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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Hating the mainstream does not make you cool

All of the cool kids are anti-conformists, all of the anti-conformists wear Converse sneakers and none of the cool, Converse-wearing anti-conformists listen to mainstream music. That would be an unforgivable sin. That would warrant automatic expulsion from the anti-conformist club.

Mainstream music has come to be looked down upon as the industry-controlled antithesis to independent, creative thinking. You know what? In some cases, that anti-establishment, 1984-, Rage Against the Machine-inspired thinking has reason. There are labels out there that want the bands they sign to sound like what's currently selling, and there are bands out there that build themselves up in the image of popular bands in hopes of achieving the same fame.

That's only true in some cases, however. A number of bands are in the mainstream scene simply because they've won over a lot of fans. If you're going to fault a band for creating music that reaches a lot of listeners, by all means, go ahead. But you're being silly. If your reasoning behind that criticism is that mainstream bands are reaching the musically gauche masses who don't know what good music is, go ahead and test out that excuse because now you'll sound silly and pretentious. (If you're really itching to exercise your haughtiness, feel free to target the 13-year-old girls who love Fall Out Boy because Pete Wentz is "oh so dreamy." I have no sympathy for these people.)

This disdain for the mainstream appears to be a modern-day trend. Three decades ago, an artist's popularity wasn't considered a flaw. The focus was on the quality of the actual music. Even further back, popularity was seen as a positive thing. Just look at The Beatles. They were so popular that a cultural phenomenon was named after them, but I don't hear anyone scoffing at their widespread fame (at least not without being savagely attacked on the spot).

But my, how the times have changed. Now, the mainstream is associated with undiscriminating ears and dense minds, while genres like indie, alternative and experimental are reserved for sophisticated free thinkers. Ask indie followers who their favorite bands are, and they'll rattle off a list of the most obscure artists with a smile of smug condescension transparently veiled behind nonchalance.

How many times have you heard someone say, with respect to a band, "I liked them better before they became popular"? I think saying you liked a band better before they started sucking makes more sense. Not wanting to share your band's music and expose them to as many people as possible says more about you than about the band. Sharing is caring. Haven't you learned anything from the Care Bears?

There's nothing wrong with wanting to assert your individuality (though you should know "you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake"), and there are legitimately talented indie, alternative and experimental artists. But you should know that listening to a top-selling band doesn't diminish your individualism, and bragging about an unknown, underground group doesn't bolster it. At that point, you're not listening to the music; you're listening to the self-centered thoughts revolving in your head. While this may be a favorite pastime of mine, I don't advise it.

If you're really secure in your own identity, it doesn't matter who else listens to your band as long as you're listening for the right reasons.