You know how this one goes… Pop culture is crammed full of things, people, art, music, films that are inexplicably well received. These things are abundant and tyrannical, tending to split into two different camps - mass popularity and critical acclaim (rarely do you have both at the same time).

The first camp may describe those things that seem to be liked by the ‘common man’, but hated on by critics. These may include Two Pints of Lager and A Packet of Crisps or Biffy Clyro or Twilight or Kasabian. Although I must admit, I’ve never met a single person willing to openly admit to liking these things. But people do like them. They love them in great and overwhelming numbers. And it’s weird.

Secondly, there’s the far worse millstone of critical acclaim. Flicking through magazines, speaking to people you chance upon in a certain type of East London bar, or trawling the internet, you endure the same critical darlings frequently. Each and every time their name is mentioned, the same rehearsed phrases spill out charged with undeserved praise for that thing that’s popularity you cannot comprehend. It’s infuriating. It’s unfathomable. But it persists constantly, growing stronger with age, until ossified into sacred cows that cannot be folded into the straw men they are.

I know what you’re thinking. It has crossed my mind. I could be wrong. Everyone else could be right. These anxieties haunt me constantly, make me question my own judgment. But I still don’t get it. I don’t understand these things (I’ve also listed some alternative options just so I’m not accused of hating on everything).


Annual sales 2009: $1.436 billion

I would presume that questioning the popularity of Sketchers is something that would find great favour on this website. I would presume that I am preaching to the converted here. I would hope. But think about it for a second.

Sketchers are incredibly popular trainers. Or shoes. Or whatever the fuck it is you call those orthopedic cartoon character bubble things that are advertised at every underground station in London. They sell in such quantity as for the company to be able to afford a marketing budget that allows them to advertise in every underground station in London. How is this so? Who is buying these footwear horror shows? It remains a mystery and one that can perhaps be explained only by middle America or mental illness.

Britney Spears was once the poster girl for Sketchers. And look what happened to her. They might be good for your back, but Sketchers do something wild to your brain.

Sketchers? I don’t get it.

TRY INSTEAD: Any other type of footwear that aren’t Uggs, or Crocs, or flip flops.


Attendance: 150,000

A lot of people will have just returned from Glastonbury, most with sunbaked vermilion skin and charcoal brains, eager to stress how incredible it was this year. How it was the best ever. The blind-eyed blanket approval of Glastonbury is what happens when empty vessels like Fearne Cotton and Nick Grimshaw are given cultural status.

Nowhere in the world is there a bigger absence of critical objectivity than at Glastonbury. Populated by cheerleaders and brain drained casualties alike, Glastonbury represents the apotheosis of competitive hyperbole. It is the Olympics of Unwarranted Praise. If tuning in to anything BBC related or reading the host of Facebook status updates from returning ‘festival goers’ this weekend, the words ‘amazing’, ‘genius’ and ‘unbelievable’ will have greeted you as a tirade of meaningless noise. And I’m unconvinced as to their veracity.

Was Vampire Weekend’s set really amazing? Are Muse genius? Was Seasick Steve actually unbelievable?  I think the people in thrall to these bands need to tone down their opinions to a level of appreciation displaying some degree of accuracy.  That, or at least stretch their legs a little longer, open their eyes a little wider and experience a bit more in life. Just imagine if these people did do something genuinely amazing, like fly or be abducted by aliens? Their pituitary glands would explode attempting to find a new language to describe the experience.

And this is the main problem. Personal experience tends to shade people’s perceptions. This year’s Glastonbury was the ‘best ever’ simply because the people talking about it were in attendance. People are pretty vain and selfish when it comes to describing their own lives. What’s wrong with Glastonbury 2010 just being ‘pretty good’ or ‘fun’ or ‘decent enough’? That’s nothing to be ashamed of. And I could stomach it a lot more.

This year I was offered a free ticket to Glastonbury and I turned it down. Informing my dad of this, he said “I’d love to go one year”. Next year dad, it’s all yours. I’ve a feeling that with your one album a year consumer habits and worshipping at the altar of Mark Knopfler, you’re going to right feel at home.

