There was a mostly skippable essay in Tumblr-politics journal of record The New York Times last year (which people have been sharing again lately for some reason) in which a 28-year-old writer fumbled with her feelings of irrelevance in the face of Kreayshawn-wave internet rap:
…the Internet is a new kind of barometer for keeping track of exactly how old you feel: how many things you don’t get, how many mini-Internet worlds you can’t find the door to; exactly how many crickets in the world you can no longer hear chirping. Unlike in generations past, when (I imagine) you just kept doing what you and your same-aged friends did, and aged into obscurity in comfort on a cloud of your own tastes and generational inclinations, until you died either thinking you all were still the coolest or not caring anymore about being cool, these days the Internet exists in part to introduce you to all these things you didn’t know about, but in part to remind you how much there is out there that you’ll never know about.
Pretty boilerplate late 20s culture-clash confusion, but a constantly renewable narrative. It’s around that age that most people let go of their need to ‘stay relevant,’ musical taste calcifies, and we resign ourselves to a lifetime of listening to the same music we liked when we were young and everything seemed ‘meaningful.’ We start saying things like “Music was better in XYZ year, not like this crap the kids listen to now.” Consult literally any person over the age of 24 talking about dubstep/trap over the past few years for reference. The thing that most of us don’t realize is that it isn’t that music was better when we were young, it’s that everything was better when we were young. It’s too easy to confuse the two.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your outlook, content-generating music churnalists aren’t really afforded that luxury. We’ve got to go through the bullshit little hype-dance every time we notice our peers manufacturing buzz for whoever is next up in line for the 6-9 months of internet attention. I’m personally ok with that. As I wrote on here recently, “Do you need every song that you enjoy to be a song you’re going to like for the rest of your life? When you find ones that do it’s certainly a beautiful thing, but that eternity fallacy is harmful to our reception of culture.” I’m no less guilty than this blog game shell game than anyone else.
But whereas the hook of the Kitty Pryde marketability narrative presented itself to me immediately, even as a bonafide #old, I think the latest iteration of the arms race to the bottom of the youth culture well in 15-year-old Arizona rapper/producer/troll Glass Popcorn, may be a bridge too far for me to cross. Glass Popcorn’s branded internet space comes with too convoluted a collection of story beats to process. It’s Borges staring into the heart of the internet Aleph, and perceiving all things from all time overlapping at once. As Borges wrote:
At first I thought it was revolving; then I realised that this movement was an illusion created by the dizzying world it bounded. The Aleph’s diameter was probably little more than an inch, but all space was there, actual and undiminished. Each thing (a mirror’s face, let us say) was infinite things, since I distinctly saw it from every angle of the universe. I saw the teeming sea; I saw daybreak and nightfall; I saw the multitudes of America; I saw a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid; I saw a splintered labyrinth (it was London); I saw, close up, unending eyes watching themselves in me as in a mirror; I saw all the mirrors on earth and none of them reflected me….
I don’t think this Glass Popcorn mirror reflects me.
That’s where the insecurity about relevance forces most people around my age to hit the ejector button. To quote a musician I’m not even sure kids care about any more, even the sad ones, “it says nothing to me about my life.” But that’s precisely the point. In so doing it says everything to a younger generation about their lives.
I asked an actual young person, Anna Soldner from the web zine Render, where I first heard about Glass Popcorn, to translate ‘what it all means’ in young people terms.
“He’s whip smart. I am honestly blown away by this kid,” she said.
I can see that, actually. “Treat you like an animal. Anywhere people say that I Kant, like Immanuel”, he raps over a hard-stepping siren beat on “Always Been Glass,” although, if you’ll permit me a moment of back in the day dudeism here, it’s nothing we haven’t heard before from Das Racist.
“He’s really funny and consumes popular culture in unprecedented ways ,” Soldner explained further. “Glass is incredibly aware — self aware, culturally aware. It’s that whole tween hyper-masculine vibe that so many people find intriguing,” she said. “‘Kids these days…’”
That is kids these days in a nutshell, right? At least the internet savvy ones. Force-feeding a constant stream of immediately updated and instantly irrelevant culture into their tiny little content stomachs, mixing it with digestive bile, and pooping out a brown mess of waste product. Sometimes it’s solidly formed musical turds, other times it’s the type of mess that you have to take your shirt off for and pull up a #longread on your tablet to distract yourself from what’s going on.
