A little over a year ago, I wrote an editorial piece about Pitchfork’s cultural hegemony and the “dullard hipster masses” that keep it afloat, arguing that the collective idiocy of Pitchfork’s readership was responsible for their stranglehold-verging-on-monopolization of the critical tide. It was part of a long line of anti-hipster rants and ravings I produced before taking an extended sabbatical from music writing (which I took to fulfill my lifelong dream of sleeping on a couch and working retail). I’ve noticed a lot things between then and now. I’ve seen a lot of music writers labeled as hipsters for either supporting indie demigods or slamming pop radio titans and Starbucks folkies. I’ve seen a lot of petty musical disputes settled with some variation of “stfu hipster. I’m going to go listen to [boston, shyne, nirvana] aka real music! enjoy ur shitty [animal collective, odd future, nirvana]. peace!” I’ve seen a discomforting number of people dismiss these guys as a hipster band (possibly NSFW—assuming your workplace has an aversion to turquoise boobs, shredded flowers and skulls). Hell, my ex-roommate called me a hipster for having a Them Crooked Vultures ringtone.
(In her defense, it was “Dead End Friends,” so I could have been making an ironic statement.)
It’s all made me realize something: that hipster accusations have become the Godwin’s law of music discourse (you could probably say that for just about form of cultural expression, but since music appears to be the lifeblood of hipsterdom, we’re going to focus on that), and it’s something I’ve contributed to myself—in my own non-influential, jackass-on-the-internet sort of way. The term has become so bloated and overused that it doesn’t even mean anything anymore, and if you haven’t noticed, you either haven’t been paying attention to the music landscape, or you’ve been contributing to the problem yourself.
How to resolve the situation, then? Calling for the death of the word hipster is out of the question. Whenever an individual or organization tries to assassinate syntax, they end up sounding like idiots and assholes, no matter how pure their intentions might be. Language is the freest and most enduring form of self-expression in existence. If a word falls out of use, it’s only because something more fluid and convenient has replaced it, and even the words that vanish from the everyday lexicon don’t die—they hibernate. All it takes is a portentous Colin Meloy lyric to pull “belfry,” “scabbard,” “countenance,” “chrysanthemum” and “hitherto” from their weed-strangled tombs. So yeah, I’m not quite deluded enough to believe that one post dropped into the abysmal depths of the internet is capable of setting fire to hipster and stomping it into ash.
Instead, I’ve compiled a rubric to determine, once for all, not only what constitutes a hipster, but what category of hipsterdom you fall under. Yes, you. The rules are simple: read through the checklist below and add the given number of points every time you meet the criteria. For example, “If your favorite Woody Allen movie is the one that’s just like Annie Hall, but not as well known and better in every conceivable way (+1)” would net you a point towards hipsterdom, if you felt it applied to you. At the end of the list, add up however many points you’ve allocated and see which category you fall under. Simple enough, right? I feel the need to point out that this list is based on years of scientific research and irrefutable evidence. If you feel like you’ve been mislabeled or misrepresented, you are wrong. However, you are free to consider the following procedures:
1.) Lace up your Doc Martens.
2.) Ready the ukelele.
3.) Weep into your David Lynch movie of choice.
Read through the checklist below and add points accordingly:
*If you’ve ever brought a laptop into a coffeehouse. (+1)
*If you’ve ever begun a piece of writing with a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche (+1). Bonus points if it was in German and you didn’t bother providing a translation (+2). Extra bonus points if you didn’t even know what it meant (+3).
*If you’ve ever claimed that [Ryan Adams, Conor Oberst, Sam Beam, Kristian Matsson, Dan Bejar] is the second coming of Bob Dylan (+1).
*If you’re under the age of forty and laughed at any point during the movie Sideways (+3).
*If you’re aware that Pitchfork Media exists (+2).
*If you listen to any of the following genres/artists (+1 for each): indie rock, hip-hop, foreign music (afrobeat, Latin folk and reggae included), punk rock, classic rock, trashy mainstream pop, kitschy underground pop, experimental electronica, krautrock, britpop, new wave, post-punk, grunge, contemporary American folk, psychedelic folk, classic folk, Celtic folk, dead French balladeers, dead German composers, dead Jazz musicians, dead blues musicians, dead soul musicians (and D’Angelo), dead country musi…you know what? Fuck it—if you listen to any music that isn’t progressive rock, metal or Nickelback, then you’re a hipster. End of story (+10).
