' Poseur' or 'The Real Thing' ?
Poseur (or poser) is a pejorative term, often used in the punk, heavy metal, hip hop, and goth subcultures, or the skateboarding, surfing and jazz communities, to refer to a person who copies the dress, speech, and/or mannerisms of a group or subculture, generally for attaining acceptability within the group or for popularity among various other groups, yet who is deemed not to share or understand the values or philosophy of the subculture.
While this perceived inauthenticity is viewed with scorn and contempt by members of the subculture, the definition of the term and to whom it should be applied is subjective. While the term is most associated with the 1970s- and 1980s-era punk and hardcore subculture, English use of the term originates in the late 19th century.
Etymology and definitions
The English term poseur is a loanword from French, in which it is used figuratively since the mid-19th century with the same meaning as in Englishto refer to people who "affect an attitude or pose". Etymonline, an online etymology dictionary, argues that since the "word is Eng.[English] poser in Fr.[French] garb", the term itself could thus "be considered an affectation".
Dictionary.com says the word refers to "a person who habitually pretends to be something he is not". The Merriam-Webster dictionary notes that the term was also used to refer to a "person who pretends to be what he or she is not" or an "insincere person". The Encarta dictionary states that the term is used to describe a "pretentious person" or "somebody who tries to impress others by behaving in an affected way". The Cambridge Dictionary defines a "poseur" as "someone who pretends to be something they are not, or to have qualities that they do not have".
Use within contemporary subcultures
The punk subculture classifies members who are deemed to not understand or respect the subculture values as "poseurs".
Music journalist Dave Rimmer wrote that the first punks in London used "terms in which they expressed their disdain for hangers-on and those whose post-hip credentials didn’t quite make it came straight out of the authenticity movements: 'Poseurs' was the favorite epithet. Ross Buncle argues that eventually the Australian punk scene "opened the door to a host of poseurs, who were less interested in the music than in UK-punk fancy dress and being seen to be hip".He praises the gigs where there "were no punk-identikit poseurs" in the audience.
In a review of The Clash film Rude Boy, a critic argued that this "film was another sign of how The Clash had sold out – a messy, vain work of punk poseurs". US music journalist Lester Bangs praised punk pioneer Richard Hell for writing the "strongest, truest rock & roll I have heard in ages" without being an "arty poseur" of the "age of artifice". Another critic argues that by the late 1970s, "punk rock had already, at this early date, shown signs of devolving into pure pose, black leather jacket and short hair required". Please Kill Me includes interviews with punks in New York and Detroit who "rip their English counterparts as a bunch of sissified poseurs".
The term poseur was used in several late-1970s punk songs, including the X-Ray Spex song "I Am a Poseur", which included the lyrics "I am a poseur and I don't care/I like to make people stare/Exhibition is the name." Another song using the term was the Television Personalities song "Part-Time Punks". The Television Personalities' song "was a reaction to the macho posturing of the English punk scene".The lyrics argue that, "while Television Personalities were not themselves punks in the orthodox sense, neither was anyone else". The song "declared that either everyone who wanted to be a punk was one or that everyone was a poseur (or both)", and it argues that "the concept of [...] punk rock authenticity, of Joe Strummer, was a fiction".
An article in Drowned in Sound argues that 1980s-era "hardcore is the true spirit of punk" because "[a]fter all the poseurs and fashionistas fucked off to the next trend of skinny pink ties with New Romantic haircuts, singing wimpy lyrics". It argued that the hardcore scene consisted only of people "completely dedicated to the DIY ethics"; punk "[l]ifers without the ambition to one day settle into the study-work-family-house-retirement-death scenario".
The Oi band Combat 84 has a song entitled "Poseur" which describes a person changing from a punk to a skinhead, and then into a Mod and a Ted. The lyrics include the lines "Poseur poseur standing there/You change your style every year."
Joe Keithley of D.O.A. has said: "For every person sporting an anarchy symbol without understanding it there’s an older punk who thinks they’re a poseur."
Dave Rimmer writes that with the revival of punk ideals of stripped-down music in the early 1990s, with "Cobain, and lots of kids like him, rock & roll ... threw down a dare: Can you be pure enough, day after day, year after year, to prove your authenticity, to live up to the music [or else] live with being a poseur, a phony, a sellout?
Refused's Dennis Lyxzén and Bad Religion's Brett Gurewitz used the term to refer to early 2000s-era pop punk fans as "kids – more specifically the new wave of punk poseurs who came to the music via bands like Good Charlotte". They argue that these young listeners want "not to have to think and [instead they] would rather use music as escapism [,] and too many bands seem willing to comply".
