In Defense of Hype, Sorta

10/14/2009 4:00 AM |

Cynically, we could blame this on the fact that everyone–from bloggers to, well, mostly bloggers, but also print journalists living in constant fear of becoming irrelevant–is more willing than ever to go on record with an opinion long before any valuable opinion has had time to form. Since no one wants to seem behind the curve, it’s easier, and less risky, to simply go along with what’s already being said. It snowballs, and before you know it, you have a band playing The Tonight Show that can’t do more than a half-hour at the Mercury Lounge.

There is definitely some truth to this argument, but there’s something a little less sinister at play, as well: For those of us who are so inclined, there are very few things more exciting than hearing a new band that, out of nowhere, seems to understand everything everyone’s been talking, singing and writing about in the 50-some odd years since rock and roll started. To a certain extent, what’s going on today has been going on that whole time: Everyone wants to be the one to tell their friends about the great new band. It’s just that, because of the Internet, and because of the newfound viability of “indie” in the mainstream marketplace, the stakes are higher than they were when you were just a loudmouth at the corner table of your favorite bar, or even when you were a DJ at your college radio station. You have more friends now, even if most of them only exist in an alphabetized list on your Facebook page, or as anonymous readers of your personal blog, or as people you communicate with on a message board. Somewhere out there, someone stands to make a decent living by staying tuned into the things you and your “friends” are talking about, and it complicates things greatly.

But should any of this really affect how we feel, or even act, when we hear something that immediately and truly excites us? By the time I heard the xx, I was already aware that they’d become something of a hot topic in the U.K. (where, it should be noted, they’ve been doing this whole Next Big Thing dance for far longer than we have), so I was a bit more skeptical than usual going in, which, realistically, is all we can expect from anyone, professional or not. Upon first listen, I rolled my eyes, violently, at their cool detachment, and I quietly derided the general public’s enduring weakness for said cool detachment. Then a few weeks later, I heard the record again, this time by accident, and I found myself more impressed. Their taste level is striking for a band their age, early Velvets crossed with a sort of blatant indie-fication of Memphis soul-singing, with some of the most minimal accompaniment you’ll ever hear. It’s like the instruments take turns more often than they work in unison, and it’s a strange and interesting sensation to always know exactly where your attention is supposed to be directed.

All in all, it’s a debut that’s made me happy to file the xx alongside all the other bands whose next record I will definitely make it a point to listen to. Will I still care about this one in six months? Six weeks, even? Do I think they’re deserving of the amount of attention they’ve gotten? I don’t know, and I don’t think it matters, particularly. What matters is that someone, somewhere, was so moved by this band that they couldn’t stop talking about it. It’s neither that person’s fault, nor the fault of the band, that other people have knee-jerk reactions, positive or negative, to the excitement of others. The onus is on us, now more than ever, to be diligent about making sure our opinions are fully formed before we share them. Because, while no one wants to see the Black Kids scenario play out over and over again, we also don’t want to wind up in a situation where people feel like they risk being frowned upon for going out on a limb and championing a young band. It’s what we’ve always done, and it’s what we should continue to do.

And it’s pronounced “the ex-ex,”by the way.

3 Comment

  • “The onus is on us, now more than ever, to be diligent about making sure our opinions are fully formed before we share them.”

    Take your own advice! Please, for the love of all that is good and true in the world!

  • It’s not fair to compare The xx to Black Kids. At all. Even in a down time for music, this band has made an incredible record with incredible timing.

    You couldn’t have been more spot on with your other assessment of hyping bands. Congrats.

  • So on point. You inspired me to write this: http://j.mp/8Ay3d