Of all rock subgenres, punk has always been the most obsessed with authenticity and rebellion. The poseur call-outs have been coming fast and furious ever since. One of the first (and the funniest) was 1978’s “Part Time Punks,” still the best-known song by the frustratingly underrated Television Personalities. The entire song is worth quoting, but here are a few of our favorite lines for starters: Then they go to Rough Trade/ To buy Siouxsie and the Banshees/ They heard John Peel play it/ Just the other night/ They’d like to buy the ‘O’ Level single/ Or read about Seymour/ But they’re not pressed in red/ So they buy The Lurkers instead.” And there you have it — counterculture as commodity fetishism. Come to think of it, this one doesn’t seem terribly outdated either.
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Dead Milkmen – “Punk Rock Girl” (1988)
We could probably dedicate an entire post to songs about punk poseurs (look, here’s another one), but one more excellent example will do. If the whole Dead Milkmen concept is a sort of joke on punk, then “Punk Rock Girl” is the band’s mission statement. The zingers are a bit more empathetic and not quite as nasty as “Part Time Punks,” but the hypocrisy detector is impeccable: “We went to the Philly pizza company and ordered some hot tea/ The waitress said, ‘Well, no, we only have it iced’/ So we jumped up on the table and shouted ‘Anarchy!’/ And someone played played a Beach Boys song on the jukebox/ It was ‘California Dreaming’ so we started screamin’/ On such a winter’s day.” We can’t help noting here that the subtlety (not to mention the purposely misattributed song title) are lost on some — we once observed a crust-punk totally rocking out to this one, without a hint of irony.
Nirvana – “In Bloom” (1991)
Nirvana’s lyrics are rarely as straightforward as most of the songs on this list, but the chorus of “In Bloom” is a plainspoken shot at the mainstream fans who don’t understand what the band is about: “He’s the one who likes all the pretty songs/ And he likes to sing along/ And he likes to shoot his gun/ But he knows not what it means.”
that dog. – “Grunge Couple” (1994)
Speaking of grunge, this non-album track by Nirvana’s DGC label mates is a silly, good-natured send-up of the alt-rock faithful, more tease than takedown. The comically distorted love story would be right at home on the Reality Bites soundtrack, with lyrics like “You are cute/ With your flannel shirt/ And your hiking boots,” “We have tattoos/ Nose rings that match,” and “We do whatever/ Is really cool.”
Pulp – “Common People” (1995)
If you asked us to name the quintessential poseur put-down, we wouldn’t hesitate: Pulp’s “Common People” is unparalleled in its darkly funny nastiness toward rich kids slumming because they “think that poor is cool.” Every line is brilliant, but we imagine that this one really hits trustafarians where it hurts: “Rent a flat above a shop/ Cut your hair and get a job/ Smoke some fags and play some pool/ Pretend you never went to school/ But still you’ll never get it right/ ‘Cause when you’re layin’ in bed at night/ Watching roaches climb the wall/ If you called your dad, he could stop it all.” Yeah, we all know that girl (or guy).
The Offspring – “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)” (1998)
Yes, there is some hypocrisy involved in a punk band-gone-novelty pop ridiculing other people’s identity crises. And yet, it is hard to deny the satisfaction of this song (the first few times you hear it, at least) about a suburban white kid who “may not have a clue” but wants nothing more than to be a thug. Quoth Dexter Holland: “The world needs wannabes, so hey, hey do that brand-new thing.” (Come to think of it, does the world really need wannabes?)
The Dandy Warhols – “Bohemian Like You” (2000)
Just in time for the dawn of the hipster decade, The Dandy Warhols’ “Bohemian Like You” never mentions that dirty word — but with lyrics about bands and vegan food and open relationships, it certainly captures the stereotype. “Who’s that guy, just hangin’ at your pad/ He’s lookin’ kinda bummed/ Yeah, you broke up, too bad/ I guess it’s fair if he always pays the rent/ And he doesn’t get bent/ About sleepin’ on the couch when I’m there”: the rallying cry of a generation.
Chicks on Speed — “Euro Trash Girl” (2000)
Yes, “Euro Trash Girl” was originally a song by Cracker. (Yes, of “Hey, hey, hey, like bein’ stoned” fame.) But that country-flavored version, with its sing-along chorus, seems suspiciously sincere. Far more biting is the cold, synth-damaged cover by a real European girl group — Chicks on Speed. You just feel them ripping into (not to mention genderfucking) the young-American-tourist privilege in subtly tweaked lines like “Called my mom from a payphone / I said ‘I’m down to my last.’/ And she said that she would, uh, send me to college/ And, uh, I should call my dad.”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Art Star” (2001)
Before Karen O was a household name, Yeah Yeah Yeahs released perhaps their most solid work to date: a five-song debut EP where every track was a winner. “Art Star” is its most blistering moment, skewering pseudointellectual scenesters through the power of parody: “I’ve been working on a piece that speaks of sex and desperation/ I’ve been screwing on the tracks of abandoned train stations,” O deadpans, later affecting a decadent drawl to complain, “It’s a madhouse, this modern life/ It’s a madhouse, my faithless bride.” And in case you’re not clear on how she really feels, consult the howling, sucker-punch chorus.
A few years later, Santigold put out a similarly themed single, “L.E.S. Artistes,” a somewhat less ferocious call-out that still manages to skewer downtown poseurs: “Build me up, bring me down/ Just leave me out, you name dropper/ Stop tryin’ to catch my eye/ I see you good you forced faker.”