"Popular" Alternative

This post originally appeared as an article on Medium.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend (@TDRdesigns) and I were having coffee, and he asked me if there was any point in trying to keep up with popular alternative music anymore. Besides the fact, that this phrase was kind of an oxymoron, I told him that I didn’t think there was. I said that we had always been more interested in “interesting music” than whatever the trendy ‘alternative’ sound of the moment had been. And while that’s probably true, I was definitely wrong about the first part.

One of the best things about popular or ‘popular alternative’ music, is its exuberance. Sure, the technical skill of DJ Shadow and the juxtaposition of orchestras and sampling on a Hybrid record are cool, but there’s something about a fun catchy song. It reminds you not to take life too seriously. And I think that’s what I’ve been doing recently.

There’s so much attention paid, in some circles, to what’s innovative or interesting that we forget the things that are just purely enjoyable. Those things have just as much, if not more value than our critically acclaimed art house films and indie darling bands. And I wish I had remembered that a bit more often as I went through college. I wish I’d gone to see more action movies, watched a bit more TV and maybe even listened to a few more radio hits (but only a few).

Those of us who work in the media seem to be particularly likely to fall into this overly pretentious seriousness. We tell ourselves that we’ve consumed so much culture; we must be above some of it. We argue that it’s a necessary filtering system for retaining our sanity and free time. Yet, many of us miss things the masses fall in love with because we were too busy trying to find the next award winner, or worse evangelizing about something “you’ve probably never heard of.”

This isn’t to say that we should all quickly buy a Chief Keef album on iTunes in order to be more relevant. There is still a lot of bad “popular” culture out there, and consuming it is generally a waste of time. Some of the popular content of today is fairly sophisticated, and quite uplifting. We all ought to take a minute to at least look at the charts more often, try out the new Taylor Swift single, and maybe join our younger siblings and parents in the sing-along.

Pretension has its place, as does popularity. I’m not trying to argue against taste or the arbiters thereof. I’m just realizing that much of our “critically acclaimed” or “interesting” culture isn’t very fun. And if we’re not having a bit of fun once in a while, it becomes very easy to become a jaded culture of bloggers who don’t get out enough.