A serious peril faces the American citizen, one I’d never noticed so plainly until I drunkenly slumped into the confines of my couch and flipped on the television one fateful night. I’d had a beer or two or seven that evening, which always serves to heighten my already scornful attitude towards the state of modern television, but tonight something felt more…sinister.
The cheery attitude of whichever nondescript blonde girl that’s currently the On Demand menu highlights always reeks of insincerity, but on this night her tone took on a certain quality usually reserved for movie villains struggling not to reveal their plot to some captured protagonist. It was immediately obvious to me that something nefarious was rumbling deep in the belly of the Comcast corporation, and this reporter knew it firsthand. She couldn’t keep a certain quaver out of her voice. I was nearing a state of pity for the girl, she was after all simply a victim of her circumstances, when she uttered two fateful words I can never forget:
Suddenly, I was filled with a violent disgust for this reporter; she had conclusively proven to me that not only had she not only witnessed the beginning of a world in which watching television for hours on end was encouraged, but she had actively chosen to further this effort to best of her abilities. I had mistaken this woman for a victim of her circumstances, when in reality, she was simply the face of a movement in which we’ve all taken part. In the recent past, humans tentatively traded tales of a dystopian future ruled by screens, in which mind control or some other whimsical use of force kept the public glued to their tubes. Of course, this was not the mechanism through which that future came. It came instead under the guise of the trend, ‘binging’. It came through the veins of social media, on the heels of the internet. It came in the form of hashtags.
It’s enough to make any man sick, and I could feel the footings of fury building in my veins, when suddenly I was struck with a rather disturbing idea: television is not the only medium in which binging is encouraged. Perhaps as a result of the increased access to media the internet brought along, binging has infiltrated just about every medium available, including music. Yes, readers, even my beloved medium, the art form I’ve championed for years, is infected by binging.
This phenomena seems to manifest itself more strongly in certain acts than others, a curiosity which served as the impetus to write this article. We’ll explore which bands are most prone to binging, and perhaps even attempt to explain the reasoning behind the perverse behavior.
So without further ado, the four acts that most lend themselves to binging.
4. Cloud Nothings
Formed in Cleveland back in 2009, the three-piece Cloud Nothings plays a straightforward rock sound rarely seen in today’s music industry. At surface level, the uncomplicated nature of their tunes may explain the tendency for fans to listen to Cloud Nothings for hours on end. While this superficial analysis is enough to satisfy the masses, I refuse to allow readers to stop their thinking there. Together we can dig deeper.
Now, there’s likely a number of reasons why Cloud Nothings pique the interest of the binging instinct lurking inside our brains. Perhaps it does have something to do with the almost minimalistic nature of their tunes; after all, a well-written yet simple melody tends to hold a certain sway over the brain, often in the form of the infernal earworm. However, the scene is littered with simple musicians writing simple tunes, none of whom have that certain jena se qua that so distinguishes Cloud Nothings.
But to what can we attribute that certain swagger the group holds? How is it that, even in the earlier years when frontman Dylan Baldi’s voice wasn’t quite as developed to a professional level, the group managed to cultivate a loyal following?
For me, whatever this unnamed characteristic is, it’s without a doubt the reasoning behind the tendency for myself and others to binge listen Cloud Nothings. I suspect most of you readers aren’t exposed to much literary material in which the author cannot express his opinion on the subject matter, and yet it is for precisely that reason fans continue to explore their music. There’s an intangible, indescribable magnetism to all of their releases (particularly Attack on Memory) that feels just barely out of reach, no matter how familiar one becomes with their music.
Imagine speaking with a friend, and attempting to express a profound idea, only to find your words tied up at the tip of your tongue. It’s certainly frustrating, but the idea you wish to convey is essential, and for that reason you’ll attempt again and again to express this idea. It can even become addicting. It’s this same phenomena, the recognition of something special but utter inability to actual define what that actually is, that draws fans to Cloud Nothings and keeps them listening for hours on end.
Whereas the inability to express what’s so attractive about Cloud Nothings is precisely what makes them attractive, our next entry, rapper Nas, falls entirely on the other side of that spectrum. The New Yorker draws fans and bingers with one clearly defined trait: his lyricism. Nas was one of the first rappers to really utilize the medium as a lens for examining the life of the American working class, particularly the early 90’s black community in New York City.
