The Law of Paradoxical Popularity
My girlfriend suggested I post a blog on this point. Being a huge fan of giving credit where credit is due – this blog was inspired by her, and thus dedicated to her:
What’s the point you ask…?
Shit (See: Stuff.) Namely: phrases, music and fashion that was once cool, then became popular, will ultimately and eventually suck. Enormously.
It’s been widely discussed on popular culture, it’s been discussed amongst you and your friends, and Chuck Klosterman even has a chapter on it in his new book Eating the Dinosaur (and how it relates to bands we love(d), until they became popular, and now we hate them.)
The only thing this “point” doesn’t have is a name. So I’m giving it one. Friends, I present to you: “The Law of Paradoxical Popularity”
I. AFI, The Kings of Leon and U2, etc. were all once “the tits” (see: cool.) Until they started selling albums (because they were cool), and more and more people started liking them (why not?), and then they signed major record deals with huge labels. These labels then overproduced their sound to appeal to a larger audience (see: “The Mainstream”), and now they sound like every other pop act out there, and suck. And when I say “suck”, I mean: “They do not sound like the underground geniuses with a very small (and loyal) following that we once loved. They are now loved by people we perceive as lame, and because of this, are now lame themselves.”
II. Popular slang terms/or and phrases such as “Bling”, “Groovy”, anything misspelled with an “x” or a “z” in the late 1990’s, and “I’m kind of a big deal” They were cool when only you and a handful of others were using them. They became less cool once “douches” and “dorks” started using them. They became completely unacceptable when your parents started including them in conversations with you, and now they are completely annoying and lame when they appear on “edgy” soft drink commercials.
III. Fashion, in general. Fashion is the biggest casualty to this law (I should also note that it is the most unique, since it appears to be cyclical†. More on that later.) Case in point: Skinny jeans. They follow the basic rules (something else I will get into later) of Paradoxical Popularity: Weird people started wearing them, and they looked horrible. Then those in the upper echelons of society saw them, adopted them, and released them at high-end boutiques (see: Diesel, Barney’s, et al.) At this point, only “hip” people were wearing them. Then posers joined in. Then everyone joined in (and I mean EVERYONE.) Fat people? Yep. Women in their late-fifties? Oh yeah. Your 6th-grade brother? Ditto. And now, they are fucking lame.
I know I am not the first person to create the life cycle for trends. In fact, I remember reading about it in a marketing course once. Also, as I mentioned, Chuck Klosterman writes about it all the time. It’s inevitable. It happens to everything and everyone eventually. There are no exceptions. “What about SNL?” You may be asking. Well, Saturday Night Live did kind of suck for a while, but it simply has a longer life span than, say, parachute pants. More staying power if you will. It will not be popular forever. Also, it has an advantage over bands, in that, part of its fundamental make up is the constant changing and cycling of actors. If you pulled that shit with a band, you’d get what Blink-182 became, which is: Who fucking knows?
Anywhere, here’s the life cycle:
Innovation (Development): Someone, somewhere starts a slang term in a garage, while drunk. Or perhaps a band. Or a fashion trend.
Introduction: This band, phrase or fashion statement is shown to the outside world.
Growth: It picks up steam and popularity.
Maturity: The band starts to suck (Muse comes to mind) after the radio (and your iPod) play it at every waking hour, the phrase gets stale (“I’m on a boat” from SNL matured quickly) as drunken dolts repeat it on cue, and too many people become keen on the fashion trend du-jour (remember when EVERYONE started wearing hoodies under blazers? I do), and it makes its way from Brass Plum, to Target, to TJ Maxx to The Goodwill.
Decline: Band t-shirts featured at Hot Topic (Nirvana.) Your little sister buys their album (Bloc Party.) You are a labeled a “douche” if you quote Anchorman (“I have many leather-bound books” will NOT get you laid; sorry), and those Nike Airs with tights? Ew, ladies.
Death: Goodbye. If you listen to Tool, you are a tool. If you say “That was far out!”, then you suck. Also, you’ll probably want to take off that Von Dutch hat, bro.
Reinvention (cycle repeats at this point in some cases): Whoa, you’re listening to Jethro Tull in a non-ironic way, and it’s actually good. “Hey, dude… how hot is that broad?” … “Broad!?” … “Yeah dude, they totally used to say it in the 50’s!”, and finally… Go to Silverlake or Echo Park, Los Angeles, California (or Williamsberg, NY; Austin, TX, Portland, OR, etc. etc. etc.) There you will find men and women wearing clothes (in both ironic, and non-ironic senses) from the 20’s (flapper), 30’s (depression-era newsy), 50’s (greaser), 60’s (“the Devandra Bandhart [see: disheveled, homeless hipper] look”), 70’s (mostly at Halloween parties, but still), 80’s (aviator sunglasses and women cutting off the top hem of their sweatshirts to expose a bra strap just to name a couple I’ve seen), and finally… the 90’s (flannel, Nike cortez, and thankfully, not yet JNCO jeans.) You get it.
Graph of the Law of Paradoxical Popularity
As this graph demonstrates, as time progresses, popularity steadily rises, before plateauing, and ultimately fading. (Not pictured: The “Reinvention” stage, as it is not a constant. Also the “Death” stage isn’t seen on this graph, but you know it’s coming. If the Beatles can die, anyone can die.‡)
‡I am NOT saying the Beatles are not popular or cool. In fact, they’re incredibly resilient, awesome, talented and multi-generational. That being said, there will become a time when the world forgets them. Also, 50% of them are literally dead (this includes the late Stuart Sutcliffe and living Pete Best.) So, for the purpose of that sentence, I was referring to them in a literal sense. Also, the Rolling Stones are better, but not currently.
I will use that incendiary and polarizing comment (“The Rolling Stones are better”) to close this essay. I am glad the Rolling Stones are still alive (somehow.) They lend a glimpse into what would eventually happen to acts like The Beatles, Buddy Holly, Black Sabbath, Nirvana, Sublime and Tupac – all of which met either an untimely, tragic or premature end. The point being – every band, much like every trend or phase, will inevitably follow the law of paradoxical popularity. Some just have longer half-lives. Similarly, premature death often leads to posthumous fame, idol worship, martyrdom and eternal fame. Just ask Robert “Bob” Marley and Elliot “Emo” Smith. What if?
†Fashion, much like certain popular slang terms, repeat themselves about every twenty years or so (usually for ironic reasons.) A prime example is the return of the word “boss” and phrase “bitchin”, as well as Member’s Only jackets and neon-colored footwear.