Trendspotting with The Atlantic: On the Rise of “Slow Pop”

05/18/2010 10:26 AM |

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There’s a profile of British folk-singer Laura Marling over at The Atlantic today. The piece was written by Kyle Chayka, whose primary intent, it seems, was to pit Marling against mainstream pop stars. Her music is defined “not by glossy hooks or brand names,” he says, “but by the artistry of its musicianship and the care of its creator.” It’s standard anti-pop stuff, of course, and there’s very little need for any of us to keep having all those same fights anymore. But what makes the piece so silly is that Chayka seems to believe this is the beginning of some massive cultural shift toward, basically, indie rock.

From artists like Joanna Newsom and Andrew Bird to Grizzly Bear, The National and The Tallest Man on Earth, a growing group of popular musicians don’t seem to feel the same need as Lady Gaga or Ke$ha to refer to themselves in the third person or pound out huge choruses hidden behind auto-tune.

It’s not that these musicians don’t aspire to fame; they’re just not bent on seeking out the psychotic grandeur of pop superstardom. Instead, they are letting the growth of their music take the lead, and it shows. Slow Pop is a different kind of mainstream than the last decades of bubblegum and hip-hop have brought us, harkening back to a time when concept albums were cool and guitar playing was more important than a band’s stage show. I’m guessing in the coming years we will be seeing a lot more of Marling and musicians like her—stars as well as cultural icons who don’t need to wear an Alexander McQueen dress and lobster boots to play a gig.

There’s no shortage of stuff to be bothered by here—it’s the most oblivious display of old-school rockism I’ve seen in years—but the most egregious aspect of it for me (aside from his use of the term “Slow Pop”) is the implication that this is something new, that the indie artists he mentions are doing what they do as some sort of response to Lady Gaga. And I understand the need for a narrative, of course, but this piece could have been written at literally any time in the past 30 years, presenting any batch of indie bands as a game-changing antidote to any mainstream pop trend, and it would have proven false almost every time.

2 Comment

  • Yeah remember when Low’s Things We Lost in the Fire changed everything forever! The Atlantic is definitely not your place for hip cultural tips, but they have good long from reporting on grown-up issues at least.

  • These are all fair criticisms and I do regret that the piece goes a little too far towards defining a “massive cultural shift”, but I think you’ll find that the main point is that I appreciate when artists don’t emphasize their image over the actual quality of their music. The spotlight is on their work, not their personality.

    And really, with the advent of a whole bunch of early 2000s indie bands into the mainstream consciousness, I do see a cultural shift towards that kind of music. But it’s not an antidote to anything, it’s just another addition to the mainstream.