NEW BLOG Internet Hangover: Why Vampire Weekend Makes People Angry

Every Monday, FADER editorial director Peter Macia will ease in to the work week by writing semi-extensively about something that is making his head hurt. This week, he inaugurates the column with a rambling, incredibly reductive and incoherent theory, inspired by The Who’s halftime performance at the Super Bowl, about why Vampire Weekend is the most provocative band in the world right now.


Watching Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, two men older than my dad, sing “Baba O’Reilly” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” during halftime last night is what I imagine watching Grey’s Anatomy is like. I never got into that show, but every time I happened by it or read about it on a blog, for like two years, that one patient guy that the blonde doctor was in love with was still dying and then I think he was a ghost for awhile? As Townshend did one-inch scissor kicks and kept getting his frayed blazer caught in his guitar strings and Daltrey got winded after a harmonica solo, I thought, this is it, the end of the ’60s, finally. One of the era’s defining bands singing its most anti-establishment songs at the Super Bowl for several million dollars in a stadium full of people who weren’t even there to see them. Not to mention, the lyrics to those two songs probably meant something totally different to about half the people in the audience who think Obama is a socialist and don’t really care that the US has 200,000 troops at war. It was better metaphorically than Woodstock 1999 going up in flames because of Limp Bizkit. It illustrated perfectly what has changed since Townshend gave acid-crazy Abbie Hoffman a gut shot at the first Woodstock and told him to “get off my fucking stage.” This was more than a few old Boomers selling their principles to corporate America (at least they weren’t temporarily The Who Dat?), it was the end of an era, and it made me think of Vampire Weekend.

A week or so ago, on the release of VW’s eventual #1 album Contra, music critic and internet friend of mine, Jessica Hopper wrote a scathing indictment of the band as musical imperialists, partially based on her reading of this actually really enlightening profile of VW by The Guardian. Fellow critic Nitsuh Abebe responded with a public chastening. There were probably a bunch of other crazy responses but what’s the point (have not even dipped into Christgau’s epic yet). A bunch of people (critics mostly) were mad because of VAMPIRE WEEKEND.

What everyone failed to recognize in all the sermonizing about cultural appropriation and racism and whatever else is why that band actually made them angry. Here’s why. They’re getting old. The way things were are no longer how things are. The hardcore/indie/punk/rap groups of Hopper’s and everyone else her age’s youth are no longer relevant to the current state of music, or the current state of the world, any more than The Who. Real older people—let’s say over 45—are not frightened by loud rock & roll anymore, they are listening to it. They jam Springsteen and John Lennon and the Velvet Underground (Lou Reed is older than Roger Daltrey, btw), and they are certainly not going to call the riot squad when a young person is mad about something. They started that shit. Every band that came in the wake of the ’60s—punk, the seminal underground bands of the ’80s and ’90s—is now old enough to be the parents of legally aged children. These legally aged children—including the members of Vampire Weekend, all born in the mid ’80s—grew up listening to music from anywhere, undivided by record shelves or geography, but more importantly they grew up with multiple outlets to express frustration and share with others how much it sucks to be young/ugly/fat/different/poor/rich/white/not white/straight/gay/whatever. They don’t need to make angry music, and no young person needs to hear it. If you don’t understand this, read Hipster Runoff for a few days in a row. Or listen to Contra.

In his upcoming new book, Reality Hunger, David Shields intentionally takes a quote from Lisa Page’s letter to the editor of The New York Times out of context: “In our hunger for all things true, we make the facts irrelevant.” Coincidentally, on the facing page are the words “art is theft.” Repeat these two fairly obvious assertions like a mantra for the next 20 years, and you’ll be ready to be a 25-year-old in 2010. And ready to not be offended by anything Vampire Weekend does. They are basically updating their status on every song they make—there is no call to action, no relation of facts. Ezra Koenig is not distraught over being upper middle class and seeking a solution, just kind of pondering it. There is no rallying cry to join any movement. But this is where he and his band are misunderstood most. Critics apply the old standards to them and are angered by the fact that the apparent heir to The Who and The Sex Pistols, is a bunch of fairly well-off kids with no axe to grind. Yelling about the grossness of Vampire Weekend fits nicely, and totally unfairly, into a conversation about corporate greed. And here’s where it gets really funny.

