Fire. I mean, they’ve appeared on the Daily Show and the Colbert Report fer christsakes. But not everyone pays attention to these sorts of cultural signifiers.

Arcade Fire hasn’t sold enough units to be a household name apparently.

Nitsuh Abebe of the New York Magazine’s Vulture blog ruminates why, and what does it mean to be proud of one’s ignorance?

There are some obvious jokes to be made about people with Internet access using Twitter to complain about not knowing something, as opposed to using Google to look it up. But for the most part, this reaction — all these examples cherry-picked from teenage pop fans and bemused adults — is just plain normal. “Never heard of it”: This has been the natural and traditional response of all sorts of ordinary American humans to all sorts of phenomena. It’s not really about knowledge or information. It’s an argument, for the most part, and a faintly aggressive one — a way of insisting that what you pay attention to really does define the world. What you’ve heard of is real, and everything else is marginal. The center holds, and you are that center. You are normal and aware, and not just some tiny atomized entity that can only hope to know one tiny corner of the universe.

It used to be a little easier to get away with that. You could presume that you were an informed person and anything truly notable would have been brought to your attention at some point — and enough people would share your vantage point that you wouldn’t often be challenged on it. (The truer this was, the more attractive it was to pull the reverse move: that of the music aficionado who’s proud to have never even heard of the most popular artists in the country.) I feel like I can remember people acting baffled, twenty years ago, when some “weird” band called R.E.M. won a few Grammys — and this was an act that had multiple top ten singles, videos on MTV, and all the other monocultural perks that are no longer available to any but the most successful musicians. (They would have also had some underground haters looking at them as over-popular, middlebrow college-rock sellouts who’d stopped being good sometime in the mid-eighties; it always goes both ways.)

But that “never heard of it” chauvinism is harder to pull off these days, and it’s a real problem with talking about music. The funny part is that while the Internet tends to make people feel like they’re more aware of what’s happening in music, and what “everyone” else is talking about, it’s just as effective at doing the opposite — sustaining all different kinds of huge and vibrant music worlds, to the point where whichever one you’re aware of is surely just a single weird corner among many, many more. Look at any forum or comments box where random strangers find themselves talking about music, and you wind up peering into some kind of chauvinistic Tower of Babel: so many people fiercely sure that their vantage point is normal, despite being surrounded by so many staggeringly, radically different backgrounds, perspectives, and frames of reference.

(click here to continue reading Arcade Fire, and the ‘Never Heard of It’ Grammys — Vulture.)

For the record, Arcade Fire isn’t my favorite band, but I like them enough to own three of their records, including the one that won them a Grammy.

Written by Seth Anderson

February 15th, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Posted in Music

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