THE REJECTION-VIA-APPROPRIATION WILL-TO-POWER IRONY CHAIN (HELPFUL VISUAL HERE)
0. Prior to 1990, rock music was a mostly awesome enterprise.*
1. Around 1990 a group of bands mostly from Seattle rejected the idea that rock music could be awesome. They appropriated “traditional” ideas of awesomeness into their music/vibes in order to reject them. This led to the disaffected scene that contemporary music criticism tells you to worship on a daily basis.
2. Disaffection became such a thing that it started to be treated as its own kind of awesomeness – it became “cool.” This was antithetical to the independent spirit of ’90s rock, and disaffection was rejected in favor of deliberate “uncoolness.” It wasn’t enough to show how little you cared – you had to reject the very possibility of caring and revel in how uncool you were. This is the height of the Golden Age of Irony.
3. In 1994 Weezer put out the “Blue Album” and crushed yr pretty idea of deliberate uncoolness to a thousand pieces. Rivers Cuomo and friends were so uncool that they actually thought being cool was irrelevant. They were fully aware of how uncool it was to make awesome rock music, but they were so enthusiastic about that uncool awesomeness that they bypassed the coolness of their uncoolness and brought rock music back to its pre-1990 levels of awesomeness. This is the birth of post-irony – awesomeness that is fully aware of how ridiculous the idea of awesomeness is but still thinks it’s awesome anyway.** This is what makes the “Blue Album” the most genuinely awesome album of all time.
4. Weezer came to define the spirit of post-Nirvana American rock music. Disaffection was replaced by unabashed enthusiasm. Without the “Blue Album,” emo and pop punk would never have achieved mainstream success. Oasis would never have made it in America. Elliott Smith, Ryan Adams, and Conor Oberst would never have happened. The mid-to-late ’90s were a happy, brightly colored time. Then 9/11 happened and it all went to hell. Paranoia got trendy, alienation became a thing, and everyone got really into hip hop. Radiohead became the best band in the world. Awesomeness died and Weezer turned into the antithesis of cool. This bleak period lasted for a few years until some crazy innovator in Brooklyn went to the Goodwill and bought a wolf t-shirt. This gave birth to 2nd-Wave Irony – the self-aware awesomeness of the ’90s appropriated into 2000s nihilism in order to further reject the idea of self-aware awesomeness.
5. 2nd-Wave Irony annoyed a lot of people because it was nihilistic, douchey, and not very clever. It also reinvigorated interest in the awesomeness it attempted to reject. This led to the anti-irony backlash: you couldn’t reject the awesomeness you appropriated anymore – you had to appreciate it. This created a string of late ’00s, early ’10s bands that enthusiastically attempted to revive the spirit of post-ironic awesomeness in active rejection of the spirit of anti-awesome ironic post-ironic appropriation. The emo revival is the most distressing example of this trend.
6. The absurdity of post-ironic post-irony led to the ultra-nihilistic rejection that currently defines the spirits of Northeast Los Angeles, Northwest Brooklyn, and various other internet-based neighborhoods throughout the country. This is the 3rd Wave of Irony (ultra-irony) and it rejects the possibility of appreciating anything that has ever been unappreciated. It’s current form is #normcore, a style movement that rejects the celebratory ’90s gaudiness endorsed by post-ironic post-irony and replaces it with the ugliest, least flattering elements of ’90s fashion.
7. Re-enter Weezer. “Back To The Shack” was widely maligned by the ultra-ironic camp for the inclusion of the very post-ironic post-ironic line “rocking out like it’s ’94.” Weezer kick in the door more hardcore-d this idea by putting out “Everything Will Be Alright In The End,” a record that recaptures the awesomeness of post-ironic awesomeness despite its full awareness of how ridiculous the idea of post-ironic awesomeness is. It is, effectively, a post-ultra-ironic album, and it is the most awesome rock record of the past 20 years.
We are living in a time of great and extraordinary awesomeness potential. In 1994, Weezer could rock out about how they wanted to play on the moon, but they could never have actually played there. They existed within an ironic structure that never would have allowed for that level of ridiculousness. But now, in the triple-re-enforced structure of ultra-irony, where anything can and will be destroyed by hateful appropriation, playing on the moon becomes not only a possibility, but a necessity. Nothing is ridiculous anymore – even the most ridiculous ridiculousness can be appropriated into irony. The incredible opposite side of this is that – given the right attitude – it allows for the possibility of ridiculously ridiculous awesomeness. And if you give yrself over to that, its ridiculously ridiculously awesome. So when I see Weezer rocking out on the moon, I don’t even question it. Weezer want to be/think they are/actually are this awesome. People will try to ironize this and they will fail. This is the pure spirit of awesomeness. This is =AWESOME=.
* “November Rain” came out in 1992. But for all intents and purposes, it came out in 1989.
** To illustrate the difference between Nirvana-style irony and Weezer-style post-irony, compare and contrast the videos for “In Bloom” and “Buddy Holly.” Nirvana hates Ed Sullivan – Weezer loves “Happy Days.”
Zoe Williams wrote a piece on irony in 2003. It nicely portrays what people thought irony was after 9/11 and before cat videos.
COS wrote a pretty good review of “EWBAITE.”
Grantland wrote a moving tribute to the “Blue Album” on its 20th birthday.
Wikipedia also wrote an article on post-irony.