“A rockist is someone who reduces rock & roll to a caricature, then uses that caricature as a weapon. Rockism means idolizing the authentic old legend (or underground hero) while mocking the latest pop star; lionizing punk while barely tolerating disco; loving the live show and hating the music video; extolling the growling performer while hating the lip-syncher.”
Those are the words of Kelefa Sanneh, from a 2004 piece in the New York Times that served as a manifesto for poptimism, the belief that pop was being short-changed and needed to be defended. It rallied the lovers of pop against those who would dismiss music for not being, well, made by blokes with guitars. At that time, the strength and worth of Sanneh’s words was evident. That was a point at which music’s conversation was being dominated by whey-faced rock bands, by the postpunk revivalists coming out of New York and London, by earnest Canadians such as Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire. It was the highpoint of indie rock’s supremacy, the days when the right trousers and a little bit of attitude could buy you a million great reviews, high slots on festival bills, and major label record deals.
That’s not the case now, of course, which is no bad thing. But has something else replaced rockism? Try turning around Sanneh’s sentences, and they make sense today, 13 years on, but with a very different meaning: “A poptimist is someone who reduces pop music to a caricature, then uses that caricature as a weapon. Poptimism means idolising the latest pop star while mocking the authentic old legend; lionising disco while barely tolerating punk; loving the music video and hating live performance; extolling the lip-syncher while hating the growling performer.”