Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Art vs Commerce: "Ironic" Covers

Weezer has a new rarities album coming out next month. As these things go, it's a handful of b-sides, unreleased songs and the requisite ironic* cover.

I realize I'm speaking from the point-of-view of someone who grew up in a era when the chasm between commercial and indie was wider, even under the umbrella term "alternative rock," but during the nineties especially, it was de rigueur for an indie band to cover a pop song, in a sense giving it new life, but more often that not, the message was "look at the cool, critically acclaimed 'artist' pointing out the absurdity in pop music." No credibility lost there.

I've never been all that comfortable with the concept of "ironic covers." I love a lot of them, but there's something a bit unsettling about artists covering songs that's supposed to be "beneath"them.

A few weeks ago, I read a post in the Guardian about the racial barriers that plague rock music. This stood out in particular:

"In America, unfortunately, white rock has always been considered as art, and black music as commerce."

POC and women are well represented in pop music that sells, but when you look a list of critic's picks, it's overpopulated with white men: the singer-songwriters and "indie" (in parentheses as indie as become a meaningless term) bands that make up the canon. When Paste published its list of the 100 best living songwriters, women and POC were few and far between. (Surprisingly, the readers' list was slightly more diverse.) It's hard not to ignore that pattern.

What does this have to do with Weezer? They're releasing a cover Toni Braxton's 14-year-old song, "Un-Break My Heart," much maligned as an adult contempo classic. It's actually a pretty good song, and Braxton sings her heart out on it. I like Weezer and hope they threw a little reverence her way..

*Yes, I realize both "ironic" and "indie" have become meaningless, bear with me.

No comments:

Post a Comment