**Addendum for indie rock: Some of you might be saying, “Wait a minute, that’s fucking bullshit! Everything that isn’t played on commercial radio is classified as indie rock these days! Hell, a lot of the stuff getting played on commercial radio is now being classified as indie rock!” Oh, cry me a fucking river, Efrim Menuck. Take your point like a man (+1).
**Addendum for hip-hop pt. 1: This one is kind of a gray area. If you listen to Mos Def (sorry, Yasiin Bey), Talib Kweli, Common, Immortal Technique, The Coup, Dead Prez, The Roots, Kool Keith, Clipse and/or Wu-Tang Clan, then you’re an old fucking hipster, but a hipster all the same (likewise if you own any records from the Rhymesayers, Anticon, Stones Throw and Def Jux camps). Seriously, get with the times man, no one listens to that shit anymore. Next thing you’re gonna be breaking out Whodini, the Fat Boys and Kurtis Blow. Today’s hipster loves Detroit: J. Dilla, Guilty Simpson, Elzhi, The Left / Apollo Brown, Black Milk, Danny Brown. They also like bland mixtape rappers who provide unobtrusive smoke music (A$AP Rocky, Main Attrakionz), as well as pop rappers like Kanye West, Rick Ross, Curren$y and Drake to prove that—while their tastes are infinitely more cultivated and civilized than yours—they’re still down with the times.
That being said, if you’re an old schooler, and most of your listening preferences come from the Golden Age and/or late-nineties Rawkus, there’s only a fifty percent chance that you’re a hipster. However, if you’ve listened to the D.O.C.’s No One Can Do It Better, then it’s already too late (+12).
**Addendum for hip-hop pt. 2: Contrary to popular belief, listening to Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All doesn’t automatically make you a hipster. However, there’s an eighty percent chance that it does: for example, if you’ve already started a rebuttal along the lines of “Sorry, but Odd Future has long transcended their status as a ‘Pitchfork band.’ Goblin made an impressive showing on the Billboard charts last year, and ‘Yonkers’ even won Tyler a Video Music Award, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt—” Actually, hypothetical person, I’m going to cut you off right there, because you sort of proved my point (+40).
However, there is a foolproof method to proving you’re one of the “real” fans of Tyler the Creator and Company. Scroll to the bottom of this article, look at the message box, scream “Golf Wang, assdicks!!!” as loudly as you can and kick through your computer monitor. Then walk outside, steal your neighbor’s car and drive it into a building. It doesn’t matter which building exactly, but the more people the better. When the dust settles and people start taking notice of your neighbor’s smashed in vehicle / the gaping hole in the building / your unparalleled awesomeness, kick open the door, jump on the hood, grab your crotch with one hand and make driving motions with the other, and start chanting “SWAG! SWAG! SWAG! SWAG! SWAG! SWAG! SWAG!” When you decide to stop (trust me, you’ll know when the time is right), flip off everybody in the crowd, yell “Free Earl, bitches!” and walk off into the sunset (it’ll always be sunset when you finish this process, no matter when you begin). (-50)
**Addendum for hip-hop pt. 3: if you listen to nothing but battle rappers, punchline rappers and g-funk, then I think you’re okay. Also, if you can write with a straight face that anything on Bad Boys’ late-nineties roster is better than the shit played on the radio today, you should also be exempt from hipsterdom (-15).
**Addendum for foreign music: unless you listen to J-pop, in which case—you’re just a fucking nerd (-5). Gomen nasai, Ayu-chan 🙁
**Addendum for trashy mainstream pop: this only counts if you’ve written a masturbatory dissertation about why you enjoy said music (+1). Bonus points if it was published by the Village Voice (+2). Extra bonus points if it was prefaced by a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche (+3). (Please refer to “Friedrich Nietzsche” bullet for distribution of subsequent points.)
