Taylor Swift & the War on Williamsburg

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Country music is rarely difficult to comprehend. That's among its many charms. But it also suffers from an inferiority complex--and an unfounded one at that,

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Taylor Swift & the War on Williamsburg

  • Taylor Swift & the War on Williamsburg

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    tayredcover.jpg
    Country music is rarely difficult to comprehend. That's among its many charms. But it also suffers from an inferiority complex--and an unfounded one at that, in light of the genre's enormous popularity. When Phil Lesh earnestly declares his affinity for Brad Paisley in The New Yorker, whatever war's presumed to have been waged is over.

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    However, country music's--all of music's, really--biggest star, Taylor Swift, won't let it slide, going so far as to declare a veritable fatwa on indie sensibilities in The New York Times Magazine:

    NYT: In your video for "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," you are wearing big, heavy glasses and there are a bunch of guys in animal costumes. What is that about?

    Swift: You know when you watch an indie video and you're like: "Why are they underwater in upside- down chairs with a random projection of a butterfly interspersed? Why is this happening?" We were trying to think of ways that we could tip our hat to the randomness of some indie music videos. Why are there woodland creatures? Nobody knows. Why am I wearing floral-print pajamas? Nobody knows. Why am I randomly wearing glasses? Nobody knows.

    NYT: In that song, you also make fun of the ex-boyfriend who finds peace of mind "with some indie record that's much cooler than mine." Do you think there's a special circle of hell reserved for hipsters?

    Swift: That all came out of this one relationship I was in. This guy was just, so, so cool. It kind of gave me a bit of a complex for this album, because he was always going on and on about this new band that was so cool because they were so underground. I have so many indie bands on my iPod. What I don't really understand is the attitude that if a band is unknown, they're good, and if they get fans, then you move on to the next band.

    NYT: Was that guy a musician?

    Swift: No, he wasn't. He just had very eclectic, sophisticated taste.

    Eclectic and sophisticated are hence coded as negative traits--so cool equaling not so cool--putting Swift in seemed lockstep with the anti-intellectual sentiment that's led to the astonishing 21st-Century Bubbafication of the Republican Party. Which would be an open-and-shut critique were it not for the fact that the eclectic and sophisticated have taken to trashing themselves of late.

    In the same issue of The New York Times in which Swift's Q&A ran, there appeared an essay by Christy Wampole which articulately blasted ironic hipsterism as a cowardly persona. A representative passage is as follows:

    Throughout history, irony has served useful purposes, like providing a rhetorical outlet for unspoken societal tensions. But our contemporary ironic mode is somehow deeper; it has leaked from the realm of rhetoric into life itself. This ironic ethos can lead to a vacuity and vapidity of the individual and collective psyche. Historically, vacuums eventually have been filled by something -- more often than not, a hazardous something. Fundamentalists are never ironists; dictators are never ironists; people who move things in the political landscape, regardless of the sides they choose, are never ironists.

    Where Wampole attempts to reason with Williamsburg (the Brooklyn neighborhood which has devolved into shorthand for the ironic hipster archetype), the filmmakers behind The Comedy set out to obliterate it--even though they live there. Maybe they've grown disgusted and/or bored with themselves; after all, the hipster's way out of such a cage would be to stage an act of grand self-deprecation. Whatever the motivation, Grantland's Steven Hyden seizes upon the film as a means of declaring "the end of indie exceptionalism."

    Beating everyone to the funeral in September was the Washington (D.C.) City Paper's Justin Moyer, whose searing essay was subtitled, "How the Brooklynization of music killed regional music scenes." To Moyer, technology, rootlessness and the Williamsburg hive has inflicted real harm on the ears and minds of America. Exposure to everything and the ensuing distillation have led to a too-precious homogenization of indie rock, he concludes, longing for the days when second-tier metropolises were, in essence, cultural backwoods left to forge their own sound.

    If Moyer, Hyden, Wampole and Swift are right to proclaim--or at least openly pine for--the death of Williamsburg, an acceptable social correction will have been achieved. Locavores should be able to admit to liking KFC without fear of excommunication, just as a serious music fan should be able to declare his love of Taylor Swift's oeuvre without feeling the need to qualify it as a guilty pleasure. But an overcorrection--where sophistication and eclecticism are mocked willy-nilly--is something to be feared. In an America where intellectual curiosity and the search for underground artistic treasure are belittled, you get John Kerry hunting geese. And that's even more inauthentic and culturally toxic than the most insufferable hipster.

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