‘Modern Vampires Of The City’ at 10: How the peak Tumblr-era album proved fangirls are experts
The first time I heard Vampire Weekend’s ‘Diane Young’, it lit up dormant parts of my mid-twenties mind. The song was delightful and strange, like a rockabilly ditty undergoing indie-rock electric shock, littered with lyrics that were as clever as its double entendres name. It was March 2013, and the first taste of the New York City band’s third album, ‘Modern Vampires Of The City’ hit me like a speeding Saab. It would still be a few years before I did it professionally but I immediately ran to the internet to write down my impassioned stance on the dizzying track.
Back then, my music dissection conduit of choice was the easy-to-scroll and reblog platform, Tumblr. Along with countless other self-proclaimed fangirls, I spent my days reposting high-resolution photos of my favourite bands, commenting on posts in indecipherable awe, and writing dissertations based on just one line of lyrics. If you identified as someone with an overwhelming desire to connect with like-minded individuals who were music obsessed and also disillusioned by the process of getting older, the music released that year was an embarrassment of riches. Lorde’s ‘Pure Heroine’, Arctic Monkeys’ ‘AM’, The 1975’s self-titled album, were all available to soundtrack my quarter-life crisis, and the strangers I only knew by usernames they lifted from their favourite choruses were there to therapize and sympathize with my quest to go to one more show.
When we weren’t exchanging tour itineraries in hopes of taking our friendships from online to real life, we were filling our closets with clothes that matched the “soft grunge” aesthetic of the Tumblr era, queuing for gigs in leather jackets decorated in enamel pins, donning red lipstick and bringing the lyrics to The Neighbourhood’s 2013 hit ‘Sweater Weather’ to life by rocking “little high-waisted shorts”. Unlike Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube in the early 2010s, where writing out your thoughts felt like screaming into the void, or worse, to your relatives and friends from high school, Tumblr engendered a sense of community, where you could not only speak to an audience but actually feel heard.
Vampire Weekend’s first two albums, 2008’s self-titled LP and 2010’s ‘Contra’ introduced the world to four polo-wearing friends from Columbia University keen to write about class and status over contagious Afropop-infused tracks. With their third album, however, they opted to throw away the subject matter and sound of their previous releases for more nuanced storytelling and intricate musicality.
“That music was exciting,” frontman Ezra Koenig wrote in a heartfelt Instagram post on the album’s anniversary. “It was far and away from our most ‘studio album’. ‘MVOTC’ didn’t have songs like ‘A-Punk’ or ‘Cousins’, which began as riffs and started to come to life in the practice room. This is an album of more deliberate composition and detailed, patient recording.”
The risk of veering in a different direction paid off. ‘MVOTC’ debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, NME named it one of the 50 best albums of 2013, it picked up the award for Best Alternative Music Album at the 2014 Grammys, and lit a spark for music writing in me that would keep burning for years to come.
I had no goal in mind when I filled my days watching Vampire Weekend explain their music via YouTube interviews or re-listening to the teetering ballad, ‘Hannah Hunt’ before researching whether it was about a real person or a story Koenig made up from scratch (the correct answer is both). There was no real readership outside of my internet friends to consume my deep dives on the baroque-inspired treatise on religious existentialism ‘Ya Hey’, but the amount of studying I put into those posts eventually paid off when I learned my driving desire to find out how and why songs came into existence could be leveraged into a career. Unbeknownst to me, the fan-focused Tumblr community was a gateway to the music industry, and I’m not the only one who walked through it.
Take indie upstart and recent Sub Pop signee Hannah Jadagu for instance, who cites her nostalgia for Tumblr internet fandom, Vampire Weekend and HAIM, who released their debut ‘Days Are Gone’ in 2013, as integral influences that shaped her career, even though she was 10 years old during the site’s heyday and didn’t experience it in real-time. There’s also Melbourne artist Daine, who discovered bands like American Football and Turnstile on Tumblr, before joining her local hardcore music scene IRL.
I’m far from the only would-be writer who, while searching for a place to share their angst, creativity and enthusiasm for music, not only found a home for their writing on Tumblr, but life-long friends. When I asked my Twitter followers their thoughts on ‘MVOTC’ and its internet reign, I received multiple confirmations. “The origin story of one of my oldest internet friendships is being on Tumblr and sharing our love of Vampire Weekend,” Edmonton-based critic Caitlin Joey responded. “I lived for 2010 – 2013 Tumblr,’ Toronto culture writer Jill Krajewski quickly added. By 2017, the blogging platform’s “Golden Era” was over, thanks to Yahoo taking ownership and enforcing strict safety guidelines. Many of the platform’s power users left the site, feeling restricted about what content they could share. In recent months, as Twitter seems to be heading towards a similar fate, many writers have pointed to Tumblr as the perfect place to immigrate to, but it’s hard to imagine it could generate the same connection and magic we witnessed a decade ago.
Author, producer and cultural critic Jessica Hopper once wrote, “Replace ‘fangirl’ with ‘expert’ and see what happens”. For so many of us, who just wanted to repost the staggering lyrics, “Wisdom’s a gift but you’d trade it for youth” from the swaggering track ‘Step’ next to ‘MVOTC’’s black and white album artwork of a fog-filled New York City skyline, got to experience “what happens” first-hand. It’s hard to say if I’d be writing this now if it wasn’t for the tight-knit Tumblr community that let me shamelessly test my words on them or the stunning album that made me want to be a better conduit for what I was listening to. Lucky for me, I’ll never know.