Unbeliever: Why beloved band Vampire Weekend doesn’t click with me
It all began with this brief profile in Paste Magazine. That’s when I figured they weren’t for me. Paste writer Rachael Maddux called them “polite punk.”
Even as a pre-teen, I knew I didn’t want politeness in my punk. Being polite wasn’t cool and that’s all I wanted back then. Why else would I be reading Paste in the first place?1
I was 12 years old and experimenting with hipsterdom. Of the few things I had learned about being a hipster, I knew it was cooler to not like something than to like something. That same issue of Paste was their “Best of 2007” issue.2 I was already committed to liking a good deal of the bands on that Best Of list (Wilco, The National, LCD Soundsystem, etc.), so I needed a band to actively dislike. The band that faced my wrath was the polite punkers of Vampire Weekend. They just weren’t cool enough for me.
That was over six years ago. The term hipster is dead and I’m not in middle school anymore. Ezra Koenig & Co. have released two more albums to even greater critical acclaim than their eponymous debut, with many sources calling their most recent release, Modern Vampires of the City, the best album of 2013.3 The band that I thought wasn’t cool enough for me was cool enough for everyone else, and while they haven’t received the massive crossover success that Arcade Fire has, they are still one of the biggest bands going at the moment. I did not expect this six years ago–I was too busy listening to Dan Deacon and sulking about how much seventh grade sucks to realize that the boys at Vampire Weekend were extremely talented individuals. I can now concede that my 12-year-old self was wrong. But I still just don’t get Vampire Weekend.
Usually this wouldn’t be a big issue. I would just summarize my dislike or indifference to a band by offering the easy answer of “it’s not for me.” And I used to think that about Vampire Weekend. Up until late 2013, I thought Vampire Weekend was a band exclusively for white people. I, as a non-white, could make sense of this. However, as I inspected their official Facebook page, some of my friends who are fans of Vampire Weekend on Facebook aren’t white.4 So I realized I couldn’t take the easy way out and blame this on Ezra Koenig’s presumed racism. With no answers at this point, my only option was to obsess over them. From Vampire Weekend to Contra to Modern Vampires of the City, I listened to every second of every record until I found within myself a definitive answer as to why the band all my friends loved doesn’t click with me.
It took me a while. It took seven listens of Vampire Weekend, two of Contra, and five of Modern Vampires of the City until I found the answer I needed nearly six years to figure out: There is just no real way for me to relate to their music.
The cultural perspectives Koenig writes from are so vastly different from my own that it is difficult for the band’s repertoire as a whole to resonate with me the way it does with many of my friends. Koenig should not be at fault here, he is simply writing from an intensely personal viewpoint that is exceedingly different from the one I live.5 He’s a Jewish boy from Northern New Jersey with a doctor dad and a mom in film and tv production. How could he be expected to fully relate to a kid like me? He can captivate me with themes of heartbreak and mortality that are prevalent in Modern Vampires of the City, but when he sings about the need to get out of Cape Cod, it goes over my head.6
When I listen to a song like “Oxford Comma,” it’s hard not to think about how foolish I was as a seventh grader. It’s an exceptional song that I wrote off immediately because of a vague prejudice I had. It was silly like most things seventh graders do. Yet despite my acceptance of this, I still can’t bring myself to say I like Vampire Weekend. I like some of their songs. Most of the songs I like are on Vampire Weekend, but I don’t really like any of the songs on Contra. Maybe one day, Ezra Koenig will write a record that transcends our upbringings. Until then, most of it will just go over my head. I will just tell myself it’s not for me while everyone I know sings along to “Diane Young.”