Remember emo kids? Only a few short years ago, the nation's venues of the nation were filled with kids in all black, wearing ultra-skinny jeans, eyeliner, white belts, and identical chopped-meat haircuts. Then, all at once, an entire generation realized, "Hey, we look kind of silly," and the style virtually disappeared overnight.
Sure, there are a few holdouts, in the same way people still cling to grunge, butt-rock, stoner rock, and other genres even when they're years past their prime. But for the most part, the emo kid has been replaced by the "hipster."
It's a nebulous, ill-defined word, is hipster. Some people think it means any person who seems vaguely hip or cool; others think it applies exclusively to the intentionally cartoonish overcompensators you'll see at LookAtThisFuckingHipster.com.
We tend to go with the latter definition, although it's undeniable that a significant movement has been and is still being made towards a certain aesthetic, from things as simple as fashion to complex, meaningful stuff like music and art. If we must refer to the new wave of indie/DIY/fashionable/often a little bit smug kids as "hipsters" for brevity's sake, then so be it.
One thing hipsters love to do is find something generally seen as lame and then start adoring it ironically. That's why hipsters are so into low-budget Turkish cinema and brightly colored T-shirts festooned with '80s nostalgia like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Noid, and of course Phil Donahue.
We have to wonder: how will many elder rocksmen, traditionally seen as lame by previous generations, appeal to today's modern hipster?
Michael Bolton might be best known today as the reason David Herman's character in Office Space seems to hate everything in the world around him, but in the late '80s and early '90s he was best known for his faux-soulful, sub-Cocker voice which he used to soften and whiten several old R&B and soul classics.
That softening and whitening process led us to refer to him as "Snuggles" for many years, after that talking teddy bear who helps you launder your sheets.
Hipster Cred: 2 out of 10. Bolton is as lame now as he ever was, and will most likely continue to be. Obviously he has a powerful voice, but he wastes it on wimpy lite-rock production and derivative songwriting. His score, however, could climb as high as 7 or maybe even 8 if he reunited his old power-pop band Blackjack.
They once opened for Ozzy Osbourne, you know. Yeah. Think about that, metalheads.
Anyone younger than 35 or so most likely remembers James Taylor as that spear-bald, bespectacled guy singing quiet, sensitive folk ballads on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Cool? Not really.
Taylor seemed more like your friend's annoying dad who always used to haul out his guitar and try to play "Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon?)" with mixed results. He would say things like "You know who that new band R.E.M. reminds me of? Procol Harum. You kids would love Procol Harum."
Hipster Cred: 9 out of 10. You friend's dad, competent guitar player or not, was 100 percent correct about bands like Procol Harum, Three Dog Night, and The Byrds - they're still great after all these years, but back in the day they were the height of cool. James Taylor is the same way. It's easy to see the old guy singing now and forget what a total chick magnet he was back in his day, but looky here.
OMG, Carly Simon wants him so bad in that clip. And it wasn't just her, that was every girl, everywhere. The coolest local musician you know isn't half as cool as James Taylor's moustache used to be. And you know something, he hasn't changed all that much. Check the crowds at one of his live shows, even today - it's not just MILF action; girls of all ages still want to be all over this guy.
Evidently they like sensitive singer-songwriter types with golden voices. Who knew?
Post-Peter Gabriel singer of Genesis, progenitor of the hugest mid-song drum roll of all time, and iconic bald guy, Phil Collins was - and still is - widely ridiculed by many rockers. His brand of adult-contemporary lite-rock was not at all cool for those of us spinning bands like the Butthole Surfers and Minor Threat on the way to catch gutter-punk shows at the Abyss. It even became kind of a meme to hate on Phil Collins, so universally was he known as a middle-of-the-road white-bread dork your parents listened to.
Hipster Cred: 8 out of 10. Sometime around the late '90s, it became clear: For whatever reason, black people love Phil Collins. Seriously. Not only did he pop up in that Bone Thugs-N-Harmony video, but he still gets sampled to this day in rap, R&B, and other music popular in black culture.
