“I’m ride or die.” “For Weezer?!”

Ok, so I want to start by clarifying that I am NOT ‘ride or die’ for Weezer, that title is a quote from the now infamous Weezer sketch from Saturday Night Live back in December 2018. I thought it worked as a title because it is sort of exemplifies the theme of my piece this week: exploring modern rock music fandom via Weezer. “Weezer?!”  Yes. Weezer.

Why Weezer? I mean, I just kicked this off saying that I’m not ‘ride or die’ for them. Well, I picked this band in particular because the recent hoopla around them is what generated some of my more abstract thinking on the nature of modern rock music fandom. I thought I’d just chronicle my freestyle thinking about it and see where it took me. So strap in for my uneducated, stream of conscious thoughts about Weezer and rock music fandom in 2019!

I am 30 years old and so I have no firsthand knowledge of Weezer prior to their 2000s era popularity. My personal journey with them is like that of every band that was getting rotation on the local rock stations in my area circa 2000-2007, I knew who they were and I more often than not liked their songs (“Beverly Hills” being overplayed might be the exception, I was over it by the third time I heard it in one day back in 2005; though let’s be real, we ALL know the lyrics and we ALL sing along when it comes on shuffle play, don’t front). Where Weezer deviates from the bands I was exposed to in my middle and high school years though, is that they are one of the few bands that are still around, dropping music, and being talked about by critics. In fact, Weezer is technically a ‘90s era band and so taking it back a bit further, to that decade, and comparing them to their peers from their 1994 debut, and I think maybe only Foo Fighters might still get some media attention?

Regardless if you want to compare them to rock bands from the ‘90s or 2000s, the point here is they have had an undeniable staying power. I mean, do you see SNL sketches mocking Green Day fans? No. Why? It’s certainly not because they and other bands of those eras don’t have fans. It’s because for whatever reason, everybody knows that Weezer seems to have one of the more ‘hardcore’ fan bases around.

Name me a more divisive band that rouses the passions of critics and fans alike whenever they put out a single, an album, a video, or whatever. You can’t, because as much as music outlets report on Dave Grohl or Billy Joe Armstrong or whoever*, and as much as you and lots of other people (myself included) might only casually care, for reasons I still can’t figure out, rarely do those stories have massive blowups and fights in the comments sections or garner lengthy responses about why the article is right or wrong. I mean, I deeply love the Foo Fighters, and I have definitely listened to more of their music than Weezer’s over the years, and while Dave and company do have their detractors and you do see them pop up from time to time, FF albums are usually met with joy from fans and indifference from literally everyone else. Weezer though? They not only get their fans riled up with excitement, but they fascinatingly get their ‘haters’ pumped up too.

I still remember when I first heard Weezer. It was circa 2001, when I was 13 and just starting to explore my own individual music tastes. I was raised on classic rock by my parents and my sister, being seven years older than me, gave me a leg up on some ‘90s music (namely Grunge and a few Pop and Hip Hop songs), but when I was in that early phase of trying to find my own music, I turned to the local modern rock station in my hometown (fun fact, it’s now morphed into a Top 40 hits only station, my how times change). “Hash Pipe” and “Island in the Sun” were heavily played during the day on that station, both songs were catchy and I really liked them. The station use to have a nightly ‘90s At 9’ format that was exactly what it said on the tin, they played ‘90s music at the 9pm hour. There I quickly discovered Weezer’s big ‘90s hits like “Buddy Holly”, “Undone –The Sweater Song”, “Say It Ain’t So”, and “Holiday” (upon reflection, that’s like nearly half of their debut album right there).

Long story short, I liked whatever Weezer songs that played on this radio station, but I didn’t like them enough to go out and buy a CD. I don’t know how many people remember this weird pre-digital era of music consumption, but CDs were expensive and I was a poor kid, so I had to be selective about which CDs to beg my cash strapped parents for. (As an aside: THANK GOD for CD burners and Limewire, because that was eventually how I was able to hear tons of great music –via friends and the ‘wild west’ of the internet. Those were the days…) I didn’t pay attention to Weezer like I did Green Day or Foo Fighters, but I was vaguely aware that already they had an odd fanbase that seemed to keep arguing over if their ‘90s era songs were better or worse than their current ones. The local DJs would wax poetic about this from time to time and while I never fully understood it (because of my lack of motivation and means to dig deeper), I was intrigued enough to file this knowledge in the back of my head.