Glastonbury? I don’t get it.

TRY INSTEAD: Locking yourself in your room all summer with the curtains closed.


Average viewing figures: 6.2 million

Americans might be into Sketchers, but I still bet they find the British public’s love for Doctor Who embarrassing. I think they probably find the entirety of British TV a quaint embarrassment, perhaps akin to hearing of our love for Editors and Florida. But Doctor Who is a special case; a quintessentially British phenomenon that retains little cross cultural reach. It revels in its amateurish qualities. It celebrates its lack of ambition. The acting is said to purposefully be hammy and stilted. These traits are the things that seek to define the show, but don’t they just read like a litany of convenient excuses for failure? Don’t they read like a very British mentality of being second best and proud?

Sci-fi is meant to be camp and ridiculous, that I understand, but it’s not meant to look like a Blue Peter badge winner’s attempt to save some starving African children. Doctor Who is basically what happened when someone watched Be Kind, Rewind and thought they could have a go themselves. And then got away with it to such an extent it made Gavin and Stacey not feel like the nadir of popular culture, but just the beginning of the end of everything and everyone forever.

Doctor Who? I don’t get it.

TRY INSTEAD: Battlestar Galactica, X Files, Dark Skies, The Outer Limits… Anything else, really.


Primary Colours’ metacritic rating: 82%

The Horrors make strange critical darlings. They are not a terrible band. There are far worse bands, legions of them. And they all probably sell far more records. There are bands more deserving of a mauling, I’m certain of this. But I still can’t bend my head around The Horrors. Take a look at their career trajectory…

Looking as they do, The Horrors were of course on the front of the NME before they could play a note. But that’s fine. It’s funny. It’s just the hype machine grinding its gears. Then they released a debut album that many saw as the natural end point of the joke. They were written off and castigated in many quarters, left to rot alongside the many other Great White Hopes the British Press has periodically built up to tear down since the birth of print. Nothing special there. It made me kind of like them in fact. And at least they were well turned out and people understood what they stood for.

But then the band threw a curve ball. They released a second album that demonstrated them actually playing their instruments adequately and appropriating such ‘outre’ influences as Can and Neu (looks like someone got an internet connection). And the press went wild, labeling it a triumphant return of rare artistic integrity. They were Mercury nominated, lauded across the board. The Horrors were suddenly considered a very serious proposition.

But why exactly? Have any of these people actually listened to their music? Getting Jeff Barrow in to produce the record was a clever management move designed to disguise the lack of substance beneath the well styled sheen. But even he can’t hide the fact the lyrics sound like contrived cryptic nonsense written by someone desperately pretending to be far less intelligent than they are (This freaks me out. The guy actually seems smart in interviews - I definitely don’t get that). Even Barrow can’t obscure the fact there are few memorable hooks, melodies or inventive ideas on show - all things it’s claimed they possess in abundance. It was as if the people celebrating this album had never listened to any other music before. If Glastonbury were an album, it would be Primary Colours. Which is to say, The Horrors aren’t the worst band in the world. But they’re certainly not the best either, as you may have been led to believe by EVERYONE.

The Horrors? I don’t get it.

TRY INSTEAD: Can and Neu and Kraftwerk and The Chameleons and all those other bands they’re supposedly credibly referencing.


First day sales figures for 2004 DVD boxset: $100 million

I have tried with Star Wars, I really have. As a child I watched with barely held attention and longed for Indiana Jones instead. As a teenager, I forced myself to sit through the first three films just as the latest boxset-prompted wave of Obi Wan fever gripped our school, just so I could understand what everyone was talking about. As a student, I watched the three new films and lost parts of my brain I’ve never had return. Then I gave up pretending.

It’s always a certain type of person that drools over Star Wars. I don’t mean geeks. Those guys are OK. I mean adults pretending to be children. Adults with developmental problems who can’t let go of a childhood that wasn’t that great in the first place. In many respects, the idealisation of Star Wars feels like some kind of cipher appropriated in an attempt to repress a great childhood trauma, probably involving a priest or bad uncle.

Star Wars? I don’t get it.

TRY INSTEAD: Back To The Future, always