**Addendum for metal: Unless it’s an album featuring cover art from either John Dyer Baizley or Jacob Bannon (+1 for each). Or if you learned about a certain artist/album through Pitchfork, NPR, PopMatters, the Needle Drop, Treble Zine, Decibel or one of those other hipster tabloids masquerading as a source of legitimate metal journalism (+1 for each). Or if it’s one of those hipster-approved garbage bands like Mastodon, Isis, Opeth, Dillinger Escape Plan, Neurosis, Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room, Sunn O))), Krallice, The Atlas Moth—where is the kvltness? Where is the fucking kvltness?!?! (+100) AND LITURGY!!! BLARAHLHADLGKAHDGLEHRA!!!!!!!!!!!! (+1,000,000,000!!!!!!!!!)
(Ahem,) now that I think about it, you should probably just stick to one of metal’s necrophiliac sub-genres. Remember: every time a hipster listens to Behemoth, Nergal devours a baby angel.
*Radiohead. No explanation necessary (+1).
*Death from Above 1979. Again, no explanation necessary (+2).
*If you own a button-up shirt (+1).
*If you’ve sat through more than two movies starring Ellen Page (+2). (Note: if you’ve seen Hard Candy, you’re automatically a hipster—doesn’t matter if you liked it or not.) (+5)
*If you’ve listened to any of Beck’s records since Midnite Vultures (+1 for each).
*If you’ve complained about any of Weezer’s albums released after Pinkerton (+1 for each).
*If you’ve complained that a music festival’s billing is too hipster-oriented—yet prefaced said complaint by singling out three or four bands that you really like. For example, “Man, with the exception of Gogol Bordello, Faith No More and Death from Above 1979, this is a hipster turd sandwich!” (+2)
*If you’ve ever dismissed a festival’s billing as too hipster-oriented, yet hadn’t even heard of eighty percent of the lineup, but bitched about it anyway just to be safe (+2).
*It’s January 31, 2012, and Lana Del Ray’s highly-anticipated sophomore album Born to Die has just been released to the global masses. You head over to Metacritic and post which of the following responses:
A.) OMG!!! BEST ALUBM EVAR!!!! I LOVE U LANA!!!!! AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!
B.) Ugh…what is this hipster crap? Just when you thought the tools at Pitchfork couldn’t get anymore shallow, they go and force Lana Del Ray upon the world. This is exactly why music is dead to me now. I’ll take Death from Above 1979 over this any day.
C.) Jesus tapdancing Christ, people, it’s a slightly above-average pop album. That’s it. Chill the fuck out!
D.) Oh hey, I didn’t know you liked this artist too. That’s awesome. You know, at singlesbarn.com there are plenty of hot single people from all over the country trying to find their ideal match. Or just a little fun on the side if you know what I mean. Intercourse. Hope to see you there 😉
*Finally and perhaps most importantly: if you’ve ever gone into a long-winded tangent about how the British version of The Office is infinitely superior to its American counterpart (+2). Bonus points if you provided an elaborate deconstruction of David Brent’s personality and its relationship to the British workforce, while casually referring to Michael Scott as “some idiot jackass” (+5). Extra bonus points if the words “nutter,” “wanker,” “twat,” “Charlie Brooker,” “Jaffa Cake” and “absa-tively!” appear anywhere in said tangent (+10).
(Please note: if you’re actually British, there’s only a fifty percent you’re a hipster. +2, just to be safe.)
Tally up your points. It’s time for the results:
0 or Less: Congratulations, you’re not a hipster in the least bit. Hipster culture has slowly infiltrated the popular consciousness these past few years, but you’re not suffering any of it. You’ll be damned if you’re walking into a Starbucks—or hell, a Dunkin’ Donuts for that matter. You watched Arrested Development for about ten minutes back when it was still in syndication, and decided to go with a TiVoed Everybody Loves Raymond rerun instead. You probably don’t own a single movie that Michael Bay hasn’t directed or produced. Assuming you even have a home library, it consists of ghostwritten autobiographies of famous people and the novelization of The Sandlot. When you found out that people were boycotting the Lions game last Thanksgiving because Nickelback was set to perform, you turned to your wife, husband or the dead air and said, “Why would anyone make such a ruckus about Nickelback? They’re a darn good band.” Then you dug your finger into your belly, picked out some lint, ground it between your fingers and repeated once more for emphasis, “Darn good.”
