Twee Gets Tough Thanks To Barack Obama, Arcade Fire, Iron Man, You?

arcadefire.jpgIn Britain, twee involved wispy wimps who loved their jangle and liked to put it on cassettes (so I hear). “Their clothes are asexual, their haircuts are fringes, their colours are pastel. Cuties like Penguin modern classics, sweets, ginger beer, vegetables, and anoraks.” Now America has belatedly responded with “tough twee,” which finds its form in the Barack Obama campaign, movies with a “big indie heart” like Iron Man, Gwyneth Paltrow having a fugly freakout, and angry bands like the Arcade Fire. “Just look at Owen Wilson, Scarlett Johansson, Claire Danes and Miley Cyrus, all once Twee, now post-Twee.” I never thought of it this way, but Tom McGeveran’s “American Cutie” captures the evolution of C86 in a way no rational human being ever could.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy hit the Twee nail on the head. A great battle is taking place, and by a series of unfortunate circumstances, the little Hobbits have gotten involved.

J.R.R. Tolkien described the race of tiny creatures he invented thusly: They are “unobtrusive.” They “love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-farmed countryside was their favorite haunt. They do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill or a hand-loom, though they were skillful with tools.” They are “shy of the Big Folk.” Hobbits were Twee Pioneers. But at least they took on Sauron frontally and beat the crap out of him.

And they look a lot like the kids in that Arcade Fire video, except these modern-day Hobbits are armed with laptops (possibly engineered by steampunks or Wes Anderson types so that the plastic keys are replaced with old typewriter keys).

It’s not hard to see how Hillary Clinton failed with the Twee Folk. Her tactic, which was to call Barack Obama naïve, simply backfired.

You’d have to inject LSD into Greil Marcus’s eye sockets to make him free-associate like McGeveran here. To be fair, the Arcade Fire’s Win Butler appears to be through the looking glass as well.

“I’m sick of fine presidents and good presidents and mediocre presidents. I’m sick of Rutherford B. Hayes and James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce and Millard Fillmore. We got Barack Obama! Barack Obama, for crying out loud!”

I always knew that Win wasn’t born the same decade I was. Here’s a photo of Gwyenth Paltrow’s heels that McGeveran believes is symbolic of how “cutie has been replaced by duty,” just to make this post more bugfuck than it already is.


The past decade, during the Bush years, post 9/11, even with the background of the war in Iraq, has been a conservative social revolution: Settling in and marrying young; setting up 401(k) plans; leafing through Martha Stewart for “ideas.” Fueled by advice gurus like Suze Orman, they put people first, then money, then things. Which category does going out at night fall under? “Clubbing” for this set is something you want them to stop doing to seals. Carrie Bradshaw can go suck an egg.

The soundtrack for this way of life is nothing new. If you have ever not muted a Target ad, you’ve heard it. Think Nico’s voice over a Phil Spector song. A few songs written from a kid’s point of view. And all over an air of pleasant, suggestive insubstantiality, suburban neighborliness and nostalgic pastiche.

Suze Orman. Belle & Sebastian. The unpopularity of Carrie Bradshaw. It all makes sense!

Too high, too high.

American Cutie [New York Observer; HT Kate Silver via Matos]
Mighty Lemon Drops – Too High [YouTube]
[Gwyneth Paltrow photo: WENN]

  • Audif Jackson Winters III

    FDR totally had a big indie heart, too.

  • Dick Laurent is dead.

    This shit depresses me.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t even feel like I’m reading English.

  • RaptorAvatar

    He fails because he wasn’t high enough to figure out a way to make this article also be about “Juno,” LA’s all ages scene, Vampire Weekend, “Speed Racer,” and how music blogging is going to save us all. I kind of know what he’s talking about, but then it’s also a little like watching someone try to hit a home run with a tennis racket.

  • Al Shipley

    I think we’ve finally gotten to the point that most of the aesthetics and traits attributed to musical subcultures like “indie,” “emo” and “twee” are just standard issue shit that’s common to 90% of all white people.

  • mike a

    He must be talking about a different “twee” than the style I’ve been listening to all these years. I sure don’t recognize the one with hobbits.

    What’s often forgotten about ’80s/’90s indiepop is how funny it often was. Folks like Edwyn Collins, Stephen Pastel, Amelia Fletcher, Calvin Johnson – even Morrissey and Stuart Murdoch – were constantly poking fun at themselves. Orange Juice’s “Consolation Prize” is more than a gorgeous song: it’s a nonstop self-critique, culminating in a mock-histrionic “I’ll never be man enough for you!” It’s as if the band was anticipating and pre-empting its own criticisms. As far as defense mechanisms go, it’s every bit as “punk” as Lydon’s arrogance and the Clash’s martial poses.

    But there have always been those who overlook such layers of content and just focus on the baby barrettes and Hello Kitty accoutrements – which is how we got into this mess, I think. It’s a lot like reconciling Rites of Spring with today’s “emo,” or the Specials with third-wave ska.

  • Michaelangelo Matos

    I’m so glad someone finally called out musicians and movie actors for not being politically astute, since that’s their job, just like hard-hitting analysis is the New York Observer‘s.

  • punkybunky

    I have no idea what all that was about.

    As it happens, I don’t like Carrie Bradshaw, but I think that’s more out of dislike for her clothes & whinyness than anything else.

  • Lax Danja House

    He makes a couple of reasonable points, which would have been a little more credible had he not felt the need to wrap everything up in this bullshit “twee” concept. But still, I’m confused about whether the article was supposed to be about Barack Obama or Gwyneth Paltrow. Or if he just wanted to point out a bunch of instances where people: a) were naive and then stopped being naive, or b) are naive now. In which case well done.

  • AL

    @Al Shipley: YES. But, I think it’s more like “90% of college educated, middle class, suburban-raised, white people”. Or better yet, “a bunch of self-important, naval-gazing pricks”.

  • NoNewYork

    what the fuck does any of that mean? tough twee? TOUGH TWEE?

  • Homage

    You know, I started out thinking he was muddying the boundaries between twee and choochy, went through having no fucking idea what the strangle little glyphs were that he appeared to be arranging into some sort of structure to try and convey meaning, and ended up loving this comment board more than anything.

    I still see Twee as pretty much exemplified by Donovan. This does not make the Vines twee.

  • Anonymous

    If this guy thinks these examples are how twee is “toughening up,” then I think we need to bring back the draft.