By Akhil Sood Sep. 07, 2016
The excessive hate that Coldplay gets has little to do with the band. It’s a victim of a trend – where a self-professed “discerning” listener disregards all pop music.
It’s confirmed that Coldplay are performing in Mumbai and I’ve begun to feel a tad bad for the poor blokes who forked out gazillions to travel across England and parts of Europe this summer to watch them play. Chris Martin, in all fairness, should have tweeted @Indians, “Yo, hold your horses, I’m coming over”, so that the fans could have reserved the pleasure of watching their favourite band right here, even if the experience will be no different than boarding a local from Mumbai’s Dadar station during peak hours.
I must say, the Coldplay fan is looking like a pukka idiot. But then he has been looking like an idiot for a while now – ever since the tide turned and the hipster community decided it’s become absolutely essential to hate Coldplay.
I’m not a Coldplay fan, but my gripe with the band started way before this wave. I may have contributed just a wee bit to it by being fairly vocal about how I genuinely believe it is a mediocre, derivative band. But I don’t get this hipster hate.
And it’s not just Coldplay.
There’s also our great Indian icon, Honey Singh. It’s amusing how much he upsets people, how much he offends them. He’s become a benchmark – the mainstream music punchline equivalent of “Why don’t you go to Pakistan then?”
There are enough commercial, popular artists who incite such extreme reactions – Justin Bieber, for one; then there’s Kanye West, while Britney Spears remains evergreen. Miley Cyrus, by all accounts, seems to have personally insulted the moms of every single male between the ages of 18 and 48, regardless of race/nationality/IQ. HOW DARE SHE? I’m all for excessive opinionating when it comes to music. It is, after all, supposed to provoke an emotional response from the listener. But I find myself wondering if the reasons are actually as pure.
This is of course at the risk of creating a straw man but, too often, the rage directed at a musician in the mainstream space seems to stem from a preexisting perception of the artist. It’s not that difficult to understand that so many people loathe Honey Singh (only) because his music sucks – I’ll reserve judgment on the quality of his music, having not heard too much to comment one way or another – but because of how much he is already loved. He sells out concerts, his songs play at pubs and nightclubs, people YouTube his tackiest compositions and turn up the volume on their phones inside trains and metros. Cars blare his choicest lyrics over a thumping groove that becomes a blubbery mess when conjoined with the existing noise on the street. It’s a fine difference, but critique of the music gets all tangled up with critique of other people’s taste in music.
It seems clear that it’s less to do with the band and more to do with the circus around them, from both their fans and the very vocal anti-Coldplay community.
There’s enough bad music out there. The number is disputed, but there are somewhere between 189 and 195 countries in the world, almost all of them with access to the internet and stupid young people with unfortunate dreams of global superstardom. So just by the law of averages, the number of people writing really terrible music, a lot of which makes its way to the nonstop all-night VH1 playlist (does MTV still exist?), has to be really high. Most of said music would actually be far worse than the earworm nature of songs performed by the lovable pop icons that make the news. Every Britney Spears song, literally every single one of them, will make any sane, self-respecting person tap his foot if he allows himself the luxury. The catchy beat, the cheesy, familiar melody – it seems almost scientifically designed to appeal to your basest, most superficial sensors of music consumption. We all fake laugh at how ridiculous “Call Me Maybe” is, but isn’t the song ridiculously catchy as well? Isn’t the phrase pretty much pop culture 101 now?
Sure, some of the ire directed at “pop stars” does seem to stem from their very public, very obnoxious personas (Hi Kanye, how do you do?), but a lot of it is simply a case of mistaken identity, where opinions are informed directly by other opinions, and not so much the subject matter in question. It’s not really about the music.
Art criticism, for what it’s worth, is pretty much an egalitarian concept now, where the actual critic (the one with the Critic hat), while respected in some quarters, doesn’t have as much of a say in swaying public opinion as before. Everyone has a platform to voice their thoughts now, however misguided, thanks to greater access and exposure. But it always feels like far too many consumers of mainstream music seem to miss the point somewhat. It’s a self-sustaining mechanism at play, feeding the frenzy, first creating, then adding, to the soap-opera nature of pop culture and entertainment. Even with Coldplay – as much as this writer may dislike them – the excessive hate they get is again symptomatic of this same condition. It seems clear that it’s less to do with the band and more to do with the circus around them, from both their fans and the very vocal anti-Coldplay community.
It’s not exclusive only to mainstream music of course – a more nuanced, well-rehearsed variation of this trend is the Hipster Principle (a term I’ve just made up), where a self-professed “discerning” listener will, consciously or subconsciously, disregard all music that is thought to be popular or accessible. In the mainstream, however, accessibility doesn’t quite enter the fray as such, just fluctuating tastes and fluctuating responses to artists. It’s like the cool kids in school – they’re usually terrible at most things bar a couple – but they’re talked about the most, and just about everyone has an opinion on them. They’re popular because they’re popular. It’s fine, really – ill-informed and misguided criticism is of course better than none at all (more than any meaningful purpose, art criticism also exists as a self-serving intellectual exercise, and is always just a lot of fun). Just that calling a spade a spade because it’s one, is slightly different from calling it so simply because everyone else seems to think it’s not.
This is an updated version of a previously published piece.
Akhil Sood writes about music and culture and struggles with the concept of Diet Coke.