Ryan Adams, Taylor Swift, and ‘Peak Poptimism’
For those who don’t obsessively peruse music blogs, “poptimism” is a strain of music criticism that celebrates top-40 pop music and the mega-stars that bring the hits to life. Music magazines, websites, and publications such as Pitchfork and SPIN rose to prominence through their celebration of punk, indie, underground rap, and other genres far from the mainstream, dissing the vapidity of chart-topping hits along the way. But over time, pop has overcome its stigma. “Poptimism” has thoroughly permeated the ends of the blogosphere, to the point that praise for the likes of Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Carly Rae Jepsen has become the modus operandi of most music criticism (see the links on each name for examples). The fact that Pitchfork bestowed its #1 song of 2013 to “Hold On, We’re Going Home” by Drake, perhaps today’s biggest pop juggernaut, would have been unheard of a few years ago. It’s no longer an embarrassing display of naiveté to love “Call Me Maybe” or “Teenage Dream” — it’s a sign that you’re an impartial judge.
With the release of Ryan Adams’s cover of Taylor Swift’s behemoth of an album, 1989, we have officially reached “peak poptimism.” We are now in a society where there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. If someone like Ryan Adams had covered a Kelly Clarkson album ten years ago, I guarantee it would have been a completely ironic exercise. The culture was just not one where the critically acclaimed underground mixed with the pop stars. But today, in an age where poptimism reigns supreme, Adams can talk about 1989 in an interview and say, with total honesty: “These songs are incredible. You break them down from what they are to this raw element, and they’re just super powerful and they can tear you up.”