The Great White Hypes
Who are the White Stripes? From the first day I heard of this band, they have been enormously popular, but I still don't 'get it', whatever 'it' is about them that makes them so go-juice that everybody's falling over themselves to give them their highest honors. Well, actually, that's a lie -- I do know why they are popular, but I don't think it has anything to do with their music. There are four potential reasons I can think of as to why they might be so successful, order by least-to-most likelihood of probability:
1. Jack White's superstar status as a former member of The Wildbunch.
The Wild-what? Who? While the Wildbunch are somewhat popular in the States themselves right now, their hit single "Danger (High Voltage)" was cut long before fans in America had even started listening to it -- after the White Stripes were already popular. It's likely that any current listening the Wildbunch albums are getting is due to Jack White being in the lineup. I really doubt the Wildbunch have anything to do with the White Stripes' popularity.
2. The talent of two musicians creating such sweet, diverse, original music.
The first time I heard them, they struck me as sounding exactly like the Pixies but with less coherance or even cognizance, and far more annoying. The White Stripes are nowhere near as interesting, entertaining, talented, diverse, or original as The Pixies. I'm sorry, but I'm already too big of a fan of The Pixies, which means that bands that sound like them will always strike me as 'copying'. That's just how is goes in the world of music fandom. Other songs by them remind me of The Strokes. That's really too bad for them, the White Stripes and the Strokes. That there are two members is noteworthy, but hey, look at me, I'm just one member, let's go. Bang, wham, wail. Right.
3. The name "The White Stripes" is perfectly timed with the rebirth of wartime National Socialism, in the United States of America.
In fact, when I heard the name, I wondered "what kind of Carpenters-meets-Korn style hack is this going to be, and how much are they being paid by the Justice Department?" Actually, I figured that the zombie of Jim Morrison has been revived by pumping pure money into its veins and telling him that a war was on and we wanted to know if he'd write a song about the militarized monitoring of poppy plantation production in Afghanistan, and that any moment he would decay all over the stage and sing "This is the End" backwards with Neil Young spinning trance on backup. The importance of advertising isn't lost on any capitalist, and the importance of marketing isn't lost on any manager of talent. Nothing, however, beats having the right name. Hippies loved Jesus, Jesus was a carpenter, hence hippies loved The Carpenters moreso than they ought have. The name is a key ingredient of hype and the White Stripes have the rightest possible name for this time. They could be a couple of african-american old guys in a beret and a fez snapping their fingers and talking, not rhyming, over the sounds of a plucked cello and the noise of an Amsterdam coffee house and they would sell right now if they just called themselves "The White Stripes". If one of them started wailing like he'd skipped his meds, that would do wonders, too. If they came to America, they would be an instant hit albeit with a minority, which doesn't sell nearly as many albums as appealing to the White population in America, and I don't mean the family name.
4. Hype will feed itself.
Nobody was listening to the white stripes and then one day they were on Saturday Night Live. That whole week, nobody stopped talking about them. It was rather sudden, and suddenly the next day all of the radio stations had their new album. A few weeks later Rolling Stone gave them their highest mark of five stars, an honor that was at one time reserved for landmark albums, and then Conan O'Brien booked them for a solid week on his show, evidently making late-night hosting history. Give me a break, can we yet say 'protracted'? Timed release of materials to coincide with appearances is necessary to maintaining popularity, that monster that feeds on hype. That's why bands appear on shows at the same time they release new albums. A magazine giving high marks to hyped albums is a sure way to add to the hype of the band, which will add to the popularity of the band, which will -- to minds not paying attention to chronology of events -- seem to maintain the integrity of the magazine.
My answer to the White Stripes is to request more playtime for music by The Pixies. While this usually requires an 'underground' station to call into, that just makes it more worthwhile.