Dear Live 105 and Treasure Island: 'Hipster' Is Neither a Music Genre Nor a Term of Praise
I heard the voice booming through a store in downtown San Francisco on Saturday: Something about "hipster" bands too "hipster" to even mention on the radio. It was an ad on Live 105 advertising a giveaway for Treasure Island Music Festival tickets, and while the "Hipster Immersion Program" page is no longer on the station's website, there are still a few teasers on Facebook. "For two days [the winner] will be fully immersed in hipster culture [at Treasure Island]," one post promises. "Learn phrases like, 'I really only liked their first album.'"
Ha ha ha -- but seriously, Treasure Island and Live 105: This is a poor way to market your station and your festival. For one thing, the bands headlining Treasure Island this year -- bands like Beck and Atoms for Peace and Major Lazer -- are plainly not too hipster to mention on the radio. In fact, Live 105 has been playing Beck and Thom Yorke's other band for 20 years. And do you think the average Live 105 listener has heard of Diplo? Bet they have! They might have even heard of ... Animal Collective! Give your listeners some credit.
For Treasure Island, the negative consequences of this portrayal are obvious: The festival comes off as more niche-oriented and snooty than it is, potentially turning away people with a real but conditional interest in checking it out. And emphasizing the difference between the music Live 105 usually talks about and the cool-kid bands playing the festival this year only makes the radio station look old and far removed from the cutting edge of the music it supposedly represents. That Live 105 doesn't exist for Pitchfork-reading, Mission-dwelling twentysomethings is obvious -- but why treat that market segment as outsiders? Is the station's listener base really so old and suburban that indie kids look like aliens in comparison? (Let's also remember that many of those Treasure Island-bound, twenty- and thirty-somethings likely grew up listening to Nirvana, the Smashing Pumpkins, Beck, and Radiohead, all major ingredients of the Live 105 playlist today.)
The worst thing about this ad, though, was the treatment of the word "hipster" as if it's a genre, or a style of music, which it really, truly isn't. It's not a subculture, either. For better or worse, "hipster" has become just a lazy epithet, a vague term with almost entirely negative connotations. Heard out in the real world, this ad painted fans of Treasure Island with an awfully broad (and critical) brush: You stinking hipsters and that weird music you like. It made going to the festival sound about as attractive as joining a tribe of feces-eating monkeys. And then, to realize that several of those supposed "hipster" bands are the same artists Live 105 has been playing for decades? It's not the kind of thing that gets you dialing in, hoping to be caller 10.