There’s a powerful school of thought that holds that coolness can’t and shouldn’t be quantified. It just is. But another, equally powerful school of thought maintains that navel-gazing infographics are ceaselessly entertaining. Today we side with the latter.
So, about this data the team at Priceonomics put together, the so-called “Hipster Music Index” (see graph above): in a bid to quantify the unquantifiable, they came up with a rubric that essentially matches up a band’s Pitchfork rating with the number of Facebook shares the review received. Here’s their explanation:
By our criteria, the further below the line a blue dot is, the more hipster the band. (It’s high quality but obscure.) Dots above the line represent more mainstream (not hipster) bands.
The model appears adept at separating critically acclaimed but mainstream bands (Arcade Fire, The National, et al) from the critically acclaimed but obscure (Fuck Buttons, Sun Kil Moon, et al). We gave Sun Kil Moon’s last album a listen, and not only was it excellent, but it was filled with depressing lines like “Carissa was thirty-five, you don’t just raise two kids and take out your trash and die,” which make it unlikely it will ever become a mainstream hit!”
Of course, this is all predicated on the longstanding cliche that “obscurity” is the top priority of the hip. One could easily argue the opposite, that the “you’ve never heard of it” cultural moment has long since passed and that performative “hipster”-dom is more bandwagon-oriented. But one could also spend one’s precious time alive on this earth not thinking about this issue at all!
In any case, their system genuinely seems to work; Vampire Weekend, right at the nexus of massive mainstream popularity and an impressive retention of indie cred? The National’s status as pretty-ok but widely beloved? Everyone from all corners of the culture bathing Kanye West in adulation? Yes, this all sounds about right. See the full charts below, and judge yourselves and others accordingly (or, y’know, find some music that’ll make you happy):
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.