On the charts: Phillip Phillips keeps it very real | Bleader

On the charts: Phillip Phillips keeps it very real

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Phillip Phillips: The next R.E.M.?
  • David Conger
  • Phillip Phillips: The next R.E.M.?
After a decade-long love affair between indie rock and the mainstream cultural infrastructure—the cause of, among other things, e-mail blasts advertising Universal Music Group's "indie" offerings and one of the most respected indie groups of the past five years soundtracking an ad for a Taco Bell/Doritos mashup—it can be difficult to remember that indie rock once had serious revolutionary aspirations. Ironically it's not just commercialization that's removed so much of that aspect from the indie scene, but the fact that so many of its demands have been met. DIY culture has grown massive enough to threaten monolithic corporations. The desire for intensely authentic products and experiences has been fully adopted by the mainstream. Social media has turned millions upon millions of people into, essentially, zinesters. There is sincere, unprocessed-sounding guitar music on pop radio.

The doubly ironic part is that as all of this has happened the counterculture that the term "indie rock" used to describe has turned largely away from sincere, unprocessed-sounding guitar music. The blogs and online magazines that are supposedly the arbiters of "indie" credibility devote a considerable amount of their energy to covering rap and electronic music, both of which are flourishing madly as they attract a generation of young musicians raised with Pro Tools jockeys as heroes and not guitar gods.

But indie rock, or at least indie-ish rock, is doing extremely well on the pop charts. The aforementioned Passion Pit song-slash-jingle has been hanging around the lower end of the Hot 100 for months. The excruciatingly earnest and old-timey Mumford and Sons have been positively dominating a number different Billboard rankings. The 86th most popular song in America right now is a White Stripes cover.

Meanwhile, the eighth most popular song is a well-crafted pairing of the Mumfords' retro sincerity and the arena-massive grand, sweeping sincerity of the Arcade Fire, whose Grammy win a while back helped finish the job of legitimizing indie rock's mainstream bona fides. Phillip Phillips won the 11th season of American Idol on the strength of a sensitive, Dave Matthews-ish troubadour image that's close to the opposite of the showbiz glitter that the contest's often associated with. The so-called "coronation song" he released after his win, "Home," has been hailed by Spin magazine as "shockingly good." Your archetypal 90s indie record store snob would likely dig it, and compare its jangle favorably with the Replacements and R.E.M. "back when they were good." Of course if that archetypal hipster was coming up now he or she would probably be way more amped about the new A$AP Rocky single.

Miles Raymer writes about what's on the charts on Tuesday.

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