A few weeks ago, something “unprecedented” happened at America’s most well-known musical honors event. Some little known, partly Canadian band not only got a chance to play two songs at the gala, but this under the radar group, known as Arcade Fire or something to that effect, also took home the prestigious “Album of the Year” prize. Reminiscent of Disney’s favorite children’s hockey team, the scrappy group of nobodys won the evening, just like the Mighty Ducks managed to pull off the big win against the Hawks. It is a story for the ages, and it brought a tear to the eye of every true-believing indie rock fan out there.
Uh, hold up a second. With all sarcasm aside, Arcade Fire even playing the Grammys, let alone taking the top prize, should begin to raise some questions about where indie rock is heading, or more importantly, what “indie” rock actually is. Whether Arcade Fire’s “Bowl Busting” The Suburbs is good or bad is not relevant here. However, the fact that this band was recognized in so many ways at a massive mainstream event begs one to take notice of how music can not only be categorized incorrectly, but how it can also (possibly) be completely misnamed.
There are far too many arguments that could be raised during any discourse on the subject, so things will be kept fairly basic at this time. There will be no discussion of what the terms “rock” or “music” actually mean. These are umbrella terms that most people have a fairly decent grasp on. I’m also not going to bother touching on when “rock” becomes “pop.” But how can people agree on what the term “indie” is meant to be understood as when associated with something like music? Beyond that, who cares about whether indie is being used correctly?
On the one hand, you might find those that feel being on an independent label allows a band to call themselves indie, no matter how popular they get. On the other hand, many people associate all things independent with a sense of underground, meaning as popularity is gained, the adjective should be dropped. After all, most well known bands have a lot of help getting to the big leagues. Does the outside help from mainstream publications, for example, mean an artist cannot claim it’s indie authenticity? There seems to be an overall dilemma created when a band starts to gain a large following of mainstream fans and critics. Arcade Fire was getting great reviews from magazines like Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly, for example. No matter what label they are on, these articles create an astonishing amount of exposure.
Many argue that popularity is not what determines how “indie” a band might be. They say the sound the band has come to represent has more merit on how things get categorized. People still say The Strokes are indie rock, because apparently listeners feel they play a musical style that fits the bill. Let it be known that The Strokes release records on RCA, a label that is by no means identified as independent. Can they truly fit into the genre just because they replicate a type of music that might sound a specific way? Furthermore, suppose a band was once on an independent label, signed to a major, but then played the same type of music. Is this band still considered indie rock because they once were? It all seems a bit sketchy.
Honestly, it seems to me that bands not on independent labels cannot be called indie rock. Major label equals major rock. If a band wants to keep their indie cred, then a decision needs to be made to forgo all huge market dealings, which leads to a following point. If you have huge market appeal, you are probably no longer part of the indiesphere. The supposed tight-knit relationship associated between indie rock kids and the bands they love has now been broken. In addition, simply replicating an indie sound does not make you an indie band. If U2 came out with an album meant to sound like an Early Day Miners release, the world would laugh at the thought of them trying to be considered anything besides arena rock.
Although that’s my take on the subject, there are many others out there that can hold their own in a conversation like this, and every one of their ideas should be taken into account. Can anyone say comments section?
The point of this post was not to push an answer on anyone. There are obviously a lot of elements that need to be taken into consideration in this type of evaluation. It just seems pertinent for those that claim to listen to indie rock to take a look at what they might be saying or promoting. Fans of this type of music can become extremely bent out of shape if their authenticity is questioned, and that is exactly why it is important to determine if the genre is being used correctly.