Asked by a Salon.com interviewer to name a band that might warrant a profile on his blog, Lander wastes no time calling out the Manhattan-based Afro-pop upstarts. According to Lander, VW is taking whiteness to "levels unseen."
He's spectacularly correct. In fact, it makes a lot of sense that Vampire Weekend and Stuff White People Like have hooked up in today's Plato's Retreat-style media wilderness. They're the same sort of beast. Meta-white soulmates.
It might seem counterintuitive at first, labeling Vampire Weekend the "world's whitest band." After all, they've got those worldbeat sounds: the calypso, the Congolese soukous. They even describe themselves as "Upper West Side Soweto." Surely, a band of rocking, Bible-quoting crackers like Kings of Leon is more technically "white."
Aha, but that's not the sort of Caucasian-ness of which Lander is making light. He's talking about a more NPR-ish tradition — one steeped in exaggerated displays of tolerance, urban refinement, and cultural sensitivity. By this measure, it's a very "white" thing to cover one's wall with tribal masks from Third World countries. Just as it's very "white" to write a song called "Horchata" (one of the tracks on Vampire Weekend's best-selling sophomore album Contra).
There are plenty of musical antecedents to the Vampire Weekend whiteness throne: Talking Heads, Paul Simon, Barenaked Ladies, to name but a few. Another good one, arguably, is Steely Dan. When the Dan hit the scene in the early '70s, they didn't sound particularly white, with their jazz-influenced compositions and soul-sistah backing singers. But once you listened to the lyrics, it was whiteness personified: Cuervo and Haitian divorces and sly ruminations about their glory days at Bard College.
That's Vampire Weekend in a Trader Joe's lime-salted pistachio nutshell. The Columbia University-educated foursome never let their patrician roots and lifestyle stray too far from the party, from "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" (from their self-titled debut album) to "Diplomat's Son" (off the new disc). The cover of Contra features a strawberry blonde in a pastel Ralph Lauren polo shirt. They wholly own it.
Even among the band's fans, there seems to be some disagreement as to whether Vampire Weekend's stitched-on-the-sleeve class-consciousness is a proud act of defiance (in a glowing review, Pitchfork called Contra "brave music") or withering, self-effacing irony.
The inevitable answer — and this goes for Stuff White People Like, as well — is both. It's a sort of push-and-pull love affair, both embracing the class trappings of enlightened American whiteness and rejecting the pretense of same. For Vampire Weekend, this stylish paradox most famously finds expression in the song "Oxford Comma." For Stuff White People Like, it's everywhere, from the aforementioned Prius to the more intangible "promising to learn another language."
This sort of reproachful self-satisfaction is all well and good for a humor blog, but for Vampire Weekend, it feels wearisome. Not Weezer wearisome — not yet! — but it's getting there. After all, admonishing oneself for the affectations of whiteness while tacitly embracing those affectations is also an affectation. It's the new Prius, it's stuff we like, but instead of just singing about it, Vampire Weekend is becoming it.
Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma? Vampire Weekend does. But who will give a fuck about Vampire Weekend? Well, you read this far, whitey.