There have always been hipsters.
In late 18th century France, the Incroyables and Merveilleuses scandalised Paris with their outrageous fashions, wearing extreme exaggerated costume-like dress. Some even donned ‘ironic’ bicorne hats, as worn by the military. They really were unbearably pretentious.
So even though we think of the hipster as a relatively modern phenomenon, that may just be because our use of that word to describe a particular constantly-existing group of people has only been going on for a few years. (And don’t forget that the word ‘hipster’ itself is originally a 1940s term for certain jazz musicians – and not necessarily a derogatory term).
Back in 2005, Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris were satirising this group of people, and the London media sub-culture they occupied, in their sitcom Nathan Barley. Lacking the term ‘hipster’ in the vocabulary of their time, they instead went simply with ‘idiots’, producing what might be the greatest prophecy since the Book of Isaiah.
(Predicting ‘hand-held twit machines’ a full year before Twitter was created still blows my mind).
And there’s another, more timeless, term often used to regard this group of ‘self-regarding consumer slaves’. Quite simply: dickheads. And nothing summed this group up better than 2010’s ‘The Dickhead Song’.
This came out at that perfect time during university when everyone was just starting to get laptops, and viral youtube videos were just becoming a thing, and that weird mix of synth-poppy songs with crudely-done animations was just getting overdone. (Remember rathergood.com? It’s still going!)
The song itself is a pretty decent inventory of the main complaints against hipsters. So, eight years on (sorry I wasn’t waiting two more years to do some bloody anniversary thing), let’s see how it’s aged. And see how well I – a 28 year old man living in North London – fit the dickhead bill.
Got on the train from Cambridgeshire
Moved down to an East London flat
Was this a big complaint at the time? People from Cambridgeshire specifically? I feel today that hipsters come from all over the place. And they’re not living in East London anymore. SOUTH is the place to be. Looking at you, New Cross and Deptford.
Me? I technically got on the train from Cambridge and moved down to a North-East London flat. So about 90% of the words in the opening lines apply. Not a good start.
Got a moustache and a low cut vest
I feel this went out of date pretty quickly. Beards overcame moustaches pretty fast. And low cut vests? Nope.
Me? I’m growing a moustache literally right now. Please donate.
Some purple leggings
and a sailor tat
Both outdated too. Though presumably the people who got the sailor tattoos still have them?
I dug through some old photos to see what I could find for myself, and I came across this. It’s extremely bad, but I still maintain I was doing it ironically.
Just one gear on my fixie bike
Yeah, fixies are still a thing. But I feel that everyone has a bike now and it’s not so much a hipster thing. Maybe the extreme no-brakes, high-seat, DIY pedal kind of things you see are still a hipster thing. The jury is out.
Me? My fixie bike got stolen. It was too pure for this world.
got a plus one here for my gig tonight
I don’t agree with this. Being a musician doesn’t make you a hipster, or a dickhead. I guess flexing about having ‘plus ones’ and stuff is, but that falls into the wider category of twattish behaviour.
Me? I don’t play gigs.
I play synth…
We all play synth
Synths are out, I feel. There’s probably some new kind of hipster instrument that I haven’t even heard of yet instead. And it seems all the cool kids are ‘soundcloud DJs’ today anyway, whatever one of those is.
Me? I’m happy with an acoustic guitar.
20-20 vision just a pair of empty frames
Are empty frames still a thing? Were they ever? I feel these days, glasses are still ‘geek chic’ cool, but it’s almost cooler to actually need them for vision. Like it implies you’re bookish and books are cool now, I think?
Me? I actually need mine for vision because I’m bookish.
Dressing like a nerd although i never got the grades
See above. Probably cooler to just be smart now.
Me? I have a degree in philosophy. The dressing like a nerd is unintentional.
I remember when the kids at school would call me names
Now were taking over their estates
Yeah, there’s a good point here about gentrification – which is still happening and is still very much bad. The fetishisation of deprived areas as trendy is insensitive to their resident populations and drives out lower-income families when new, wealthier people move in.
Me? I’m probably guilty of it. I live in Stoke Newington, which isn’t a materially impoverished neighbourhood by any means, but I do feel guilty walking past several local greengrocers to pick up my overpriced organic veg at the Whole Foods.
Polaroid app on my iphone
taking pictures on London Fields
up on the blog so everyone knows
were having new age fun, with a vintage feel
I can’t believe Instagram didn’t exist when this song came out. But it just about didn’t. (The song was uploaded to YouTube on September 28th, 2010 – the initial Instagram release was October 6th, 2010). Of course, other polaroid-style apps have existed for as long as smart phones have had cameras. But for some reason I just assume that Instagram has always existed. Like Instagram came first, then light and darkness, then the earth and the heavens, and the sea and the skies, and then plants and animals, and then finally humans. Instagram is eternal, we just logged into it.
But yeah, Instagram is ubiquitous now. Your primary school probably has an Instagram account. So it’s not even cool now. It just is.
Me? I tried to see if I’d taken a picture of London Fields because that would be perfect. I couldn’t find one, but I did come across one I took of Greenwich Park, which is just as cliché. Also LOL at the caption I picked for it.
coolest kids at a warehouse rave
exclusive list look theres my name
I got in…
You couldn’t get in
I might be wrong, but I don’t think warehouse raves are a thing anymore. It seems to be more like ‘poetry night downstairs at the pub’ or something. I don’t know – I’m not cool. I don’t get many Facebook invites these days for those weird club nights with like 100 DJs on that nobody’s ever heard of.
never bought a pack of fags i only roll my own
Yes, hipsters are still very much rolling their own.
Me? I don’t smoke.
plugging in my laptop at the starbucks down the road
Oh come on, EVERYONE does that. It used to really annoy me that people would set up shop in Starbucks all day and work. But now I’m the kind of person that would do that, I think it’s a very good thing.
Me? I think it’s a very good thing.
say i work in media im really on the dole
Hipsters still dominate media. They’re in your advertising agencies, they’re running the social media accounts for your favourite brands, they’re producing that TV show you really like. Sorry, you have a lot to thank them for.
Me? My job involves social media so guilty as charged I guess.
im the coolest guy you’ll ever know
Obviously this is me.
Loafers with no socks
Electropop meets southern hip hop
Indeterminate sexual preference
Something retro on my necklace
I feel these are very specific references I don’t quite get, and reflect more ephemeral aspects of hipsterness specific to the time. What might they look like today? Ripped jeans? Grime music? Gender fluidity? Each generation of hipsters will have something unique to cling onto.
Me? I tried to think about the most hipster thing I’ve ever done. It was either going to a Neutral Milk Hotel concert in Camden, or seeing a Wes Anderson movie in Shoreditch and going to a hipster fried chicken place afterwards.
And that’s it. That’s the whole song.
It’s stood up pretty well. It’s still describing a somewhat self-absorbed group of people. But we’ve established that these people will always exist. And since they by definition keep themselves to themselves, they’re nothing to worry about.
And me? Most of the things referenced in the song applied to me in one way or another. (Moving from Cambridge to North-East London in particular is a bit spooky). But I’m a product of these times as much as I am a participant in them. Being involved with culture is bound to leave some cultural residue.
But I’m always just doing it ironically, yeah?