For so long, young socially and culturally aware people have associated themselves and attempted to identify with poverty, angst and social injustice—and done so rather successfully—that it is no longer acceptable to be ignorant of racism, sexism, oppression of any kind, ie all the things that musicians used to rail against. Society used to suck a lot more, and art was used to tell it just how much. But now that everyone knows what sucks and how much, any art drawing attention to that feels redundant. This has been a slow progression from the bleeding heart folk of the early ’60s to now, when anything even remotely earnest gets major eyerolls, and it’s not uniquely American or Western. Music, in general, just isn’t mad about anything anymore. I honestly can’t think of one angry song that I listened to recently. Maybe something like Pissed Jeans’ “Dream Smotherer,” but that only sounds angry, it’s funny more than anything. And this is what seems to really upset older critics. Vampire Weekend are aware of the weird things they say and do and aren’t ashamed of it. In fact, they’re frustrated by the constant critical misunderstanding, which of course only makes critics even angrier.

And this is my point (finally): the relationship between Vampire Weekend and critics is just like my relationship to my dad when I was 16. I would do something I thought was acceptable, and my dad would get mad and yell at me. I would then be like, dude, why are you so mad? And then he would get mad because he couldn’t have done it when he was my age. Am I making sense? Who knows. I’m just saying that Vampire Weekend is nothing to get mad about.

POSTED February 8, 2010 2:59PM IN INTERNET HANGOVER Comments (16) TAGS:

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COMMENTS

  1. pro VW says:

    This Band sux anyway…. Ezra is a racist pig and so is Rostam… Girls > VW any day

    * coming from and Indian man who went to college too

  2. ANTHONY says:

    Very well said, Peter. Indignation is an odd thing, contagious. When one who is indignant meets someone who isn’t, it makes the indignant party doubly indignant. I ascribe this to the fact that many people base their whole persona around being indignant about trife shit. When they meet someone who has a more balanced assessment of what they should and can be irked about, it is interpreted as an indictment of their “personality.” As someone who has been totally colleged (liberal arted) I have to blame, to a certain extent, our system of higher education–since it runs the risk of being merely a list of things to be impotently indignant about. Maybe VW is some sort of weak-ass revolt against this: indignation fatigue?

    I think, though, that you are only responding to those who are able to articulate their rage against the Vampire Weekend. There are plenty, like myself, who just consider them fucking wack. I don’t think that they are racists, or even class traitors or whatever, I just think that their music is a heady blend of aggravating and unremarkable. I think that most critics jump the shark when they try to prove that stuff that just blows is “wrong.”

  3. thanatz says:

    someone forgot to send me the memo that nothing sucks anymore and that this state of affairs was reached by the mere virtue of some people having been made aware of the fact that some things actually do suck.

  4. Tom says:

    This is an interesting jumping-off point for discussion, but I take issue with the idea that music isn’t angry any more.

    If you look at all kinds of music being made today, you’ll find plenty of anger and dissatisfaction. Punk, hardcore, extreme metal, underground rap, and even good old folk music are still full of artists and performers who are not content with the state of things, and perfectly willing to vent their displeasure.

    I think the issue might be that indie music, which Vampire Weekend can broadly be classified as, has become a tributary of the mainstream, and indie – both performers and audience – have become just as complacent and self-satisfied as the mainstream.

  5. brian says:

    Too bad the Who got paid absolutely nothing to play the Super Bowl, not millions

  6. I don’t particularly like VW because the music (what I’ve heard of it, that is) is not actually really that good….

  7. you says:

    critics are annoying and self righteous. I commend you for calling them out on being old, because that is essentially what’s plagueing the annoying and boring music critic community where it’s “cool” to love Taylor Swift just to be popist. ILXOR is a place of evil.

    Vamp Weeks are fine.

  8. Barbara says:

    OK, like, the way I feel about the Rolling Stones is the way my kids are going to feel about Nine Inch Nails, so I really shouldn’t torment my mom anymore.

