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Music

The track that Dave Grohl confesses is a guilty pleasure and why it shouldn’t be

The phrase guilty pleasure is one that should, by rights, stick in your craw when it comes to the arts. Unless it is some profane obscenity that should never have been published in the first place, then the chances are you have nothing whatsoever to feel guilty about. Dave Grohl, however, well, really does. 

His logic when it comes to the commerce of art, on the other hand, is sound. You see, to be ‘cool’ is often uncredited by critics. Some people see it as too closely linked to poseur pretence and a drawback from actual artistry to champion as a feat beyond fashion. However, that undermines the fact that in the glossy eyes of youth we are enamoured by swagger and as we get older, we lose sight of the fact that being cool requires a finger to the pulse of the times, a sense of individualism and a display of sincerity that oozes charisma and attractiveness. 

Robert Johnson was cool, and he just about invented rock ‘n’ roll. Hell, even someone like Mikhail Bulgakov could be considered fit for the phrase, so it has little to do with facile smoke and mirrors. All that being said, there is a flipside whereby the artifice of trying to be cool (as opposed to being cool) eats into the face of society and the truly uncool notion of gatekeeping creeps in and sets cliched standards—not liking bands once they’ve had a big hit, upholding inane contrarian opinions, or bashing the same perfectly fine song as everyone else (ie bashing the perfectly well-written ways of ‘Wonderwall’). 

This can even creep into the way a band thinks when moving forward, as Dave Grohl explained when discussing the notion of forced rock ‘n’ roll expectations: “Now you’re a top 40 band and you’ve sold millions of records, how do you deal with that? A lot of people feel this sense of guilt or shame.” And a lot of fans oddly confuse commerciality with being middle of the road, as though true art and success should never coincide unless it’s the 1960s. 

As Grohl continues: “It’s like, ‘Oh no, I’m too popular’ or ‘Oh no, we’ve sold too many records’. I didn’t want the world to know about this little secret. You can either see it as a blessing or a celebration or you can see it as some sort of curse. There is this weird guilt and shame in that, and I think it’s really dangerous. When you were young on your bedroom floor there was no guilt then.”

All of that is very much on the money, but then, off the back of that logic, he tried to sneak through a confession that even a priest would turf you out of the booth for, which I shall reveal with more than a hint of irony: Grohl is a self-professed, and unashamed fan of PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’.

Speaking about the 2012 single that oddly changed the world and impacted music in such a way that now stars are being told that they can’t release their new single unless they try to somehow make it trend on TikTok, Grohl confessed: “I remember when ‘Gangnam Style’ came out. I wasn’t ashamed to say that’s my favourite song of the year.” Mine was probably Tame Impala’s ‘Feel Like We Only Go Backwards’ but each to their own. 

Shamefully adding: “I know I’m supposed to be this hardened punk rock, heavy metal dude, but ‘Gangnam Style’ is one of my favourite songs. I should be able to say that right? What’s wrong with that?” He asked rhetorically, even though many of you are surely rattling off reasons, continuing, “So, I don’t believe in the idea that guilt should be associated with the amount of people that listen to your music.”

The words of Rod Sterling are pertinent ones to lean on here in summation. The Twilight Zone creator once brilliantly mused: “I remember the quote. I didn’t understand it at the time. I fail to achieve any degree of understanding in the ensuing years, which are three in number. I presume Herb means that inherently you cannot be commercial and artistic. You cannot be commercial and quality. You cannot be commercial concurrent with having a preoccupation with the level of storytelling that you want to achieve. And this I have to reject. I don’t think calling something commercial tags it with a kind of an odious suggestion that it stinks, that it’s something raunchy to be ashamed of.”

Concluding: “I don’t think if you say commercial means to be publicly acceptable, what’s wrong with that? The essence of my argument… is that as long as you are not ashamed of anything you write if you’re a writer, as long as you’re not ashamed of anything you perform if you’re an actor… and I’m not ashamed of anything.” It’s a timeless notion that many artistic gatekeepers and contrarian hipsters who hoist themselves with the same contrived petard and end up on a bandwagon, all the same, could do with learning… even if ‘Gangnam Style’ sadly doesn’t apply. 

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