I’ve been stewing over writing about people’s ideas about conformism, convention and the mainstream, but I couldn’t find a starting point. For years, my take on being cool was to like the things others didn’t. Or rather, dislike the things most people liked. Anything remotely popular in my eyes was to be avoided. Unfortunately, this mentality was employed by masses of teens and young adults and regurgitated by (shock horror) the media, record companies and high street brands to produce a tie-dye-wearing, Morrissey- listening, Stephen Chbosky-reading, tumblr-tapping yout, perhaps a girl with half a head of roots, or a boy with a haircut resembling an iced gem. For most of us, in the ‘Y Generation’, it’s excruciatingly and crushingly hard to present ourselves as individuals, to be original, and unfortunately for plenty; to be authentic. We see the teens of the sixties pioneering rock and roll tailoring, feminist silhouettes and smashing up cinema chairs down Brighton. We see outrageous punk dressing in the seventies, and mass experimentation drug use in the eighties and nineties. But where’s our 21st century revolution? Aside from the high-speed, sharp-incline, tyrannical surge that is the internet age, there is none. Yet those movements, colonized by our predecessors (anyone from gramps to mum) in actuality became mainstream. Because we view them as crazy, exotic, experimental we associate them with alternative. Perhaps in years to come, youngsters will think of excessive Instagram spamming and dressing like a knob head as an ironic take on originality.
Very recently, I have found myself taking solace in all things popular. It feels so refreshingly honest to like a song that’s in the charts or buy a dress that’s ‘girly’, but there’s a certain satisfaction which comes with choosing something mainstream over something alternative; by shunning the obscure for the ordinary, you’re actually being obscure and so in actual fact your cooler than everyone who’s trying to be cool by being obscure! Following, or confused? But perhaps it feels good because you genuinely like this stuff. After all, the white t-shirt didn’t get to where it is today with no good reason. It’s a timeless classic because it’s reliable, versatile and in quality cotton, lasts for ages.
Xfm hit the nail on the head. Phil Clifton raised the question of whether you can claim to be a true fan of a band if you dislike their biggest hits. Cue tweeters. One promises to love Jack White but hates The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army and to my personal horror, one is a ‘massive Arctic Monkey’s fan’ but can’t listen to I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor. What makes it hard to believe these people, is that the songs they’ve mentioned are purely good songs. It’s not a question of cool, but one of quality. Perhaps this phenomenon (and that it is, honestly) stems from the fear induced by psychotic super fans who for years have been threatening to ‘kill’ those who buy tickets to see a band without being able to recite backwards the lyrics of the said band’s bonus track. Personally, if I really like one or two songs by a band, or even if I just fancy a night out, I’m not going to waste time revising their entire history, I’m going to snap up tickets. And then there are those fans themselves, who have been pushed in to being frightened to admit that ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ actually is their favourite Nirvana song, even though they’ve spent hundreds on Cobain memorabilia and own every album on cd, tape and vinyl. I agree with the opinion of one particular tweeter that it’s almost impossible to dislike the most successful songs of your all-time favourite band, and it’s pretentious to pretend that you do.
Where fashion is concerned, there’s a similar debate stirring. Aside from the fact that young people are catching on to the fact that dressing head to toe in black is cool (it REALLY is and ALWAYS will be), a term for dressing simply has actually been coined. In this season’s issue of i-D, Anders Christian Madsen and Rory Satran present opposing arguments for and against ‘Normcore’. Whilst Madsen describes the idea of Normcore as one that ‘renounces self-expression’, Satran in fact believes that ‘Using clothing for self-expression is uncomfortable, time-consuming and complicated’. Bit much Satran. Yet personally I don’t entirely agree with Madsen either. Our interests; what music we like, how we dress, what we do in our spare time, what substances we abuse (be it caffeine or cocaine), are the easiest and quickest ways to express ourselves. Of course we should maximise on these as unlike many other countries of the world, we have plenty of choice, but it doesn’t stop there. Our interests do not define us, and so there is no need to tailor them in order to conform. Originality is non-existent, especially in the presence of the internet. What will set youth apart is being authentic; like what you like because you like it.