  9. doug says:

    Its laughable that VW is being seen as an heir to counterculture. There were plenty of bands like the Monkees and the Osmonds in the 60s/70s, too. If anything, VW is a much more savy form of bubblegum pop for the masses. They are worldly, intelligent, and “authentically” write their own songs, so its okay to not think of them as a guilty pleasure, but ultimately what they do is as empty as “jesse’s girl.” The present moment is ultra-conservative, so of course angry music is not going to be very popular with the masses of complacent e-shoppers who just want something pleasant to listen to while they browse the H&M online store. Peter’s just never heard of the angry bands cuz he’s caught up in the self-referencial web of upper-middle class bloggers.

    ps- Hipster runoff is soooo angry! Yr obviously too old to read btwn the lines, pops. The lack of “meaningful” content in music that many young ppl seem to embrace is ONLY BEING EMBRACED IRONICALLY as Hipster Runoff shows.

  10. Peter Macia says:

    Heh? What’s that, Doug? Speak up I can’t understand a word you are saying.

  11. doug says:

    i said fight the power…power to the ppl…down with Amerikkka!…i’m a feminist!

  12. jz says:

    Well said. It’s funny how people get so mad at a band, especially one as harmless as Vampire Weekend.

    Describing a music critic as “old,” though, is a poor choice of words: Any critic you call old will take it personally, as an attack on his/her relevance.

    Age isn’t the issue. It’s the ability to hear what a band is doing and place it in proper context. Good critics do that consistently no matter their age.

    Remember: You’re only as old as the shows you see.

  13. William says:

    And, if you’ve been reading music criticism for anything more than a few years, you’ll understand that this argument (about the place of “authenticity” “anger” “middle-class complacency” etc. in music) comes up about various indie bands throughout time.

    In fact, every time someone starts harping on VW for racism I think, well, what about the Clash? A bunch of middle-class art-school students (hardly punks – they’d been musicians for years when they picked up the moniker) expropriating punk rage, and then reggae, then unabashed pop? Now, that caused some real outrage at the time. Chumbwumba (for chrissakes) splattered them with red paint to protest their selling out. Others questioned how they could possibly dare to play “authentic” like “Police and Thieves,” and so on, forever. And Wire – the mockney accent and punk affectations of Colin Newman and his band of upper-middle-class art school students and musos – surely would not have gone down a storm had they sung in posh accents using large vocabularies (though, certainly bassist graham lewis was happy to then and later in his career). And, of course, listen to Martin Hannett’s production of ESG’s debut single – one of the most sampled records in hip hop – or the Basement 5′s In Dub – or PIL’s Metal Box – the latter two being some of the best dub you’ll ever hear.

    Sorry, so what does class or background or geography have to do with music anymore? Aside from the critics’ personal axe-to-grind? Class envy. Hype and backlash. The same old story. It’s all about asserting the critic’s place (be it a pro critic, a blogger, or a music consumer voicing his or her hatred) in judging when something that is becoming popular is or is not cool. Fuck them.

    “If this all makes Contra seem like a fuckless episode of Gossip Girl written by Jimmy Buffett, then I’ve made my point.” Actually, if you ever get to the point where you write something this droolingly self-important and besides the point of the experience of listening to music, it’s time to stop listening to music.

    The only real constant is that underground music (punk, hip hop, ska, rap, jungle, grime, speed metal), no matter how underground, if built around good/interesting/catchy sounds, will always go pop and then go stale and then become ironic. Is VW the new APB, Haircut 100, Chills, Jesus Jones, Nine Inch Nails, KLF (now there’s an interesting story), Pulp, Interpol? Who cares?

    I like VW’s songs (though not Cousins – their worst effort to date). I like the Drums. I hate the Girls. I like the Manhattan Love Suicides. I hate the Vivian Girls. Who fucking cares? Nothing to see here, move along.

  14. William says:

    Ah – sorry, not implying that Hannett produced Metal Box. I think Wobble did that. Jah Wobble. John Warble to friends. One of the greatest dub bassists ever. Again, let’s criticize him for cultural tourism and appropriation for wearing a turban on one of his records and blah blah blah.

  15. Piotr says:

    That was pretty excellent Peter