We all know the feeling of getting stabbed in the heart when we first hear our long-time favorite band playing on Top 40 radio. Different people have different reactions to this. Many will mutter “sell-outs,” and others will groan that now people “who don’t even know them” will like their music, while the very few will rejoice in their favorite artists gaining some much-deserved notoriety. But why is it that the majority of us so negatively view this mainstreaming of our favorite bands? It’s simple: lamestreaming.
My first experience with this phenomenon was when I was just starting eighth grade, watching VH1’s “Insomniac Music Theatre” around 4am. This is when I first saw Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom” music video, and I was immediately hooked. It became my favorite song that none of my friends had even heard of. Then, several months later, I heard some seventh grade girls singing “Stacy’s Mom” during PE class; I nearly lost it right then and there. I was absolutely livid for the rest of the day, continuously complaining about how they shouldn’t even be allowed to listen to this song — my song that I discovered so long ago.
I know I’m not the only one; nearly everyone I know has taken some pride in announcing their favorite little-known band, immediately followed by a “but you’ve probably never heard of them.” We obsess over these bands, feeling an unexplained closeness to them as we watch them grow, mature, and evolve into more talented artists. So why is it, then, that we don’t feel like proud parents admiring over their children’s success when these artists finally make it big?
Technically, many of these bands that we are scoffing at as being “mainstream” aren’t even mainstream. Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Kanye West… these are the mainstream artists. Just because a band gets widely known does not make them mainstream, especially if they are just considered big within their own genres; The Wonder Years, The Devil Wears Prada, Dance Gavin Dance and the like are not mainstream, no matter how popular within their own music worlds. But, regardless of our own definitions of mainstream, we can agree that it ultimately has to do with bands becoming more and more popular.
Suddenly, once a band becomes mainstream, they just aren’t cool anymore. As soon as people who know absolutely nothing about music are singing the choruses to our favorite songs, we consider the band to have sold out or just be too lame to listen to anymore. Admit it: you know you’ve groaned when walking into a club or bar and hear the latest remix to your favorite song from two years ago. And we’re not the only ones; even musicians acknowledge lamestreaming. Popular indie-electro artist James Blake recently called the mainstreaming of dubstep in the States as hitting upon a “frat-boy market” that had turned into “a pissing competition.”
Lamestreaming doesn’t just affect those little-known artists that finally make it big with a single or two; it also affects those artists that once were huge but are still evolving and making (oftentimes better) music that people simply won’t give a chance because it “was cool back then” and is just too lame and mainstream now. Consider the latest Panic! At the Disco or Hellogoodbye albums; with their big hits so many years ago, many people overlook them and think them to be has-beens or too mainstream to even check out. Realistically, these are both very good albums that showcase new (and, in my opinion, better) sides of these artists. But, some people might remember back to five years ago when “Here in Your Arms” went platinum, and dismiss the newer releases.
So, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that we can’t simply dislike artists because other people like them; we can’t just dismiss new albums and not give them a chance just because, once upon a time, the band was really popular. And yes, it may be annoying when “Pumped Up Kicks” is on the radio every other song, but you can’t just forget the fact that you liked Foster the People for a reason. These bands didn’t do anything wrong to deserve our discontinued support; rather, they clearly did something too right to get so known.
How can we avoid lamestreaming? We can’t, because we can’t avoid the mainstreaming of music we may like. What we can do, however, is not lamestream it ourselves; don’t hate something just because it’s popular. Rather, listen to your iPod or CDs so you don’t have to groan when your favorite band comes on the radio. When you’re at a bar and intoxicated girls start dancing obnoxiously and slurring the words to your favorite song, laugh at them rather than getting upset that these are the people listening to your favorite band. We’ve loved our bands for so long and stuck with them through the worst of times, so we owe it to them to stick with them through the best of times, too. Well, at least until they make something completely unlistenable.