PopTalk: The Poptimism and Rockism Debate

Brice Ezell, Evan Sawdey, Nathan Stevens
Still from Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" music video

In 2015, the "poptimism vs. rockism" debate has inspired a rash of thinkpieces and Twitter arguments. Is this debate actually saying anything, though?

"Do you want poptimism?" Chris Richards asks in a 17 April 2015 article for The Washington Post, "Or do you want the truth?" This headline is a loaded one: why exactly is poptimism anathema to truth? In his article, Richards makes the argument that poptimism serves as a necessary corrective to the spurious notion that "rock-centric songwriters with rough voices and 'real' instruments are inherently more legitimate than pop stars with Auto-Tuned voices and choreographed music videos." For Richards, however, "poptimist dogma has been misread and misused", resulting in a hive-mind culture that uncritically props up pop stars.

Richards' piece is one of an array of "poptimist vs. rockist" thinkpieces that have caused much buzz in the online music community this year, particularly in the realm of music criticism. Though this discussion has been happening for the past ten years, in 2015 there has been a resurgence, with megastars like Taylor Swift and Beyonce serving as lightning rod examples of the poptimist debate. But for all of the talk about the ostensible clash between "poptimist" and "rockist" ideas of music, how credible is the debate, really?

Regular PopTalk contributors Evan Sawdey and Brice Ezell are joined by PopMatters writer Nathan Stevens for a thorough discussion of "poptimism vs. rockism", incorporating Richards' piece and many others in an overview of what is going on with the debate at the moment, and what is right and wrong therein.

Evan Sawdey, Brice Ezell, and Nathan Stevens all write for PopMatters, where Evan also serves as Interviews Editor.

Over the Rainbow: An Interview With Herb Alpert

Music legend Herb Alpert discusses his new album, Over the Rainbow, maintaining his artistic drive, and his place in music history. "If we tried to start A&M in today's environment, we'd have no chance. I don't know if I'd get a start as a trumpet player. But I keep doing this because I'm having fun."

Jedd Beaudoin

The Cigarette: A Political History (By the Book)

Sarah Milov's The Cigarette restores politics to its rightful place in the tale of tobacco's rise and fall, illustrating America's continuing battles over corporate influence, individual responsibility, collective choice, and the scope of governmental power. Enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 5. "Inventing the Nonsmoker".

Sarah Milov
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2018 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.