La Roux, New Moo: Who Knew?

Chilling at the family cottage this summer. Traditions include hanging around on the dock, hanging around on the porch, and later, hanging around by the fireplace. And listening to the New Moo.

This Vermont-based radio station (WMOO 92.1), which brands itself as having the region’s best variety (invariably causing the distressing thought of what less variety would consist of), plays almost exclusively a kind of whitebread corporate pop. It plays a lot of Top 10 and a lot of present and past Idols, excluding almost all R&B and only allowing little hints of country – forget about hip-hop, on this station tunes like Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” and the Soup Dragons’ cover of the Stones’ “I’m Free” have the rap parts taken out – plus a lot of 90s one-hit wonders (New Radicals, anybody?), and seems to generally specialize in a kind of musical universe I wasn’t previously aware existed, one in which Hootie and the Blowfish and Matchbox 20 are the most important, influential bands (I wish I was joking or exaggerating, I really do).

This must sound horrible, and a great deal of the time it is. But we listen to it all the time anyway—I mean, there might be something good on Vermont NPR or the Lennoxville campus station, but then there might not, and then I’d have to spend many minutes cranking back the ancient radio to its optimal microcosmic sweet spot.

I have many great memories from years of the Moo (mostly involving ultra-cool indie-rockers admitting their secret love of James Blunt or the Goo Goo Dolls), along with some traumatic ones (joking that maybe one of the bland, generic tunes sung by thrice-diluted Alanis clones we kept hearing was the new Liz Phair song, and then finding out that it actually was).

So anyway, this weekend we’re listening away as usual, cringing through the crap and singing along with our guilty or shameless favourites, and all of a sudden on comes La Roux’s “Bulletproof.”

Somehow this disrupts my reality a little bit.

Not that I was disappointed to hear it – it’s a good tune. Or that it doesn’t fit in – it’s catchy and poppy, just like the parade of mainstream pop that surrounds it on the Moo.
But I’d been under the impression that La Roux was some kind of underground hipster phenomenon. Certainly, here in Montreal the only time I heard about La Roux was from hipsters.

(Although I am actually interested, on a strictly socio-demographic level, in the question of who or what constitutes a hipster, I will not address this here, except to submit that hipsters do exist, and furthermore there’s nothing wrong with being one. More on this later.)

Now, I am aware that we’re, at some level, past the era where the terms “underground” or “mainstream” have much meaning. The few remaining bands who worked their way up from the DIY scene to the corporate mediasphere, like REM or Green Day, are long in the tooth. Artists like MIA are doing pretty musically radical things in a mainstream context, and a lot of bands considered “indie” are way softer and sappier than anything on the New Moo.

But MIA doesn’t get played on the Moo… or MGMT, Bon Iver, Major Lazer, or whatever the cool kids are listening to these days. Hell, even something like Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” was too, well, crazy for the Moo. The Moo will play Norah Jones, but not Feist. It’s a corporate, mainstream operation through and through.

Conversely, the hipster crowd does not listen to Nickelback, Lady Antebellum, Rob Thomas, or Avril Lavigne (except when they’re at the cottage with us).

So what have I missed?

Is La Roux the true crossover artist of our time?

A reverse Lady Gaga, infiltrating the underground with mainstream notions?

(Some minimal research seems to indicate that, while they’re possibly an overnight sensation, they’re not a corporate creation but a legitimate indie-turned-mainstream act).

Or do I just not get out enough?

That reminds me of a brief Facebook craze where everyone was suddenly posting 20 facts about themselves, which invariably involved a lot of oversharing. From this phenomenon I learned that several people who I thought of as gregarious social butterflies actually suffered from acute and chronic social anxieties. I felt like reaching out and saying, “Hey, I found a great solution to that… just stop going out!” But then, as I’ve discovered, if you stop going out, you miss out on things.

Like how it is La Roux is being played on the New Moo.