It was September, only a couple weeks into my first year of high school when I first experienced the obnoxious phenomenon I like to call “The Indie Boy Complex.” In an attempt to make friends, I had worn my favorite band t-shirt from a musician named Jeremy Messersmith. It was black and had a simple drawing of a robot on it. Underneath the drawing it said, The Silver City, the title of my favorite album of all time. I didn’t feel so alone when this boy, a sophomore in my Biology class, said I had a nice shirt. I thought I was going to make a friend who had the same taste as me. Before I even had the chance to speak though, he replied, “Do you even know what The Silver City is?” I said “Yes, a great album.” The boy then said that he hoped I didn’t wear it just to impress him or to get him to go out with me. I was naive so I didn’t quite see what he was implying so my words just fumbled at the tip of my tongue.
Three years later, I now know exactly what he meant. This is called the “Indie Boy Complex” and it shows up in many parts of our culture. Although, music is primarily where it hits me. When a teenage boy or even a man, has a so called “indie” or “alternative” taste and a girl either a) likes the same band, b) challenges him on his opinion or c) even has an opinion on music, he will de-legitimize her and her tastes all because he thinks she likes him. He could prod her with insane questions about an artist, mock her, or even tell her she’s not a true fan. He could call her a fangirl or stalker. I’ve gotten “You just like [insert male artist name] because he’s hot” more times than I can count. The “Indie Boy Complex” is an act of male dominance in a part of culture I love dearly, and it hurts.
Writers like Brodie Lancaster of Rookie and Jessica Hopper have written about similar topics like the safeguarding of taste by male critics and bands. In her essay, “The Importance of Music to Girls” published on Rookie, Lancaster states, “This defensive barrier constructed around certain rock acts doesn’t do anybody any favors. Isn’t it actually great if a new generation of musical performers and music lovers connects with something in the back catalogs of Blondie, the Undertones, Nirvana, or the Smiths? Does it really matter how they got there?” So what if a girl likes the same band as you, teenage boys? She doesn’t have to prove herself to you. Why should she?
No one owns the right to like a certain type of music. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman. Everyone arrives at their niche in different ways.
I came to mine by listening to Bowie, Dylan, Wilco, and a slew of artists both past and present in the car when I was younger. My music taste is defined by memories, by listening to The Current and participating in the local scene.
My dad, the basis for my taste, grew up in Green Bay, WI in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. He used to call into the radio station and win music knowledge contests all the time. When I got to the age where radio became important to me, he showed me the ropes of calling in. Rather than saving the joy all for himself, he shared it with me. That is the opposite of what those who suffer from “Indie Boy Complex” do. He and my mom saw The Violent Femmes in a club with four other people in Madison. He savors that moment and loves sharing it, but he certainly doesn’t feel entitled to own it.. My dad is a case of example of an avid music fan who doesn’t feel the need to be an “Indie Boy.” He doesn’t put down the women in his life who like music. It’s only about the music for him and that’s as simple as it should be.
I will admit that even as teenage girl I can be judgemental of those who share a similar taste. I’ve started to become more critical of artists, but I also allow myself to unabashedly love them (Jeremy Messersmith, again.) I love the artists I love, sometimes even in spite of teenage boys. In recent years, I’ve had to stop taking myself so seriously and understand that music is a conversation, not a competition. I wish that teenage boys would see the same thing. In order for everyone to have an equal say the “Indie Boy Complex” has got to go, and so do our egos.