One writer argued that the Los Angeles punk scene was changed by the invasion of "antagonistic suburban poseurs", which bred "rising violence [...] and led to a general breakdown of the hardcore scene".[ A writer for The Gauntlet praised the US Bombs' politically oriented albums as "a boulder of truth and authenticity in a sea of slick poseur sewage", and called them "real punk rockers" at "a time where the genre is littered with dumb songs about cars, girls and bong hits".
Daniel S. Traber argues that attaining authenticity in the punk identity can be difficult; as the punk scene changed and re-invented itself, "[e]veryone got called a poseur". One music writer argues that the punk scene produced "...true believers who spent long days fighting the man on streets of the big city [and living in squats who] always wanted to make punk rock less a cultural movement than some kind of meritocracy: "You have to prove you're good enough to listen to our music, man."
Joe Keithley, the singer for D.O.A. said in an interview that: "For every person sporting an anarchy symbol without understanding it there’s an older punk who thinks they’re a poseur." The interviewer, Liisa Ladouceur, argued that when a group or scene's "followers grow in number, the original devotees abandon it, [...] because it is now attracting too many poseurs—people the core group does not want to be associated with".
The early 1980s hardcore punk band MDC penned a song entitled "Poseur Punk", which excoriated pretenders who copied the punk look without adopting its values. The lyrics sheet packaged with Magnus Dominus Corpus, the album on which "Poseur Punk" appears, contains a picture of the band Good Charlotte juxtaposed underneath the lyrics to "Poseur Punk". As part of MDC's 25th anniversary tour in the 2000s, frontman "Dictor's targets remain largely the same: warmongering politicians, money-grubbing punk poseurs (including Rancid, whose Tim Armstrong once worked as an M.D.C. roadie), and of course, cops".NOFX's album The War on Errorism includes the song "Decom-poseur", part of the album's overall "critique of punk rock's 21st century incarnation of itself". In an interview, NOFX's lead singer Mike Burkett (aka "Fat Mike") "lashes out" at "an entire population of bands he deems guilty of bastardizing a once socially feared and critically infallible genre" of punk, asking "[w]hen did punk rock become so safe?
Heavy metal subculture
Jeffrey Arnett argues that the heavy metal subculture classifies members into two categories: "acceptance as an authentic metalhead or rejection as a fake, a poseur".In a 1993 profile of heavy metal fans' "subculture of alienation", the author notes that the scene classified some members as poseurs, that is, heavy metal performers or fans who pretended to be part of the subculture but who were deemed to lack authenticity and sincerity.
In the heavy metal subculture, some critics use the term to describe bands that are seen as excessively commercial, such as MTV-friendly glam metal groups in which hair, make-up, and fancy outfits are more important than the music. Another metal subgenre, nu metal is seen as controversial amongst fans of other metal genres, and the genres detractors have labeled nu metal derogatory terms such as "mallcore", "whinecore", "grunge for the zeros" and "sports-rock". Gregory Heaney of Allmusic has described the genre as "one of metal's more unfortunate pushes into the mainstream."[ Jonathan Davis, the frontman of the pioneering nu metal band Korn, was in an interview and said
“There's a lot of closed-minded metal purists that would hate something because it's not true to metal or whatever, but Korn has never been a metal band, dude. We're not a metal band. We've always been looked at as what they called the nu-metal thing. But we've always been the black sheep and we never fitted into that kind of thing so … We're always ever evolving, and we always piss fans off and we're gaining other fans and it is how it is.”
Axl Rose said "We thought we were so badass [...]. It was just so clear what stupid little white-boy poseurs we were."
Ron Quintana wrote that when Metallica was trying to find a place in the LA metal scene in the early 1980s, it was difficult for the band to "play their [heavy] music and win over a crowd in a land where poseurs ruled and anything fast and heavy was ignored".[
David Rocher described Damian Montgomery, frontman of Ritual Carnage, as "an authentic, no-frills, poseur-bashing, nun-devouring kind of gentleman, an enthusiastic metalhead truly in love with the lifestyle he preaches... and unquestionably practises".] In 2002, Josh Wood argued that the "credibility of heavy metal" in North America is being destroyed by the genre's demotion to "horror movie soundtracks, wrestling events and, worst of all, the so-called 'Mall Core' groups like Slipknot and Korn", which makes the "true [metal] devotee’s path to metaldom [...] perilous and fraught with poseurs."
