What Is The Most Meaningless Musical Label?

Jan 23rd, 2009 // 53 Comments

In this week’s AV Club, multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird drops the controversial soundbite “When you think indie rock, you think more about haircuts and fashion than about music.” Somehow, this has yet to be picked up by outraged bloggers (maybe because they think he’s right? oooh snap), but it made me I wonder just what other tags and adjectives and bits of shorthand have been rendered free of any sort of music-related meaning by misuse, overuse, or just your normal wear and tear. Bird’s full quote after the jump, so you can think it over!

AVC: Do you ever get tired of always being tagged as “the guy who whistles,” “the guy who plays the violin,” “the guy who does loops,” and so forth?

AB: It’s pretty harmless. There’s lots of worse things that could be attached to your name. Since I started doing the New York Times thing, sometimes they say on the ad at the theater, “Multi-instrumentalist, cultural commentator.” I’m like, “No, that’s a bad expectation to start to develop.” I guess it’s better than “blogger,” which is such an ugly word. It’s always been such a pain to describe to anyone what I’m doing, so it might as well be a matter-of-fact thing like “violinist,” “whistler,” “multi-instrumentalist.” It’s all pretty harmless. If they said, like, “swing impresario” or something like that, then I would have an issue. Or “indie rock” is another one that gets me. I just never felt like I had anything to do with indie rock. When you think indie rock, you think more about haircuts and fashion than about music. The other one that made me cringe recently was, some journalist was trying to coin a term and he said “whistle-rock” or something like that. “You know, like Peter Bjorn And John!” “Oh God, no, don’t, you’re going to ruin everything!”

That quote sounds a lot less dismissive in context, haha! Anyway, I do agree with him about “indie,” although I am prone to use it in conjunction with the words “rock” and “pop.” But what about you? What is on your Forbidden Words Of Music list? (Also, I still think that “blogger” is an awful-sounding word, all hard consonants and nasal vowels. Blech. “Writer” sounds so much better, and as a bonus, it’s a hell of a lot less constraining.)

Andrew Bird [AV Club]

idolator

  1. Anonymous

    @alexmuro: I think there are two separate kinds of music called ‘pop’ which used to align frequently, but less so since the early ’90s.

    1. Like JZ13 said, whatever’s on the pop chart. The chart defines the genre. Used to be Boston Pops. Now it’s Kanye. (A stretch, but I think it works.)

    2. Things that followed in the wake of the Pop Art movement of the mid ’60s: The Beatles, the Who, the Kinks, and so forth.

  2. Anonymous

    I’d say emo is pretty useless now. Most people I know just use it as a catch-all for everything they don’t like. Fall Out Boy is not emo. They’re just awful. It’s become sort of a punching bag term, not a usefully descriptive music term. Not that it ever really was very useful, being that any good music should be emotional.

  3. Anonymous

    @lempha: “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” is Yes in marketing terms only. It’s a Trevor Horn production, so basically Frankie Goes To Hollywood with different studio musicians. Is that close enough to R&B? “Rock” audiences are not the only polylithic audiences.

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