Poptimists and their idealised inner 14 year old girls vs people who have been actual 14 year old girls.
This is something that quartertonebloom and I had a bit of a rant about the other day on twitter. It’s something which twists the original meaning of Poptimism - and I mean, Poptimism, as a thing, in opposition to Rockism - that it was once a way of admitting women, and especially women of colour, to The Canon by re-examining critically despised genres such as Chartpop and R&B. And that this was done by examining music through the lens not of an fantasy teenage *boy* (as so much of post-Lester Bangs style music journalism idealises) but through the notion of a mythical 14 year old *girl* singing into her hairbrush.
The problem is, these days, it ends up with middle aged men using this to defend their love of Taylor Swift or Kelly Clarkson with this idealised 14 year old girl (Which is bullshit! Because, you know, it’s actually *fine* for a middle aged man to like Kelly Clarkson singles if that’s what floats your boat, but, like, OWN it, as your own taste) while sneering at the genuine tastes of actual (or former) 14 year old girls when they like stuff like… well, in this case, well, we were talking about Radiohead. Because Radiohead, though you would never know it from reading their press, are not just one of the few “progressive” bands that manage to be really huge - but also one of the few progressive bands that maintain a truly equal gender split in their audience. And Quartertonebloom was listening to Radiohead while an *actual* teenage girl, and although I was 22 when they released their first hit, my inner teenage girl has really, *really* complicated ~feels~ about Thom Yorke.
Because that always felt like the other half of the Poptimist project, from the time I was an actual teenage girl, and read Smash Hits back in the days when they would sneak interviews with the Jesus and Mary Chain in between Debbie Gibson and NKOTB. That it was about taking Pop seriously, but it was also about treating “serious” music with a teengirl pop sensibility. Because 14 year old girls understand something about Jim Morrison or Jim Reid or Thom Yorke in a way that straight middle aged men never can and never will.
That in a way, what I love about Thom is that he is able to somehow reach the teenage me, inside my 40 year old body. And yeah, it’s complicated, because he doesn’t just trigger teenage lust, but also teenage self-loathing, which is that huge part of the teengirl experience that middle aged male journalists leave out, because they were never teenage girls themselves, so they think that being a teenage girl was all Call Me Maybe and never Subterranean Homesick Alien.
And Thom, yeah, Thom will always be the super-cool slightly older teenage boy who crashes your big brother’s party with his beret and his Russian cigarettes and takes over the stereo to put on your favourite Joy Division record and snarls at everyone with that half-defiant, half-wounded stare if they try to take it off. And you just look at him, and you *know* - “we could understand each other, like no one else ever could.” Except he won’t ever look at you, because he’s older and way cooler and he’s off chasing art school girls and you’re just a 14 year old geek girl with greasy hair and cokebottle glasses still wearing a faded sweatshirt with, like, a homemade appliqué of a squirrel on it.
So I don’t know what’s worse. The old school Rockists, the middle aged white dudes who refuse to recognise the artistic worth of anyone that isn’t ~authentic~ rock’n’roll white dude music, and so sneer at pop and R&B and teengirl music. Or the middle aged white dudes who push their anxiety about not being versatile enough in their tastes onto hating bands like Radiohead, and in doing so, completely erase the stories of the teengirls and former teengirls who love them. But if you’re going to talk about music and produce imaginary 14 year old girls to justify your own uncool tastes, well, you will tear my Radiohead records from my inner 14 year old girl’s cold, dead hands.