In an article on Axl Rose, entitled "Ex–‘White-Boy Poseur'", Rose admitted that he has had "time to reflect on heavy-metal posturing" of the last few decades: "We thought we were so badass [...] Then N.W.A came out rapping about this world where you walk out of your house and you get shot. It was just so clear what stupid little white-boy poseurs we were."
The Swedish band Poser Executioner, a Black Metal band formed in 2011, has lyrical themes against posers and "false metal."
Nancy Kilpatrick's Goth Bible describes poseur goths as "young kids going through a goth phase who do not hold to goth sensibilities but want to be part of the goth crowd."
Nancy Kilpatrick's Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined defines "poseur" for the goth scene as follows:"goth wannabes, usually young kids going through a goth phase who do not hold to goth sensibilities but want to be part of the goth crowd...". Kilpatrick dismisses poseur goths as "Batbabies" whose clothing is bought at [mall store] Hot Topic with their parents' money.The goth website Goth.net has a section on poseurs which states that "No matter who you are, you're going to be a poseur at some point. No one is born knowing all the intimate details of any subculture and until you finally bring your posing ass into the fold, you're never going to learn. Just make sure that if you really are interested, you do your research and you ask questions. That's where the poseurs get sorted from the chaff."
A Goth music reviewer made a reference to the "teen poseur-Goth crowd that enjoys the tiny genre known as symphonic metal." In the goth subculture, the pejorative term "mall Goth" is sometimes used to describe poseurs.
Hip hop subculture
Authenticity or "street cred" is important in hip-hop culture.
In the hip hop scene, authenticity or street cred is important. The word wigger is the specific used to refer to caucasian people mimicking black hip-hop culture. Larry Nager of The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote that rapper 50 Cent has "earned the right to use the trappings of gangsta rap – the macho posturing, the guns, the drugs, the big cars and magnums of champagne. He's not a poseur pretending to be a gangsta; he's the real thing."
A This Are Music review of white rapper Rob Aston criticizes his "fake-gangsta posturing", calling him "a poseur faux-thug cross-bred with a junk punk" who glorifies "guns, bling, cars, bitches, and heroin" to the point that he seems like a parody. A 2004 article on BlackAmericaWeb claims that Russell Tyrone Jones, better known as rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard, was not "a rough dude from the ’hood" as his official record company biographies claimed. After Jones's death from drugs, the rapper's father claimed that "his late son was a hip-hop poseur, contrary to what music trade magazines published in New York" wrote. Jones' father argued that the "story about him being raised in the Fort Greene [Brooklyn] projects on welfare until he was a child of 13 was a total lie"; instead, he said "their son grew up in a reasonably stable two-parent, two-income home in Brooklyn".
The article also refers to another "hip-hop poseur from a decade ago", Lichelle “Boss” Laws. While her record company promoted her as "the most gangsta of girl gangstas", posing her "with automatic weapons" and publicizing claims about prison time and an upbringing on the "hard-knock streets of Detroit", Laws' parents claim that they put her "through private school and enrolled [her] in college in suburban Detroit".
As hip hop has gained a more mainstream popularity, it has spread to new audiences, including well-to-do "white hip-hop kids with gangsta aspirations—dubbed the 'Prep-School Gangsters'" by journalist Nancy Jo Sales. Sales claims that these hip hop fans "wore Polo and Hilfiger gear trendy among East Coast hip-hop acts" and rode downtown to black neighborhoods in chauffeured limos to experience the ghetto life. Then, "to guard against being labeled poseurs, the prep schoolers started to steal the gear that their parents could readily afford". This trend was highlighted in The Offspring song "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)".
A 2008, Utne Reader article describes the rise of "Hipster Rap", which "consists of the most recent crop of MCs and DJs who flout conventional hip-hop fashions, eschewing baggy clothes and gold chains for tight jeans, big sunglasses, the occasional keffiyeh, and other trappings of the hipster lifestyle". The article says this "hipster rap" has been criticized by the hip hop website Unkut and rapper Mazzi, who call the mainstream rappers poseurs or "fags for copping the metrosexual appearances of hipster fashion". Prefix Mag writer Ethan Stanislawski argues that there "have been a slew of angry retorts to the rise of hipster rap", which he says can be summed up as "white kids want the funky otherness of hip-hop [...] without all the scary black people".
