All-Access: Friends, Pop Stars, and 'Unapproachability'


Perhaps it once seemed that stars could ascend meritocratically. Wasn't this the promise of "indie rock" (or whatever economy-of-a-smaller-scale proxy subculture you fancy) with its self-avowed, proudly ethical distance from the trad machinations of avaricious major labels, star-boning puff-piece magazines, corporatist logic and the like? (Or maybe that was my own teenage projection. Those were the days...) But, amidst the collapse of such readymade distinctions and the business of our time being that of friendship, it's fascinating to scrutinize the web of interrelated associates, "followers," comrades, supporters, fans and half-pals that comprise your typical emergent "scene."

In an Observer piece from a couple months back, the astute Leon Neyfakh wrote about Brooklyn's Beach Fossils, a solid enough but generally unspectacular band, and the ways in which they've been influenced--and, in turn, praised--by the website Pitchfork. This circularity is nothing new, and there's nothing particularly unethical about befriending a band or a writer or, in this case, hiring a band to play a sympathetic media outlet's beverage company-sponsored party. But I was amused by a couple things Ryan Dombal, a Pitchfork staffer (and, full disclosure, someone within my "web of interrelated associations"), said:

The people that I really love are these kind of larger-than-life figures--somebody like Lil' Wayne, who's, like, the same age as me...For me, loving somebody involves an element of unapproachability.
They look like how I look...They went to similar schools as me. Similar backgrounds, similar references. It's like talking to one of my friends. Which is O.K., but . . . that's not what I want to really grab on to as far as music goes.

Personally, I agree with this. And it's the most interesting idea that Neyfakh's piece seems to play around with, the ease with which any possibility of antagonism--band, writer, magazine, Pitchfork Reviews Reviews--is defused or rerouted toward a new, mutually useful alliance. Which isn't to say there should be reason for antagonism--Beach Fossils really isn't that kind of band. But this notion of "unapproachability" Ryan serves many purposes, beyond the maintenance of some kind of pop "aura." "Unapproachability" is also the possibility that your heroes might not approve of you or understand your passion for them. The opposite of "unapproachability" is conveyed wonderfully in this bemused and somewhat dizzying run-down of all the people present at a Ducktails show in Brooklyn, and all the ways in which they are related to and invested in one another's pursuits (also by Neyfakh). It's both a rousing picture of friends-helping-friends and a suspicion that it's much easier to forge a critical mass nowadays.

MTV isn't supposed to be as scrupulous as something like Pitchfork, but it was nonetheless crazy to see that they had hired someone to run their Twitter account--at $100,000 a year. Her job isn't to provide commentary or critique, obviously. It's to be our representative on the inside, to suggest what networks are possible nowadays, to give us a feeling of what it's like backstage, as she approaches Lady Gaga or Green Day with a question or backslap.

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Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. More

Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Bookforum, Slate, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe Ideas section and The Wire (for whom he writes a bi-monthly column). He is on the editorial board for the New Literary History of America.
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