Getting with the program

Peter’s recent post about how NYMag’s The Vulture suddenly declaring the new Jonas Brothers’ song-like product “kind of awesome” illustrates somethng mildly depressing about pop music criticism these days. There’s a sort of neo-populism happening among big-time critics, which poses as dismissive towards rarefied hipster niches and open-minded towards radio pop, highly produced R&B, and mainstream rap. The cutting edge of this anti-cutting edge criticism is occupied by Slate’s Jody Rosen (see his year-end dialogue with Robert Cristgau and Ann Powers for his smirking dismissal of those lame unpopular indie bands; Ann Powers occupies a somewhat duller edge). I think there’s a couple possible explanations for this, only one of which entertains the possibility that the likes of the Jonas Brothers don’t actually suck. I’ve started to harbor a Lilla-esque suspicion on this, i.e. that critics get a bad conscience, or a distaste for their own larger irrelevance, in their consistent and futile championing of a bunch of underground nobodies, and have a secret thirst to hitch up with the stronger currents. And I have to admit, whenever I have decided that something popular and presumptively sucky is actually “kind of awesome,” I have experienced a kind of ease, the dropping of contradictions: “Ahh…it’s good not to have to fight the tides.” To be on the side of the people, to feel their power, it is kind of awesome.