There have been thousands, maybe millions, of songs written about New York City. You’ll receive no argument from me that it’s a special, special place. It’s captured the imagination of imaginative young people around the world, and is responsible for something like a quarter of all the quintessential American artifacts. Part of that is the population density, sure, but there’s no need to understate the broader influence. It’s the most important city in the nation, and those who would argue that fact are simply out of ammunition.
All that said, there are plenty of things hilariously un-self-aware about that sanctified New York art. For all those great songs written from boroughs there’s a whole lot of chaff. As a resident of Austin, Texas, I can confirm that some of those anthems you hold near to your heart have us laughing behind your back. It’s time to clue you in. Here are the songs about New York that make people outside of the city hate New York.
See also: The 50 Most NYC Albums Ever
“New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”
Out of the litany of aggravating New York archetypes, the skinny, cigarette-scorched aging hipster who prattles on and on about how the city has lost its “danger” might be at the very top of the list. And as much as I love James Murphy, he represents the worst sort of entitlement when it comes to this attitude. Oh, it’s such a hardship living in a world where there’s a McDonald’s in Time Square, boo fucking hoo. It’s a hilarious blend of white, privilege-blind inclinations to focus on how your life has gotten more boring now that it’s harder to find drug dealers in Manhattan.
“House of Jealous Lovers”
Dance-punk was what happened when a bunch of kids who couldn’t make dance music, nor punk music, put out a song so thoroughly annoying that it actually fooled the bulk of the local press into acclaiming it for regressive innovation. I have never seen a shittier job of trailblazing in my entire life. OK, so it’s not technically about New York, but so much of this band embodied exactly what’s backwards about the Atlantic hype machine that the geographic context is embedded into their DNA. The Rapture proved that if you have a cool enough sounding song title, you can make it in New York.
“New York is Killing Me”
I remember when this song came out, and we all celebrated the long, long-awaited critical and cultural resurgence of Gil Scott-Heron. Our man is back! He’s spitting some of the coldest mumblecore lines you’ll ever hear!
Then a year went by, and Gil Scott-Heron was dead.
“Oh, shit, I guess that was a genuine call for help, wasn’t it? If only there was some way we could’ve known, like maybe by reading the fucking name of the song.”
Like, I’m not blaming you guys for killing Gil Scott-Heron, but I mean, you’re definitely an accessory.
Is there a more pointless song than “Tom’s Diner”? Woman enters diner, woman has entirely uneventful breakfast, woman gets on subway? Really? That’s all we got, huh? This was a Top 10 single. People were demanding “Tom’s Diner.” You know, it’s often joked about how people regard New York City as the absolute, indivisible center of the universe. Most of the time I think that’s unfair, but then I remember one of the most defining songs of the city is literally about a morning routine.
“New York, New York”
This is probably the most boring song ever written about New York City. A vasectomized acoustic guitar guiding along a broad list of glad-handing, culturally correct geographic signifiers. “Avenue A!” “Houston and 3rd!” It’s no secret the freshly post-9-11 release date helped stick it deep in our collective consciousness, and obviously we’ll still maintain sympathy, but oh my god, you can’t keep telling us that this song is actually good.
“New York City”
These days, New York City props up another mannequin rapper every couple of a months in a desperate attempt to re-convince the world that they’re still the Home and Birthplace of Hip-Hop and Rap Music. Because apparently being a vocal but small part of an increasingly diverse and interesting global rap music landscape is the most terrifying thing in the universe.
Here’s the thing, though: The general public has no bias whatsoever toward New York rap music, but New York rappers are SUPER CONCERNED and SUPER AGGRESSIVE in making sure EVERYONE KNOWS that NEW YORK IS STILL ON TOP.
In the early ’90s Nas would rap “N.Y. State of Mind,” which cut a hard, concrete, persistently untouchable anthem of street life in the Queensbridge projects. It pulled no punches, kindled no feuds, and remains the epitome of New York rap music decades later.
Meanwhile, our latest mannequin Troy Ave can’t get through a SINGLE VERSE without mentioning that he’s the successor of Biggie and Jay, and that Kendrick Lamar is “weird.”
If you want to know why the rest of us aren’t listening to New York rap music anymore, it’s because your current flag-bearers are the most aggressively overcompensating people in the universe.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 18, 2014