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Wednesday, Nov 24, 2010
It’s not surprising that the intense curiosity about Lady Gaga’s music and aesthetic is being brought into undergraduate classrooms.

With a mix of journalistic curiosity and slight bewilderment, various American and international news sites have reported that a course called “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame” will be taught next spring at the University of South Carolina. Taught by Mathieu Deflem, a tenured sociologist, the course will use discussions of the pop star’s music and sartorial flare to build his students’ “empirical knowledge of some of the most important social dimensions of fame as exemplified by the case of Lady Gaga”. According to the course website, students will read academic studies that include fundamental works in the sociology of pop music by Simon Frith and others, Elizabeth Currid’s The Warhol Economy, and my forthcoming article in the Journal of Popular Culture, “Memory, Monsters, and Lady Gaga”. Although a University of Virginia writing course called “Gaga for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity” also garnered substantial media attention, Deflem will likely offer a unique perspective. He also manages the gagafrontrow.net website and even owns the studded cane and wheelchair used by Gaga during her blood-soaked 2009 MTV Video Music Awards performance.



Tagged as: lady gaga
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Thursday, Nov 18, 2010
Why do we write about music? Why do we try to surround ourselves with people who either share that love or are at the very least part of the reason we feel the way we do? And why, if we sincerely love when those lines cross, can't we do something about it?

There’s not a lot of money to be made in music criticism these days. I don’t know that there ever really was, because I’ve seen where Lester Bangs’ last known residence was and it wasn’t exactly palatial. And these days, gosh knows, there just isn’t a ton of dough being thrown around the music industry, and what is ain’t exactly trickling down to us hacks.


So what compels us to slave over a hot keyboard, our spines twisting into cartoon question marks, our fingers bent and gnarled and cracked from contemplative overuse?


Is it the perks? I won’t lie, I do enjoy sometimes not having to pay for CDs, though I’m not sure anyone pays for CDs anymore, so what the fuck am I so happy about? And though I don’t take nearly enough advantage of it, tickets to shows aren’t that tough to come by. And I suppose I could—gasp!—meet the band, though Twitter has probably robbed the romance from the mystery and majesty of the rock star. Nothing is sacred or secret when you discover that the only difference between us lowlifes and those who trod the boards in the name of the holy rock and/or roll is access to better drugs.


Tagged as: music criticism
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Wednesday, Nov 17, 2010
Can we, finally, begin pondering how cultures outside of the West—outside of London and New York—conceive of terms like indie and punk?

I’m writing this (relatively) brief blog entry because I want to start what I hope will be a long discussion in the comments section.  I’m also writing today from a position of genuine ignorance, which is why I want to hear from you, PopMatters Readers the World Over.


Jake Cleland’s recent piece here on the evolution of punk culture struck me for a few different reasons, not the least of which was because it began with an apparent breakup over punk music.  Jake, for what it’s worth, my wife loathes my collection of My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai, and Merzbow records, and we’ve been happily together for eleven years now.  Don’t let punk rock get in the way of love—or, I suppose, sex.  It’s not worth it, my friend.


Tagged as: indie rock, lo-fi, punk
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Thursday, Nov 11, 2010
by Jake Cleland
Indie couldn’t exist as it is without punk and, while it may lack the anarchical, rebellious fervor of punk culture, indie is still the voice of the current generation.

A couple of days ago, I was chatting with this girl over beers about indie music. She was telling me that indie has gone from a philosophy to just a loosely defined category, and I realised the same thing happened with punk music. When I tried to tell her this, she told me she had no idea what punk music was. Needless to say, the date went poorly after that, but on the train ride home I started thinking: is indie the new punk?


First, we have to start with a definition. Indie literally refers to a band that records, produces, and releases its material outside the major label cabal, so already from that definition you can see how close it is, ideologically, to punk. You probably have a slightly different definition, but I transposed this one from what is traditionally agreed makes a film indie, though in both cases we know there are more elements. Twilight is technically an indie film, but when you think of indie films, you’d have a hard time putting it next to Brick or Clerks or whatever your favourite indie film is, yet they’re all still independently produced.


In 1975, the youth of the two greatest cities of the Western world, London and New York City, were trying to reconnect with rock’s new spirit. Their solution was punk. The music was loud, fast, and aggressive, but also simple. In a 1995 interview, Joey Ramone of the Ramones said “We wanted the kids to feel they could go out and do this too.” The kids felt isolated, but they had a lot to say, and now they had the avenue to say it. This accessibility was lost by the time the ‘80s rolled around. The three chords that were the backbone of punk were replaced with complicated solos and greater emphasis on technical aptitude. The elitism was restored to music. Then came the Millennials. Told they could do anything, that they were all delicate little snowflakes, unique, filled with potential, they ignored the obstacles and the unreality of becoming a famous musician and took up instruments anyway.


Tagged as: indie rock, punk
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Wednesday, Oct 13, 2010
Weezer fans’ disappointment with the group's recent albums may have less to do with how the band has changed than with how nerds everywhere have changed, Rivers Cuomo included.

That the quality of Weezer’s musical production has been in steady decline since the 1996 release of Pinkerton has been fairly well established. The Quorum of Pre-teen Girls that make up the band’s current fan base may have different things to say about it, but to more critical ears, or even just those who happen to enjoy loud music and ‘90s nostalgia, Weezer’s segue into the pop mainstream has been deeply disappointing.


However, in some ways, the pop cultural cluelessness represented in Weezer’s post-Pinkerton work speaks loudly for the authenticity of its contribution to the greater nerd aesthetic. The band’s late musical awkwardness draws interesting parallels to the social awkwardness of nerds everywhere, and as nerd-dom itself has undergone unsettling changes in the last ten years, similar changes in Weezer’s music somewhat validates its original positioning within that tradition. Weezer fans’ disappointment with the group’s recent albums may have less to do with how the band has changed than with how nerds everywhere have changed, Rivers Cuomo included. Even if Weezer’s newer music has no value in its own right, it may somewhat authenticate one particularly culturally important aspect of their first two albums, even solidify their rightful place with other nerd-friendly bands like Devo and They Might Be Giants.


Tagged as: weezer
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