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The 2000s: Closing the Age Gap and Eliminating Elitism

By ; February 19, 2010 at 12:53 AM 

Many people will agree that the ‘00s was a terrible decade, especially for politics, economics, and social progress. If anything, we backslid in those regards—the United States electing George W. Bush as president (twice), parts of the world engaging in wars that didn’t need to be fought, and virtually every country on the planet spiraling out of control into an economic recession. The U.S. and the world accepted Barack Obama as the first non-WASP president of the United States, but issues such as gay marriage didn’t cover as much ground as people were expecting. At the end of 2009, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman was decrying the ‘00s as the least productive, bleakest decade in a long time.

In the world of music, however, things were different. Sure, music sales absolutely plummeted—gone were the days of artists entering the Billboard charts having sold enough units worthy of gold and multi-platinum status. But music was much more present than ever before, and Internet’s increasing availability was responsible for that, with P2P and torrent sites propagating new music, old music, signed bands, unsigned bands—anything was possible.

The downloading and copyright debate was overwhelming, with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich most notably leading the charge against Napster and other P2P sites. But that debate is so obvious now that it would seem superfluous to even rehash it—everyone who’s been into music or Internet culture in the past ten years could recite the points and sides of the debate just as well as any student in copyright law.

Simply put, the Internet allowed everyone to have the right to music, whether people had a legal right to it or not. Not only could they download it, they had an entire community at their disposal—you could talk about music on a forum with someone from Mexico City or London. We were all so far apart, yet somehow, we were brought within arms’ length of one another, and for many of us, it was the first time we ever found like-minded people with whom we could discuss music passionately, without worries of ridicule from classmates or parents or coworkers or teachers. There was also the rise of authoritative music sources, such as Pitchfork Media, which started as a modest music blog in 1995 (I know it’s hard to believe Pitchfork could ever be described as “modest”) but started gaining a massive following during the front-end of the ‘00s. Whether we love it or hate it now, it became everyone’s go-to place to discover new music or soak up more information on bands we’d discovered through our enthusiastic chats on forums.

With music and information suddenly accessible to anyone at any time, we saw two of the most fascinating transformations to happen in music in years: the closure of the generation gap and the slow, crumbling death of legitimate music elitism.

Before easier access to the Internet, younger generations had MTV (Back when they played music videos—remember that?) and institutional radio programs such as the nationally-syndicated Open House Party (That’s how I first discovered Daft Punk in 2000) serving as their tastemakers. Sure, most of us grew up listening to our parents’ favorite bands, whether it was The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, or U2, but often times, there was a world of music that parents or grandparents hadn’t yet exposed to their progeny. The rise of P2P file sharing and a heightened sense of music-oriented community suddenly eliminated this sense of intangibility of Mom and Dad’s music. Young people started rediscovering their parents’ Police collection that they’d previously rendered uncool and even started digging deeper, discovering the more “cult” bands that maybe their parents weren’t into—maybe Mahavishnu Orchestra or Gang of Four. Sometime back in 2003, my dad and I got on the subject of The Jam, and he was shocked that his Operation Ivy-loving punk kid was even familiar with the ‘70s-era British punk band. “How do you even know about The Jam?” I returned his question with naught but a wry, knowing smile, the authoritative smile so many of us wore in the ‘00s, much to the frustration of our losing-their-edge elders. Young people were encroaching on a territory which probably made adults feel like their adolescent diaries were being read, but they struck back and started listening to more current music. I remember feeling equally violated when my father started talking to me about Modest Mouse, as he’d just heard “Third Planet” from The Moon and Antarctica. The Internet was putting us on the exact same common ground, despite the 25 years separating us.

The fact was that music was more naked than it had ever been before. There was nowhere to hide. Sequestering bands was pointless for both adults and young people. Even if your favorite band wasn’t playing songs on the radio, it was also millions of other people’s favorite band. Oh, that industrial band from the ‘70s? Not only does your cool uncle own all of their albums, but so does the goth-punk crowd at your school. With this came the decade’s other fascinating change, tying in with the generation gap closure: the death of legitimate music elitism.

The increasing popularity of social media websites (and YouTube) meant that bands and musical artists became ubiquitous. Bands could put their music on the Internet—maybe even get it heard, if they were charismatic and persistent enough. There was an entire world of music to be discovered, and chances are, you stumbled across a lot of it. At some point, you probably watched a band go through the following process: band starts out with 275 friends on MySpace. Band suddenly gets hailed by Pitchfork. Band suddenly sells out large venues. Perhaps you even got angry from feeling like someone had tapped into your psyche and exposed it. “This band was supposed to be my best-kept secret,” you might have thought. Maybe you stopped being a fan.

Thus, the ‘00s brought on the death of music elitism. Of course, people could still be elitists if they wanted, but it was utterly pointless. I saw plenty of people denounce “indie” bands that were able to get a song on the radio, and that wasn’t fair to the bands that still made decent music. The truth is that we were a spoiled generation. We had gotten used to keeping our secrets, music-related or not, and now, everyone knew our secrets, just like we were beginning to find our parents’ best kept secrets in music.

Looking back on it, we can see how ridiculous this sort of behavior really was. Information became viral, and so did music. It shouldn’t have shocked anyone that most artists were very much “out there” by the early ‘00s, and while they might not have gotten radio airtime, the Internet was just as good at building hype. Bands had stopped being truly “indie,” unless you counted the rigid definition of being on an indie label or the vagueness of indie as a genre. There was a time when people earned the right to partake in music elitism. Pre-Internet, there was only MTV and radio. Those guys had to work hard to look for music outside of the usual mediums. They had to work at a college radio station, work (or practically live) in a record store, or have a strong presence in the music industry (or know a few guys). They had to surround themselves with people who loved and cared about music, who could spread the word about bands and trade cassette tapes, containing mixes of songs they wanted to share. Those people worked hard to rail against the FM dial and search for bands that stimulated their creativity, about bands that were cult in the truest sense. Now, for those of us who came into music primarily via the Internet, it was so easy in the ‘00s to search for a band in Wikipedia or All Music Guide, read a smattering of reviews, and download a few torrent files. It’s wonderful to have the access, but it almost feels unfair to the classic music buffs (the youngest ones now in their ‘30s) who worked ten times harder to discover the bands that can no longer be considered cult classics.

That’s not to put a negative spin on the technological and musical advancements of the last decade or to say none of it’s been legitimate—it’s all been very legitimate and extremely exciting. But the decade brought the indisputable end of two phenomena that will probably never be in place again. Now, go forth and listen to Hot Chip and Silver Apples with your parents and older relatives. With the barriers now nonexistent and sense of pretension gone, there is potential to grow even closer as a music community in this new decade. I don’t know about you, but that sounds absolutely idyllic to me.

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