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Rockism is a pejorative term referring to perceived biases in popular music criticism, particularly that some forms of popular music, and some musical artists, are more authentic than others. Coined in 1981 by English rock musician Pete Wylie with his Race Against Rockism campaign, the term was used humorously by self-described "anti-rockist" (or "poptimist") critics in the British press.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the first wave of critics suggested that enduring pop music art was made by singer-songwriters using traditional rock instruments on long-playing albums, and that pop hits reside on a lower aesthetic plane, a source of "guilty pleasure". In 2004, music critic Kelefa Sanneh defined rockism as follows: "A rockist is someone who reduces rock 'n' roll to a caricature, then uses that caricature as a weapon. Rockism means idolizing the authentic old legend (or underground hero) while mocking the latest pop star; lionizing punk while barely tolerating disco; loving the live show and hating the music video; extolling the growling performer while hating the lip-syncher.". Design critic and indie pop musician Nick Currie (aka Momus) compared Rockism to the international art movement Stuckism, which holds that artists who do not paint or sculpt are not artists.
Contemporary writers[weasel words] use rockism as a polemical label to identify and critique a cluster of beliefs and assumptions in music criticism. Rockism is therefore not a connotatively neutral term; as music writer Ned Raggett writes, "You’re not going to find anyone arguing FOR [rockism] any time soon, or at least coming out and saying so—but that’s precisely because of the terms of the discourse."
Poptimism (also called popism or anti-rockism) holds that pop music deserves the same respect as rock music and is as authentic and as worthy of professional critique and interest. In critiquing rockism, Sanneh asks music listeners to "stop pretending that serious rock songs will last forever, as if anything could, and that shiny pop songs are inherently disposable, as if that were necessarily a bad thing. Van Morrison's "Into the Music" was released the same year as the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight"; which do you hear more often?" Sanneh further accuses rockism of representing a sexist, racist, and homophobic point of view. Sanneh writes: "In The New York Times Book Review, Sarah Vowell approvingly recalled Nirvana's rise: 'A group with loud guitars and louder drums knocking the whimpering Mariah Carey off the top of the charts.' Why did the changing of the guard sound so much like a sexual assault? And when did we all agree that Nirvana's neo-punk was more respectable than Ms. Carey's neo-disco?"
In 2006, music journalist Jody Rosen noted the growing backlash against rock's traditional critical acclaim and the new poptimism ideology. By 2015, Washington Post writer Chris Richards wrote that, after a decade of "righteously vanquishing [rockism's] nagging falsehood", poptimism had become "the prevailing ideology for today’s most influential music critics. Few would drop this word in conversation at a house party or a nightclub, but in music-journo circles, the idea of poptimism itself is holy writ."
Rosen forewarned possible excesses of the new movement; that a hierarchy of music biased toward pop is no better than one biased toward rock because both genres have respectable qualities that cannot be ignored. New York Times Magazine's Saul Austerlitz called poptimism a product of click-driven internet journalism that aspired to the lowest common denominator while being actively hostile to people who are fans of genres and bands associated with rockism. He further criticized it for allowing pop music fans to avoid expanding their taste and contrasted the types of music lauded by poptimists with the literature and film praised by book and film critics. Richards argued that poptimism cheerleads the already successful while privileging consensus and smothering dissent.
- Morley, Paul (May 25, 2006). "Rockism - it's the new rockism". The Guardian.
- Rosen, Jody (May 9, 2006). "The Perils of Poptimism - Does hating rock make you a music critic?". Slate.
- Sanneh, Kelefa (October 31, 2004). "The Rap Against Rockism". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 5, 2015.
- Nick Currie on "Design Rockism"[dead link]
- Music journalist Ned Raggett on Rockism[dead link]
- Richards, Chris (April 16, 2015). "Do you want poptimism? Or do you want the truth?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-11-19.
- Austerlitz, Saul (April 6, 2014). "The Pernicious Rise of Poptimism". The New York Times Magazine. Archived from the original on 2015-10-31.
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