Why, we're not sure, except that he truly does know his way around a good pop hook, and as a percussionist, he's put together some unique and catchy beats. Eventually the love of Collins spread to other acts like Postal Service, Copeland, and Lostprophets. It's only a matter of time before Best Coast or Vampire Weekend puts out an album that sounds exactly like No Jacket Required.
Few living artists have benefited more from the revisionism of history than Peter Frampton. Now portrayed as some kind of classic-rock guitar hero alongside the likes of Ace Frehley and Pete Townshend, it's undeniable that he's got some great guitar chops, but Frampton was never really about rocking out.
Take a look at his albums and put them in context of what was going on at the time and you'll see that Frampton had more in common with Joe Jonas than Joe Strummer. He left his band Humble Pie when they started threatening to rock out and released poppy, melodic solo albums that climbed the charts and made him more of a teen-idol figure than a rock star.
That's right: Peter Frampton was the John Mayer of the late '70s.
Hipster Cred: Frampton gained a lot of interest when he was in the "Homerpalooza" episode of The Simpsons and a terrible reggae cover of his song "Baby I Love Your Way" made it onto the ultra-hip Reality Bites soundtrack, because the film required a song to play in the background that would subliminally clue viewers into what a douchebag Ben Stiller's character was.
However, both of those things happened 15 years ago, sooo... not a whole lot of heat on the Frampton these days. We'll call it a 5.
Not a lot of people know her name, but few could hope to duplicate Carole King's success. She co-wrote her first No. 1 hit at age 18, The Shirelles' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow." She went on to write 117 more songs that hit Billboard's Hot 100: Bobby Vee's "Take Good Care of My Baby," The Chiffons' "One Fine Day," Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman," The Monkees' "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and Little Eva's original "The Loco-Motion" were all hers.
That was before she started out on her own successful recording career that included hits like "I Feel the Earth Move," "It's Too Late" and "So Far Away." Pretty much every artist who recorded in the '70s covered her songs, and many of them became famous doing so; James Taylor's performance of King's "You've Got a Friend" won both of them a Grammy.
Hipster Cred: Hovering around a 7 or 8. King is relatively unknown, and hasn't really caught on with the kids yet, but that could change easily with a single Arcade Fire cover. Or they could make a movie about her life, which would be interesting not just for the depiction of her pop success and all the potential rock-star cameos, but also for a potentially wrenching portrayal of her marriage to songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, which ended in 1968 when he started going crazy.
Hell of a life she's had.
One of the biggest names of the folk revivalist movement of the late 60's, Fort Worth-born Henry John Deutschendorf renamed himself the more marquee-friendly John Denver and began releasing album after album full of tuneful, sweet-natured folk-pop. You'd know a lot of his songs - "Leaving On a Jet Plane," "Take Me Home, Country Roads," "Annie's Song" and several others - but in later years he became just as famous for his bowl haircut, non-threatening demeanor, nice-guy activism, and frequent Muppet collaborations.
Denver starred in the mildly successful George Burns film Oh God!, in which you get the distinct impression that playing a character who's really just a likable dork wasn't that much of a stretch for John.
Hipster Cred: Around a 6, we'd have to say. If you were born after 1980, John Denver has always been synonymous with overly happy church-rock, but if you're into folk music, you really can't help but admire a lot of his songs. He managed to bring the folk aesthetic into pop music without really watering down either genre, a rare feat.
Having died in 1997, he'll probably never be really popular again, but aspiring folksingers will be learning and playing his music for decades to come.
The more successful half of folk-rock duo Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon has been at it for years. Sometimes humorous, sometimes brainy, sometimes heartbreaking, and often all three, his songwriting has been getting English majors laid since they first dodged the draft for the Vietnam War.
