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Late Night: In Defense of One Direction, Or Why Your Favorite Music Is Terrible

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Is there anything old people like more than hating on young people’s taste in music? I mean it’s like the Olympics for us: 

Magazines and television and advertisements tell teenage girls that they should like certain things, and then other magazines tell girls that they’re stupid for liking those things. Then magazines publish articles and TV shows run specials wondering why teenage girls don’t have better self esteem, like they didn’t make it that way.

There’s nothing wrong with teenage girls being enthusiastic about boy bands or (heaven forbid) having sexual feelings about the boys in boy bands. There is something wrong with the way that other people react to teenage girls and their interests.

The GQ dickhead the author is responding to makes one of the dumbest statements I’ve ever read, and I read Republicans for a living:

“These women don’t care about the Rolling Stones. They don’t care about the meta-modernist cycle of cultural repetition. They don’t care about history. All these female fans care about is their immediate vociferous reverence.”

First, no normal teenager at all cares about the meta-modernist cycle of cultural repetition, so blow it out your asshole.

Second, for fuck’s sake, why does everybody have to start with the goddamn Stones? Must all interest in music begin with the 1960s Western Male Canon, and go from there? For all the hipster-hating that goes on among Baby Boomers this is just the same in reverse: Love my Important Music or you’re just not cool. I doubt everybody worships at the altar of the first band they ever heard. Maybe you start with the boy bands and listen to other stuff later, fer chrissakes.

Maybe you’re 13 and you care exactly as much about the Stones as 13-year-olds in 1964 cared about Glenn Miller.

I’m biased because my era’s most popular music didn’t exactly set the world on fire, unless you think Blind Melon was some kind of apotheosis of lyricism, so whatever the hipsters and the latest boy bands come out with is at least an improvement on that shit. (And don’t throw Nirvana in my face. Nirvana fans my age have made Nirvana so insufferable that it’s impossible to come to any appreciation of it that isn’t tainted by some socially impaired dickbro repeating Cobain’s lyrics a million times because if you don’t love them, you just weren’t listening correctly.)

I don’t understand what we get out of loathing what Kids Today like, I really don’t. I’m not One Direction’s target demographic, but if it comes up on Pandora while I’m running, I’m not throwing a fit about it. It’s mostly positive, peppy, silly stuff and who the hell cares? I don’t understand the rage people fly into about its popularity. Other than not-so-subtly broadcasting that we are Old As Fuck, what are we saying when we go around talking about how awful and trivial everything today is?

We’re saying look how much better WE are, for having 20 years on everybody, is what we’re saying. And, um, yeah, of course. My 18-year-old self HAD NEVER BEEN TO A ROCK SHOW. I knew Neil Young as the guy whose whiny, nasally tape got stuck in the truck’s tape deck during a 6-hour car ride and my dad wouldn’t shut the fucking thing off so for SIX HOURS it was Neil wheezing about the free world over and over and over. I’d never heard “Ohio.” I had never heard of Leonard Cohen. I knew who Bob Dylan was but fuck if I’d ever listened to him once. And forget female artists; Janis Joplin sounded like somebody having a seizure to me at that age.

But what exactly was my 18-year-old self’s obligation to that music? And why do we all need our opinions, musical and otherwise, validated by every successive generation? Quoth Pete Townshend, a fellow who knows something about sound, on outraged fans bitching about One Direction ripping off Baba O’Riley: 

Pete Townshend has responded to One Direction fans furious over an Internet rumor that the Who were pursuing legal action over the boy band’s “Best Song Ever,” which bears more than a passing resemblance to “Baba O’Riley.” Not true, Townshend said yesterday in a statement.

“No! I like the single. I like One Direction,” Townshend said. “The chords I used and the chords they used are the same three chords we’ve all been using in basic pop music since Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry made it clear that fancy chords don’t mean great music – not always. I’m still writing songs that sound like ‘Baba O’Riley’ – or I’m trying to!”

In fact, Townshend appears to be flattered that has band continues to shape the contemporary pop scene: “I’m happy to think they may have been influenced a little bit by the Who,” he said. “I’m just relieved they’re not all wearing boiler suits and Doc Martens, or Union Jack jackets.”

Right? Be relieved we’re not all repeating the same shit over and over in exact form, or there would be no joy in going back and discovering things we missed growing up, in no small part because they sound so different from what we have now.


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Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a writing and politics blog, with her partners Holden, Jude and Scout. She is the author of the books Chicago's Historic Irish Pubs (2011, Arcadia Publishing, with Mike Danahey) and It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal, about a great liberal journalism institution (2007, Heritage Books). She also edited the anthology “Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War” (2005, William, James & Co.) Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.