Are you a poptimist?

Just to clarify what I think of when I hear this term, b/c interpretations vary: poptimism was initially defined as an understanding of music and music culture that was working against the ideas that were sometimes called rockism. And rockism is the tendency to view popular music through the lens of the critical and cultural assumptions that built up around the idea of “Rock.” That is, rockists assess the value of a given piece of music in terms of how well it matches up the values associated with rock music. Which values include things like: the album as the central artistic statement, the importance of instrumental virtuosity, the notion that singers should also be songwriters, prizing “authentic” expression over theater and artifice, the idea music should reflect the inner lives of its performers as opposed to being designed to appeal to a marketplace, the thought that quality music should “stand the test of time,” etc. There are more examples. Music can be viewed through this lens regardless of its genre, and “rockists” tend to decide if music is “good” based on how well it meets rock criteria (a lot of rap writing, especially when it looks back to a “golden age,” has strong rockist tendencies). Poptimists on the other hand search for sources of value that lie outside of the rock lens, and may be more inclined to look favorably on single tracks, theatricality, performative interpretation, ephemeral pleasures, memes, etc. A lot of great music writers and thinkers take a more poptimist-oriented view of music and I am a fan of many of them and respect their work and I do think interrogating both your own responses and the critical party line is hugely important. So I have poptimist ideals in mind all the time. But in terms of my own values and the way I experience music, I would not describe myself as a poptimist. I wouldn’t describe myself as a rockist either (I don’t think anyone would, really—it’s a pejorative). But some of those values are pretty deeply ingrained in how I experience music and I feel comfortable enjoying and communicating about music on that level, as long as I’m careful not to think of it as “normal” or “universal” and as long as I try to understand how other people experience it and how a given piece of music functions in its own context.

Posted at 2:02am and tagged with: writing, rockism, poptimism,.

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