Recent comments by Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone magazine, shed light on limited perceptions of K-pop perpetuated by mainstream media.
In a piece written by Maureen Dowd for The New York Times, Wenner shares tales about his raucous times at the legendary publication. He also throws out his opinions about popular music in general. Wenner regrets what he sees as the end of the vibrant music that punctuated the 1960s and 1970s, saying that popular music will “end up like jazz.”
Later, Wenner bemoans the role teenage girls have in shaping current popular music: “I don’t think it is as culturally relevant as it used to be, nor is it musically as good. ” But Wenner does not listen to contemporary popular music: “I don’t read Rolling Stone that much . . . I don’t read that many magazines. It’s about people I’m not personally interested in. I don’t really care for K-pop. I don’t really know who Cardi B. is.”
One could argue: who cares what Wenner thinks? He no longer runs Rolling Stone. He could be written off as irrelevant. However, the thoughts he articulates are still very much in circulation and continues to impact the way K-pop is perceived through influential outlets like Rolling Stone.
Wenner’s statement about jazz replicates the perception that popularity is an accurate measure of what people like. The rationale is: to “end up like jazz” is to fail to be relevant because jazz does not post sales like pop acts. I bet some current jazz acts have something to say about this. Wenner reinforces the idea that jazz is your grandfather’s music. Caleb Dolister reveals this tendency to link jazz only to historic jazz musicians like Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis: “It also illustrates that the common perception of jazz music has not changed since those performers were active. For most people, it’s a struggle to think of any new artists, or newer material from artists with continuing careers.” Wenner’s perceptions about jazz show a mindset that dismisses music because it is not mainstream. It prematurely forecloses interest in a genre by declaring it dead.
While I have written previously about the way mainstream media denigrates female fans of music, let’s focus on Wenner’s other opinions about popular music. He speaks with authority about popular music that he does not listen to, which reflects the lack of knowledge exhibited by some writers of K-pop. By his own admission, he doesn’t read the magazine he founded. He is not aware of the current music scene. He doesn’t know about it from other magazines, because he does not read those either. We really shouldn’t put too much stock in his opinion about popular music in general or K-pop in particular, because he does not really know about it. The same can be said about some articles by mainstream media outlets on K-pop, which display a startling lack of knowledge about K-pop. Such stories fuel misperceptions of K-pop by the mainstream audience.
Moreover, Wenner’s interest in popular music is driven by people he is “personally interested in.” While personal preference is often reflected in podcasts, reaction videos and other opinion commentary, coverage of popular music should not be guided by a writer’s personal preferences. A music journalist’s job is to cover the scene. Similarly, K-pop does not benefit from coverage driven by individual writers’ preferences. Such coverage skews perceptions of K-pop as a whole.
While some may dismiss Wenner’s opinions is irrelevant, those opinions are mirrored in the way mainstream media covers K-pop.
Maureen Dowd. “Jann Wenner Wants to Reveal It All.” The New York Times. 10 Sept 2022.
Caleb Dolister. “Does Jazz Music Really Suck?” Medium. 16 Aug 2015. https://calebdolister.medium.com/does-jazz-music-really-suck-f4c6de1e69bf.
How American Music Journalism Impacts K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.