#Hashtag rap and Tumblr-wave are already relics of the past. So what’s this then? Omnivore-core? Blockquote-step?
Mishka tried explaining it a while back, saying Glass Popcorn
is perhaps the most amazing artist I’ve come across for a while. Someone unconstrained by genre titles like Dubstep, Witch House, Mashup, Drag or electro. Someone who takes all these and creates something immense that borrows from each while pushing things forward with all the punk attitude of someone really great. 2011 Dubstep germinated in the desserts of the Southwest. A Witch House Bieber. It’s all good.
Whatever it is, that Heemsian quotation-style-quoting shows up again on Glass Popcorn’s newest track “Dubs Decides the Title of This Song.” The hyper self-awareness shows up in his explanations of his songs on his SoundCloud page as well.
SOME TRACKS FROM HERE&THERE. NO PARTICULAR ORDER, VARIANCE OF TIME/PERSONNEL/PRODUCTION QUALITY. SORRY FOR NWORD & PATRIARCHAL LANGUAGE, THIS PARADIGM SHIFT (GLASSPOPCORN 2013) IS LARGELY ABOUT NOTING THE MISTAKES OF THE PAST. I HAVE TO RELEASE THESE SONGS IN ORDER TO MOVE ON AND CREATE SOMETHING MORE VALUABLE. I HOPE U CAN ENJOY THEM 4 WHAT THEY ARE
“As far as self-awareness, I think that’s a term used to denote a certain rhetoric used by artists and I don’t think it’s a useful classification,” Glass Popcorn, whose real name is Will Neibergall, explained to me on break from class in the middle of the school day.
Isn’t it weird that a music writer in his 30s is spending so much time trying to figure out what his music ‘means’?
“I don’t think it’s weird, just uncommon,” he said. “And I wish it didn’t take most people until their 30s to begin paying cultural artifacts the attention they (in a way) demand, for better or for worse. I don’t think people my age and older are ready to examine content as artistically valid on the basis of awareness or intent. It’s what tends to separate people like Ke$ha from people like Marina Abramovic.”
That’s one thing that separates them, indeed.
So is the everything-all-at-once summation of what he’s doing accurate, then, I asked? “Upon first glance it seemed accurate. I also think a huge part of what people like me do is based on ego, and weaving some caricature of a particular kind of artist and using it as a facade to sell a brand.”
It seems to be working. Glass Popcorn’s brand, as the story goes, was pushed forward by Ryder Ripps when he found him talking shit in a dump.fm chat room. Rips, who I’m pretending to have heard of before ten minutes ago, befriended him, and flew the “Art world Justin Bieber” out to New York City to perform at MOMA PS1 last year, pushing him further into the internet’s consciousness.
The art world crossover makes sense, of course, because internet rap is by necessity a sort of put-on, a commentary on rap using the language of rap to explore the boundaries of this that and the other thing. Anyway: art talk.
“I’m heavily inspired by Judith Butler’s writing about the danger of exclusion from our frames of reference,” he said, which is probably the first post-structural shout out I’ve heard in the rap game in a minute. “It’s written in such general terms and I love the idea of applying it to the way we consume art and culture, equality and inclusion is what art especially needs given the prominence of the net.”
Or, as he told Art Info at the time of his MOMA show: “We like to keep in mind the importance of keeping my music relevant and silly.” He said he’s inspired by “the sillier aspects of the cultural and counter-cultural ideas that members of my generation form and subscribe to, as well as my generation’s incredible involvement with the Internet and social media…I’m inspired by my ability to observe things about my generation that my peers don’t.”
That’s the job of an artist, right? To observe things that your peers don’t. Also of a music writer, I suppose. Or to observe things that your peers have already dismissed, but to offer an explanation why they were wrong in doing so. I’m not saying that this is great, or that anyone will care about this song, or this meme, for more than the next couple months, but I’m saying that it exists, all of it, all at once. Stare into it. Everything you need to know about your irrelevance is in there.