August 15, 2010

Pop musicians who are too educated for their own good

For the past several weeks Starbucks has been playing one of the most doofusy indie / pop songs ever recorded. Did he just say "drinking horchata"? God, what are they singing about now? So I looked up the lyrics; it's "Horchata" by Vampire Weekend. Here are the rhyme words: horchata, balaclava, aranciata, and Masada... How much more self-consciously status-seeking could this dork possibly get? Sure enough, their Wikipedia page mentions that the band met while they were at Columbia in the mid-2000s.

The only real pardon you can get for attending an "elite school" is if it's an art school, and only provided you don't fill your lyrics with references to horchata and aranciata. So, Talking Heads, who met at RISD, get a pass. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark had a few songs about things you'd learn in school -- "Enola Gay," "Joan of Arc," "Maid of Orleans" -- but they are fun and sincere instead of laboring to project erudition, which doesn't belong in pop music. Even the pioneers of geek rock, They Might Be Giants, didn't used to be so nerdily self-aware. (John Flansburgh went to Pratt.) Their first two albums fit squarely within the late '80s college rock sound. Although too interested in wordplay, at least they weren't trying to one-up the inbred clique of Stuff White People Like competitors.

Since then there have been too many pop musicians who went to elite non-art schools: The Strokes, The Bravery, Lisa Loeb, etc. Not that their songs are all bad, but still. They spent their formative years studying hard to get into a good school, and then remained insulated from the real world during their late teens and early 20s, when real rock musicians would have either started playing gigs or been engrossed in real life in other ways. Overly protected people are not going to see enough of the world to get inspiration to make good culture, whether grave or light. Instead you'll end up singing about the fruity drinks you got hooked on during your semester abroad.

(Back when the elites were highly exposed to violence, they were unable to avoid real life and made great culture.)

You'll be more able to rock out if you don't get sucked into the higher ed bubble in the first place. See for yourself:


  1. Thumbs up to that catchy Joan Jett song. She created her own little niche and just fit perfectly in it with that voice of hers. Always thought she had lovely eyes too.

  2. "horchata" and "aranciata" are only indicative of elite cultural tastes if you live somewhere without a lot of real Mexicans. On the other hand, rhyming those with "balaclava" and "Masada" makes you a prat. (Or a Pratt?)

  3. Oh noes, you're not a fan of the Strokes?!

    Julian Casablancas dropped out of his elite high school and worked as a bartender.

    None of the others went to college.

    So I'm not sure that they were insulated from the real world during their late teens.

    Also, they are easily the best looking band ever (Casablancas, Valensi, Moretti, even Hammond). Sooooo dreamy.


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