Fast forward to 2005, and no matter where you’re coming from on this topic (old school ‘90s fan or newly recruited ‘00s fan), THIS is undoubtedly when Weezer peaked in pop culture: “Beverly Hills”. Exploring the decline of the ‘Rock genre’ in general and all that entails is worthy of more space than this column can provide, but the reality is that Rock, or Rock and Roll, has been on a steady decline in regards to pop music and pop culture for decades. So as a fan of the genre, to hear a rock song, any rock song, regardless of my individual opinion on the quality, is always a huge deal. “Beverly Hills” in 2005 was no exception. If you were living under a rock and didn’t know who Weezer was by that point, than if you were alive and listening to music that year, you were forced into knowing. To date it’s still their highest charting single and in the top 5 of their most streamed songs on Spotify.

(For the record, I actually like the song just fine, but like The Beatles “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, it’s not something I need to hear more than once every few years. [Though I love The Beatles and rarely skip their songs on replay, so that might not be a great comparison, but the point is, both of these songs are what I would dub “insidiously catchy” because they are sinister ear worms that have the potential of driving you insane if you are overexposed to them.])

Forging ahead, I think it’s fair to say that for all the people who were sick of “Beverly Hills”, it probably also gained the band a new set of fans. Because it was in this time frame that I really began to pick up on the polarizing effect they seemed to have on their fan base. As ignorant as a statement as this is going to be, I have to confess that this is the first time I ever heard people talk about their supposedly ‘best album’ Pinkerton. (Remember, I had never deep dived into their music and was only blissfully aware of their radio hits, so I had no clue about their actual albums.) I definitely remember one late night DJ rant from the local rock station that declared emphatically that Weezer only had two good albums, and that they had peaked way back in 1996 -which given that I still cranked it up whenever “Hash Pipe” came on, sort of surprised me, but to each their own I guess.

Again, not being a huge fangirl by any stretch of the imagination, I remember ending last decade still not caring enough to actually listen to their albums, but absolutely loving their song “Pork and Beans” (and adoring the video –I mean, go rewatch it, it’s literally a ‘greatest hits’ parody of all the early viral videos of Internet 2.0). To summarize, by 2009 I really liked Weezer, I found Rivers Cuomo hilarious whenever I saw or read an interview with him, and I would have one hundred percent agreed that they had multiple, fun, radio friendly songs that I was more than happy to sing along with when the opportunity arose.

My most important Weezer moment though is when I got to see them play at the first annual Pilgrimage Music & Culture Festival back in 2015. The opportunity to see them live was definitely one of the reasons I was eager to go to Pilgrimage that year. It helped that Weezer had a new album out and a single that I really enjoyed, “Back to the Shack”, which just solidified to me that this was a band that didn’t know how to quit. They put on a fantastic, fun show and I’ll never forget it because it started pouring down rain halfway through (a kind, fellow festival goer lent me and Taryn an extra umbrella for the duration of the set), but they soldiered on, weather be damned. Sure, they were obligated to keep playing unless the festival shut it down for lightning or something, but they seemed to be actually having fun playing in the rain and not at all upset by the elements. It really solidified in my mind, that this was a fun, talented band, and that these guys actually enjoyed what they were doing. Looking back on the setlist, they leaned heavily on material from their first album, but they played their old and new songs with equal commitment and not once did I think (as I have on occasion with more than one other artist I’ve seen live) “they’re phoning this in for the fans and would prefer to be playing anything else”, they played “Go Away” with as much gusto as “Buddy Holly”.

This now brings me to the current day and I guess to part of the point of this piece (sorry it took us so long to get here, props to you if you’ve made it this far): why all the hate?! Between seeing them live in 2015 and today, I eventually realized that they truly illicit some strong reactions whenever the topic of Weezer comes up. I vaguely heard some grumbles the next day at Pilgrimage all those years ago about how “they haven’t had a good album since Pinkerton”, but overall they seemed to have been well received by the festival goers that year (I think there was more talk about the rain than anything else). Since I saw them live, they’ve put out four albums and more than one radio friendly single that I love (“Happy Hour” really sticks out for me because it hilariously references Monty Python and because who doesn’t get off work feeling all kinds stress and that desperate need to unwind? We ALL need a ‘happy hour’ ya’ll.)

