I’ve sure been seeing a lot of “hipster” the last few weeks, as year-end lists of metal have been rolling out and people have been commenting on them. There are certain albums, mainly Deafheaven’s Sunbather, that routinely get blasted with the “hipster” label. Earlier today we even got a “hipster” comment on one of the lists we posted at NCS — applied to Ghost BC’s Infestissumam.
“Hipster” is a word I almost never use, mainly because I’m not sure what it means. I do know that it’s a disparaging, belittling, derogatory label of some kind. As used in the metal community, maybe it’s supposed to mean “not true metal” or “not good metal”. But the sense I get is that it’s used most often to mean “metal that people who aren’t metal heads like” — and apparently, the more non-metalheads who like a metal album, the worse it must be.
I definitely get the sense that Deafheaven have been victimized by that latter situation. The album is showing up on all sorts of year-end lists at big entertainment web sites, often mixed together with music from other genres such as indie and hip-hop. For some people, that seems to be enough to brand Deafheaven’s music “hipster metal”. I suspect something similar has happened to Ghost BC (I even wrote about the phenomenon here). This bothers me.
Don’t get me wrong — I understand that some people just plain don’t like either Sunbather or Infestissumam, or other metal albums that non-metalheads seem to like this year, and that’s fine. What bothers me is that some people seem to be judging albums (and labeling the music “hipster”) mainly because they’ve become very popular, to the point of becoming “crossover” hits. We all know that the more successful, the more popular, the less “underground” a metal album becomes, the more it’s going to be put down within the community of metal. It’s a kind of perverse streak that our community seems to have.
I happen to like both of those albums quite a bit. I also happen to like albums such as Inquisition’s and Ulcerate’s 2013 releases even more, just to pick two random examples of music that no one in their right mind would ever label “hipster”, despite the fact that places like NPR have praised them. Am I a “hipster” for liking Sunbather and Infestissumam? Do I feel guilty for proclaiming my admiration for both albums? Nope, I don’t.
So, what the hell does “hipster” mean? And are people who throw the word around misusing it? The Font of All Human Knowledge has an exhaustive article about what the word signifies. I waded through it, and I really didn’t see anything in there that made much sense as applied to the kind of metal albums that are getting stuck with the label this season. I had the same reaction to a longer-than-usual definition at the Urban Dictionary.
So what the hell does “hipster” mean in the context of its use by metalheads to put down a metal album? And if you think Sunbather and Infestissumam — or any other heralded 2013 metal album — is “hipster” metal, can you explain why?
Finally, would it be too much to ask that we stop using the label as a put-down until we can figure out what the fuck it means?