The man’s lyrics, especially during Illmatic and the next couple releases, tell poignant and emotionally stirring stories of the plight of the lower class. This approach to rap has become a popular subgenera, cultivating the likes of Atmosphere and Aesop Rock. However, even these legends don’t have the spunk Nas does. This is because Nas uses hip-hop to achieve an entirely unique purpose. His lyrics are pointed, prodding at the raw nerves of society, but done so in the same way comedians like Stephen Colbert operate. This allows Nas to spit socially conscious rhymes while still appealing to a mainstream, commercial audience.
This duality offers listeners the choice of a light-hearted or heavy-handed approach to his tunes. In a party scenario, Nas is a perfectly acceptable choice, and yet most of his tracks are equally faultless when one finds themselves alone, late at night, fathoming the complexities of being alive. Because of the mastery with which his lyrics were written, Nas has created a product whose use reflects the state of the listener.
This universal appeal across all scenarios definitely explains the bulk of the reasoning behind most fan’s Nas binges. It’s not surprising that an artist who can act as the soundtrack to any situation easily subjects himself to heavy listening. Of course, this isn’t the only reason that fans binge to Nas, but we’ll get into that with our next entry.
Much like Nas, grunge legends Nirvana find themselves subjected to binge listening purely for memory’s sake. Likely because of Cobain’s timely death, Nirvana fans tend to associate the band with a certain period of their lives, typically the early 90’s. Despite their massive popularity, the trio only released three albums, meaning fans have been limited to the same fifty or so tracks for the last twenty years. As one can imagine, the relative dearth of tunes adds to emotional value of each track; many fans have particular memories associated with specific tracks.
In the twisted realm of binging, emotions and memories are quite dangerous to toy with. It is a bizarre plight of humanity that events always seemed better looking back upon; this is referred to as the ‘rose-colored glasses’ effect in psychological circles. For years the debate has raged on why exactly this characteristic exists in nearly all humans, but one thing is certain: spending too much time in the past, no matter how pleasant the memories, can be addicting. Many minds find themselves consumed with the past, actively wishing the ability to relive long ago moments of glory.
For some people, listening to certain songs makes them feel ever so slightly closer to these moments; these individuals are the most at risk of binging for memory’s sake. Their insistence on listening to the same albums over and over comes directly from their addiction to mentally reliving the past.
It should be noted, by the way, that just about every older group is affected by this situation, including Nas. Nirvana was simply a particularly compelling example.
1. Fat Freddy’s Drop
Our final entry on this list has the distinct honor of being the most innocent of provoking binge listeners. The New Zealand reggae act, Fat Freddy’s Drop, simply makes remarkably intelligent music that sounds absolutely unlike any other act to have ever existed. Fans of Fat Freddy’s Drop binge listen, sure, but they have no other alternatives. There are no close substitutions for this band, but the music is so well-written, fans have no trouble listening to tracks again and again without tiring.
Much like the previous entry, Fat Freddy’s Drop isn’t the only act to receive this treatment, but simply an example that readily jumped to the mind of your humble author. Every music fan has been guilty of this type of binge listening, simply out of necessity. Imagine the vast realm of music as a wild, untamed forest, entirely impassable to humans. When one first begins to develop their musical tastes, he or she finds themselves in the large clearing, the only clearing in the forest.
Each time you take interest in a new band, that group removes a few feet of the woodland, just enough to take one step into the woods. Then, another band comes along that’s in the same vein as the first band, and they too help to blaze another couple of feet into the wilderness. This process repeats with every new act that influences a listener. You may have various routes from which to leave the clearing, but once you’ve followed any particular path for long enough, you’ll reach a point where there is no next band, or at least not one that yet exists.
At this point, you’ve reached the ‘state of the art’. There is nowhere to progress from here. So you must wait, listening over and over to that last step you took, patiently biding your time until the next comes along. This behavior appears to the untrained eye as binge listening, and is the exact scenario fans of Fat Freddy’s Drop have found themselves in for almost a decade.
If the recent state of events is any indication, binge listening and watching won’t go away any time soon, which is why I urge the reader to consider the reasoning behind their pursuit of this particular vice. While there are no doubt worse threats to today’s world, the uninformed binge is still a peril that at the very least leads to a massive waste of time.
While consuming your favorite acts or television shows in large quantities has its appeal, the intelligent members of society know to at least question why they act as such. I can only hope that my readers can live a life with that same level of inquisition.