African-American hip hop artist Azealia Banks has criticized white rapper Iggy Azalea "..for failing to comment on “black issues", despite capitalising on the appropriation of African American culture in her music." Banks has called Azelea a “wigger” (a pejorative term for a white person who copies the manner of speaking and dress of African-American culture) and there have been "...accusations of racism against Azalea" focused on her "...insensitivity to the complexities of race relations and cultural appropriation."
Other music cultures
Authenticity is also deemed to be important in the House, UK Garage, and grunge styles of music.
Other genres and subcultures
Mark Paytress writes that in 1977, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger called singer/songwriter Patti Smith a "poseur of the worst kind, intellectual bullshit, trying to be a street girl". A music writer for The Telegraph called Bob Dylan an "actor and a rock 'n' roll poseur to rival David Bowie and Mick Jagger at their most flamboyant".
The term "poseur" is also used in the skateboarding subculture.
The skateboarding subculture attempts to differentiate between authentic skaters and pretenders. A New York Times article on the 2007 skateboarding scene notes that "some first-time skaters drawn into the sport by catchy choruses or candy-colored sneakers are dismissed as poseurs" who are "walking around with a skateboard as an accessory, holding it in a way we call ‘the mall grab['.]" In the 1988 video game Skate or Die!, "Poseur Pete" is humorously the name of the challenger for beginner-level players. The After Disaster, a podcast, states that in fact "mall grabbing" is the proper way to hold a skateboard.
A LA City Beat magazine writer argues that "dance music had its Spinal Tap moment some time around the year 2000", arguing that "the prospect of fame, groupies, and easy money by playing other people's records on two turntables brought out the worst poseurs since hair metal ruled the Sunset Strip. Every dork with spiky locks and a mommy-bought record bag was a self-proclaimed turntable terror."A Slate magazine article argues that while the independent music scene "can embrace some fascinating hermetic weirdos such as Joanna Newsom or Panda Bear, it's also prone to producing fine-arts-grad poseurs such as The Decemberists and poor-little-rich-boy-or-girl singer songwriters".
The term "drugstore cowboy" denotes people who dress up like cowboys or cowgirls but who are not involved in associated cowboy activities such as herding cattle, putting horseshoes on horses, fixing fences and working on ranches
Shortly before midnight 8 July 1994 at the Franklin Street Bar & Grill in Monterey, California, computer pioneer Gary Kildall suffered a blunt force head trauma which led to his death a few days later. In one version, he was attacked by one or more rough looking bikers. Because wearing his Harley-Davidson vest and likely under the heavy influence of alcohol, he looked and perhaps acted too much like an Outlaw motorcycle club poseur of Hells Angels while attending the biker bar, irritating the initiated. Kildall had no memory of the event afterwards.
One surfing commentator decries the presence of poseur surfers, who he describes as younger men who stick to longboarding because out of "laziness, ignorance, or fear of trying something they’re not good at, they stick to their longboards." The commentator states that "...these lazy pieces of shit are content with just “gliding” because it’s the easy way out... It’s the pussy way out. It’s weak. It’s pathetic. It tells me that this person lacks ambition, lacks a broader perspective, because instead of striving to make progress in a sport that this person supposedly loves, they’re content with a lower level of achievement."
The concept of a "jazz poseur" dates back to the 1940s. Bob White from Downbeat argued that some jazz critics knew nothing about new jazz (Bebop) and nothing about chords, tone, or the technical aspects of jazz; instead, they would just learn the names of a few old masters and "...become a romantic, a charlatan, a poseur, a pseudo-intellectual, an aesthetic snob, ...well on the way to success" as a jazz critic.[ In the 2000s, the CBC produced a radio show about how to spot "jazz poseurs" in a jazz scene. These were described as people who do not know much about the music, but they can "name-drop" the names of famous performers.
Salon writer Joan Walsh calls US politician Paul Ryan a Randian poseur. She claims that while he purports to believe in Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy, which harshly criticizes government social redistribution programs, he actually benefitted from these programs in his life.
In the United States, a media controversy arose in June 2015 over what one paper called a "'Black' poseur." "Rachel Dolezal resigned as president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP... amid a furor over racial identity that erupted when her parents came forward to say she has been posing as black for years when she is actually white." As well, the city of "Spokane is investigating whether she lied about her ethnicity when she was appointed to the city's police oversight board. Her application said her ethnic origins included white, black and American Indian."]Dolezal completed an MFA at Howard University, a historically black university. She "...teaches African studies at a university and was married to a black man."