Gatekeeping: why we love to hate what's popular

In a world accustomed to oversharing, why do we feel the need to hide our favourite artists?

Dan Finch
3rd April 2024
Image credit: Unsplash @anthonydelanoix
We’ve all been there. Perhaps, it was a song by your favourite underground artist becoming a viral hit overnight. That hidden gem of a book series you once cherished suddenly hitting the bestsellers list. It happens to the best of us. But why is it that we harbour such animosity towards what is trending?

For me, I do not believe gatekeeping is a choice. If I loved the latest trend before the bandwagon reached full capacity, chances are I want to keep loving it. But sometimes, our desire for exclusivity can get the better of us. I suppose we derive a sense of identity and belonging from the things we enjoy. When they become popular, it dilutes the individuality of our personal tastes and, as a result, we feel a need to distance ourselves from the newfound mainstream appeal.

I suppose we derive a sense of identity and belonging from the things we enjoy

Beside this alienation, a fear of change is fairly to blame. The rejection of new phenomena may just be a defence mechanism to protect what we enjoy. We naturally worry that its charm will be lost once it blows up. 

This danger is real, and it has happened to me with singer-songwriter, Mae Muller: her authentic and stripped-back EPs dominated all my playlists in 2020. But then, she repped the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 and with no warning, was all about commercialised dance pop. Needless to say, it was frankly disappointing. In a recent social media post, Muller herself has admitted she felt pressured to change her sound in the new spotlight, with labels and industry voices steering her in a different direction. It really does happen, so who can really blame us for pushing our favourites away before they have altogether changed too much?

Yet ultimately, whilst it might begin with intentions of safeguarding niche interests, the act of gatekeeping can lead to elitism and exclusion. Instead of shunning new fans, we should be celebrating the diversity of cultural perspectives. After all, opening the gate can only mean more folks to geek out with over your obsessions.

That being said, I’ll still never forgive the makers of Saltburn for what they did to my longstanding Sophie Ellis-Bextor mantra.

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AUTHOR: Dan Finch
journalism and media student!

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