They’re on all our radars right now because last year, thanks to Twitter, they put out their popular cover of “Africa”, dropped a whole album of covers, ‘the Teal Album’, this past January (OMG please listen to “No Scrubs” and thank me later), and have just released their latest album, ‘the Black Album’, earlier this month. I have no shame in saying that I’ve clearly always been a bit of a bandwagon fan when it comes to Weezer, but it was the ridiculous concept of them doing a covers album that finally got me to listen to an entire album. I get the criticism, some of the songs are too note-for-note for example, and not all of them have that unique spin that makes a cover truly succeed, but I also feel like I need to defend this album (as if Weezer needs me of all people to rally to their defense) because it was ridiculously fun and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Plus, it succeeded in getting me hyped and interested in their latest album (“Can’t Knock the Hustle” is possibly my favorite song right now in general, like, it’s so 2019, I literally can’t even, and if you don’t believe me, go watch the hilarious music video for it; not trying to review the album here, but “Zombie Bastards” and “High As A Kite” were other highlights for me).

Surveying critic reviews and social media comments though and it becomes quickly apparent that everything Weezer has been doing lately, and has apparently been doing since 1996, is polarizing to critics and fans alike. This piece is already getting lengthy enough, and maybe I’ll pick this topic up again later in a more nuanced article, but I wanted highlight how fascinating (and strange, coming from the perspective of an average observer and not a hardcore fanatic) the overall pop culture reaction to them is in 2019. The SNL sketch has one of the characters admitting that he didn’t even know Weezer were still together, and I bet that’s probably the reaction your average music listener had last year when “Africa” reminded us that they were, in fact, still around.

I feel like it’s important to point out that unlike their peers and contemporaries from the ‘90s and ‘00s, they are still rolling along putting out new albums and music videos, still touring, and still in the pop culture conversation. I admit that after typing up over 2,800 words about them, I should probably FINALLY go listen to all their albums and report back on their overall quality (maybe Pinkerton is their best album? I have no clue –I’ll get back to ya’ll on that), but even if most of them suck (except for the obvious hit songs, which prove why their hits to begin with), I have to admit that I am impressed to see that 25 years after their first album came out, Weezer can still equally thrill and enrage fans. I highly doubt that people who are tired of Foo Fighters or Green Day after a certain point will keep listening to and talking about their new releases. Weezer is the exception to this conventional wisdom, because it’s important to note that hate isn’t the opposite of love, the opposite of love is indifference. Weezer fans are anything but indifferent. Even when fans claim to hate them and feel the need to blast on social media that ‘they haven’t done anything great since Pinkerton’, a lot of these fans are still actively listening to Weezer albums, still buying concert tickets, still consuming their product, etc. essentially they STILL care.

I think I had initially set out hoping to use the lens of Weezer fandom to come to some kind of conclusion about the nature of rock music fandom in general in 2019, but honestly, I feel like I’m back to where I was at the beginning: passively intrigued, but without any definitive answers. Weezer are undeniably still popular, despite scathing reviews from critics and rants from fans on Facebook, but I can’t say why they’re still spinning people up like this. I can say that it’s obvious no one else from 1994 still garnishes this level of love/hate and that no other rock band is getting viral SNL sketches about the merits of their discography in this age of EDM and hip hop.

Maybe Weezer is the ‘Last Great Rock Band’ (I honestly don’t know, in all sincerity, if there is an actual ‘last great rock band’ or how one would even determine that), because for whatever reason, people clearly still care about them. Maybe, just maybe, Weezer is indeed the ‘Last Great Rock Band’, because of this passion, this lack of indifference to whatever they do? Maybe that’s all that matters in 2019?

I think it’s clear that Weezer have outlasted their ‘90s and ‘00s peers by nearly all measurements. Again, I love the Foo Fighters, but let’s be real, they don’t arouse this level of intense reaction whenever they drop an album or go on tour. Neither does Green Day, or frankly any other band that came up with Weezer as they were climbing the ladder of success and recognition back in the day. I have yet to really figure it out, what is it about Weezer that holds our interests, that keeps us all coming back for more.? For now, the best I can figure, is that you really ‘can’t knock the hustle’.

* I hope it’s clear throughout that this is more of a rumination on American rock music because British rock bands like Radiohead and their pop culture status are probably worthy of a whole other (future?) article. Also massive KUDOS to anyone who cared enough about Weezer in 2019 to read this all the way through, and please forgive me for that Rivers worthy cheesy pun at the end, ha.

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