Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Post-Irony--It's Not Just For Hipsters

If you’ve never enjoyed something post-ironically, you’re missing out.  In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept of post-irony (in which case you are doubtlessly rolling your eyes at the smug-faced hipster that’s probably writing these words) it’s basically the idea that you can come to appreciate a piece of music you may not like initially through listening to it ironically.  On a large scale, the best example of this phenomenon is probably Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” which has been exalted to a level roughly equivalent to that of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” since it ended up on the Pitchfork decade list, and at least three or four of my friends have been more than happy to heap their praises upon it between discussions of Jandek and Joanna Newsom.  But were people ever really listening to Kelly Clarkson ironically?  Nobody claims to music they don’t actually like unless they’re trying to impress someone, which isn’t going to happen if you go around openly bragging about your love of Justin Bieber.  Post-irony isn’t the final stage in some complex process--it just means you’re no longer embarrassed of your guilty pleasures, and it thus may be one of the best things ever to happen to the way we listen to music.

Here is some of the music “post-irony” has opened my eyes to.

1. Emo.  Not the “cool” emo from the ‘90s, not guilt-free emo like Cloud Nothings--I mean studio-polished pop-punk with over-pronounced lyrics about self-hatred and romantic frustration.  Emo is notoriously relatable to a lot of people, usually teenagers who exist outside the social mainstream.  But the people who sing emo music are not outcasts--in fact, they’re usually heartthrobs, with smooth and seductive voices to match (even the un-sexy vocals associated with screamo are usually diluted with “clean” vocals).  They can be rock stars or average human beings depending on the listener’s mindset and perspective--in other words, they’re whoever you want them to be.  Also, “Teenagers” by My Chemical Romance is a near-flawless pop song, with an indelible riff, fantastic lyrics, and a vocal performance that’s like a tongue in the ear.  

2. Adele, “Someone Like You.”  I love this song because it’s absolutely vicious.  Do you honestly believe she only wishes her former man the best?  Not a chance--if she had the chance she would rip him limb from limb, and after accepting the inevitability that her love is gone forever, the best she can do to keep herself happy is be happy for him.  That rage permeates Adele’s vocal to the extent that just writing about it makes me want to throw a chair out a window.  

3. Port Blue.  Though the go-to comparison for Adam Young's Owl City project is usually the Postal Service, there’s also a lot of downtempo and ambient music in his work--parts of the first few Owl City albums could pass for early Ulrich Schnauss or even Boards of Canada circa The Campfire Headphase.  His early work as Port Blue is infinitely more satisfying than anything Owl City’s put out, allowing his interest in quality ambient to shine.  Though I first listened to Port Blue’s Albatross EP because it was curiously listenable compared to bottomlessly awful songs like “Fireflies,” it’s since become one of my go-to ambient albums.  

4. Justin Bieber, BelieveYou heard that right.  Justin Bieber, the epitome of everything wrong with music according to a hundred million Led Zeppelin fans with YouTube accounts.  I’ve sat through My World and Believe just on a lark; neither are great, but at their worst they're more mediocre than terrible, and the latter is actually a pretty good pop album--at least in the mid-sixes if I were to think like Pitchfork.  Bieber sounds thoroughly sincere, and the production sounds like the work of people who know they’re working with Justin fucking Bieber and that they’d better make it count.  

5. Ke$ha.  Unlike the other artists on this list, Ke$ha took her time to grow on me.  I used to think of her as a second-rate American Uffie ripoff, but I soon realized that while Uffie does a lot of things not that well, Ke$ha does one thing extremely well, and that one thing is being Ke$ha.  I can’t think of another pop star with such a clearly defined personality, nor one who exploits it so effectively.  I even feel a bit violated when I listen to her music--something I can only say about a handful of artists, including Danny Brown and Exile-era Stones--and a lot more than you can say about Rihanna’s Talk That Talk, which VH1 proclaimed “the dirtiest pop album since Madonna's Erotica.”    

6. LMFAO, “Sexy And I Know It.”  I don’t like this song much (well, I’m neutral on it--wouldn’t put it on my iPod, but I can certainly dance to it), but it has one moment of absolute production genius.  During the brief moment after the buildup when Redfoo intones “I’m sexy and I know it,” a sample of a drum fill briefly flits across the background.  It’s the sound of jizz spilling after a climax, and it’s so perfectly in place it makes me laugh out loud every time I hear it.

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