Still, he went from fringe folk act to mainstream pop artist pretty quickly, and his image as a quirky troubadour faded into one of a mellow, uncool Dad-rocker over time.
Hipster Cred: A solid 7. Like we said, he's brainy, he's goofy, and yet he can still punch you straight in the ol' ticker - his performance of "The Boxer" that opened the first Saturday Night Live after 9/11 had us bawling like an infant. Some of Simon & Garfunkel's stuff could be coming out on Saddle Creek Records label even today, or playing on the soundtrack of a Wes Anderson film as an oddball actor or actress does something quirky like cover a wall in her living room in hand-painted origami zebras while wearing a really unusual hat. Ha ha, so eccentric!
His score would have been higher were it not for that infamous Songs From the Capeman debacle a few years back.
Lionel Richie started out in '70s funkateers The Commodores, playing saxophone on stone grooves like "Brick House" and "Machine Gun." Soon, though, he started taking over vocal duties more and more on slower songs like "Easy" and "Three Times a Lady," and it became clear that Lionel Richie preferred the slow jams to the funky shit.
His successful solo career began in 1982, where his sound continued to become diluted until it sounded identical to everything else on the adult contemporary stations. By the end of the '80s, he was wearing tasteful pastel sweaters and showing the whole world that he couldn't dance worth a damn - not even on the ceiling.
Hipster Cred: Pretty low, say around a 3 or a 4 if we're feeling generous. Sure, he was cool once, and he seems like a nice enough guy, but his daughter Nicole is more famous for being a shallow airhead than he is for anything he's sung in the last 20 years.
Some people were able to bounce back from the lamer aspects of the 1980s and pretend like all that embarrassing crap never happened. Not Lionel Richie.
One of the crucial members of lite-rock titans Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks helped invent a genre. Sure, that genre was adult contemporary, but try not to hold it against her; remember that when Fleetwood Mac were recording their massively successful Rumours album in 1976, what they were doing was still new, innovative, and kind of on the artsy side, like something you'd hear on college radio.
It's not their fault that it caused a vast swath of the population to decide that what they really needed was to rock... just not too hard.
Hipster Cred: Her self-styled gypsy ways, pre-dating the days when the term "gypsy" was offensive, were once cutting-edge and bizarre, but once she left Fleetwood Mac and began an ever-more middle of the road solo career, she seemed like just another aging hippie. Still, just about everyone owned and liked Rumours at one point, and bands like the Dixie Chicks and Smashing Pumpkins covering her songs increased awareness of what she helped do for music.
Nicks has a new album coming out in May produced by the Eurhythmics' Dave Stewart, and if they've actually managed to cobble together something surprising, she could be ready for a big comeback. It hinges on a lot of variables, though, not the least of which is "Where does a 62-year-old ex-gypsy fit into a pop chart dominated by Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga?"
Current score: 6, with an option to drastically go up or down in the coming months.
Once upon a time, The Beatles were always considered to be way, way cooler than the Beach Boys, who only sang about surfing and cars. Rocks Off grew up when The Beach Boys reached their height of lameness with "Kokomo" and the hideous reunion album Still Cruisin', and at about age 8 we outgrew them for the next decade or so.
Hipster Cred: 10 out of 10. Years later, we learned that The Beach Boys and the Beatles were in sort of an arms race to see who could make the most freaky, psyched-out album while tripping balls, and during this period the Beach Boys, led by chief songwriter Brian Wilson, created the 1966 album Pet Sounds.
Even if you haven't heard Pet Sounds, you'll feel like you have, because half the albums on every music critic's Best of 2009 list sounded exactly like it. Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, and many more either accidentally or deliberately replicated its dreamy, multi-layered sound, but none got it as right as Brian Wilson himself, whose long-delayed 2004 solo album Smile is still the best-reviewed album on Metacritic. Ever.
Brian Wilson is cool as shit, and pretty much every indie-rock hero you've got wants to be just like him.
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