1 to 5: You’re what I like to call a casual hipster—or maybe a lite hipster. You listen to a couple of indie rock bands that have skirted with mainstream success—Death Cab for Cutie, Iron & Wine, The Decemberists, Tegan & Sara, The Black Keys—but any credibility this might give you is quickly negated by your acceptance of lammos like Coldplay, John Mayer, Sara Bareilles, Norah Jones, Ingrid Michaelson and Jason Mraz (let’s face it, you probably have a couple of Nickelback songs in your iTunes and Spotify libraries too). Your real hipster friends, assuming you even have any, begrudgingly deal with your company, but are more than a little embarrassed to be seen with you (“Hey guys! Have you heard the new Colbie Caillat album?! It’s awesomely radtacular!”). When they went to see Melancholia last summer, you ducked out of the theater, rented a Katherine Heigl movie from Redbox and watched it in your apartment with the shades pulled down. You listen to a lot of NPR, mostly for the weird news stories (“So wait, they’re both sisters and they’re both British, but one’s a Muslim and the other’s Christian? That is some…crazy ass shit right there.”) and the Joe Frank monologues. And not only are you going to vote for Barack Obama in the next election—you’re going to write-in “Barack Obama” for every election for the rest of your life (unless you’re a libertarian, in which case, replace “Barack Obama” with “Ron Paul”).
6 to 19: You’re an average, everyday hipster. You own a copy of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea for every playback device known to man…even Laserdisc! There’s not a single article of clothing in your wardrobe that hasn’t been passed down from your grandfather. You interned one summer for Sub Pop or Vice and still list it at the top of your resume, even though all you did was make coffee, and that one label exec said he was going to listen to your demo and he totally never did, and David Cross threw a bagel at your head (“Simpleton! I asked for blueberry jam, not blackberry! N’yuh!”). What a fucking asshole. You buy a metal record every year just to show how awesome and diverse your listening preferences are, though you only listen to it once, and usually turn it off halfway. You’ve wanted to plow Zooey Deschanel since Hitchhiker’s Guide, but now think she’s a sell-out and kind of a bitch. Whenever you go out drinking, you order a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon or a glass of bottom shelf Vodka, and sip it timidly for eight hours straight (seven if you feel like getting wasted that night). You’ve been Instagramed so many times that your skin has developed a layer of sepia. You like to think of yourself as a “DIY Steve Jobs,” whatever the crap that’s supposed to mean. Your hard drive is filled with internet mixtapes by artists you won’t give a shit about in another month, and creepy Twin Peaks fanfiction:
“Oh, Special Agent Cooper,” Audrey purred, running a quenched pink tongue from one corner of her mouth to the other. “You are quite good at pleasuring me.”
“I concur!” chided Bob, jumping from the foot of the bed.
They all laughed.
20 or More: Wow, you’re the granddaddy of all hipsters, the example that everybody secretly tries to live up to. You like to stand in the post-modern wing of art museums, staring for discomforting periods of time at toilet paper dioramas, ransom note mosaics and toothpick sculptures splattered with menstrual blood, pretending you know so much more about the intricacies of art than all those stupid assholes gawking at oily portraits of Vincent Van Gogh and dreary Christs dangling from golden crosses. Your home library is filled with tomes written by dead Russian authors (many of them first editions printed in their native language)—none of which you’ve actually opened, much less read. You claim that Vladimir Nabokov is your favorite writer, even though you’ve only read Lolita, and even then, you skimmed through most of it. You like to sit outside bourgy small-town cafes in the summertime, gesticulating wildly at the afternoon traffic as you babble about nothing, like you’re trying to fight off carpal tunnel and kill a swarm of bees at the same time. Whenever you’re in a conversation with somebody, you find some way to direct it toward Jean-Luc Godard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Serge Gainsbourg, Hunter S. Thompson, Stanley Kubrick, David Foster Wallace and dead Polish composers that no one gives a shit about. Sasha Frere-Jones is embarrassed to be in your company. Robert Christgau walks to the other side of the street when he sees you approaching. Hell, even Brent DiCrescenzo thinks you’re a pompous dick. Just saying.