Thursday, 17 December 2009


But I didn't really want to dwell on RATM, because I've been thinking further about about how people react to hype. Last week I criticised music writers who have purposefully avoided Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion even though there's a good chance they'd really like it. These other people, I said, were reacting against the hype, refusing to even take part in the discussion out of some sense that they were fighting the cause of a greater good. How silly! And some who did listen, only to review, were forced to trawl the depths of their creativity to come up with criticisms, out of a belief that someone ought to be damn criticising it, even if it meant overlooking a lot of positive qualities.

Make sure you're sitting down for this, cos it's a shocker: I, the accuser, have been guilty of similar transgressions too. It's true. I have met and interviewed Vampire Weekend, for an extended cover feature on them for The Skinny. I have seen them live twice -- once in a mid-sized Edinburgh club called the Bongo Club, I was there to interview the local support band; and once in the Californian desert, after I had met them, at Coachella. Confession: I have never listened to their debut album. Yeah, I probably would like it, even though I wasn't too impressed by them live. What can I say? I couldn't be arsed. I wrote the feature and still didn't feel compelled to acquire it (you might call that unprofessional, but you get what you pay for. I wasn't given a promo of it, and I don't like downloading things. My feature said nothing about the album, only about the background. Now, I would fire up Spotify, of course). I've never listened to any Arctic Monkeys' album either, actually. Of course I've heard individual songs by both, but never out of choice.

Why did I opt-in to the Animal Collective conversation but not the Vampire Weekend or Arctic Monkeys' ones? I have a hunch it's because I already knew and enjoyed two AC records, so I was more receptive to the idea that I would enjoy MPP; whereas Vampire Weekend and the Monkeys were new bands with hugely hyped debut albums. I hadn't invested any time in them before the hype-rush.

Guess I should get round to the Monkeys at least by now, eh?

I realise that instead of trying to put people on some kind of hype-reaction spectrum, I should've just linked to these two Wikipedia pages:


Reverse Psychology

In summary:

"Reactance is an emotional reaction in direct contradiction to rules or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioral freedoms. It can occur when someone is heavily pressured to accept a certain view or attitude. Reactance can cause the person to adopt or strengthen a view or attitude that is contrary to what was intended."

"Reverse psychology... relies on the psychological phenomenon of reactance, in which a person has a negative emotional response in reaction to being persuaded, and thus chooses the option which is being advocated against."

Hype is encouragement, lots of hype leads to lots of persuasion, but too much hype invokes reverse psychology: everyone wants you to listen to and love this album so much that you dig your heels in, because it's no longer encouragement, it's pressure, and it feels like a curtailment of your freedom to choose whether to like it or not.

Makes perfect sense, put like that.

But it's still an emotional response to outside factors, and so it should still be discouraged from entering the mindset of a music writer. Although I never bothered with the Vampire Weekend or Arctic Monkeys, I've never claimed to dislike them for their hype. I didn't react against it, I just didn't react to it, in either direction.


Finbarr Bermingham said...

So how do you decide which hyped bands you're going to listen to? Surely, there must be one? I am guilty of the same though, but maybe not to the same extent. I tend to visit such albums 6-12 months after their release. I do the same with established hype-bands, mind you. Like AC.

Ally Brown said...

how to decide? Well there's a thousand different factors, isn't there? but one thing that perhaps skews my own habits is that I don't like listening to a record only once or twice. I don't get anything out of that. So I could listen to MORE, but it'd only be cursory, I'd rather listen to less but give them a fair chance.

Instead of downloading Vampire Weekend, Whatever People Say... and MPP, I'd rather choose one, BUY it, and give it more time. So I miss a few. But it's not something to boast about. The point is to be wary of falling victim to reverse psychology. If you miss a few, that's fine. But don't turn it into some kind of stance.