In the early 19th century, humans, faced for the first time with the existentially terrifying concept of “free time,” invented boredom. Less than 200 years later, with the official rollout of the Apple iPhone, on Jan. 9, 2007, boredom was eliminated. The iPhone didn't accomplish this single-handedly. Early smartphone usage, like AIM on the T-Mobile Sidekick making speaking on the phone obsolete (simultaneously making the human voice irretrievably unhip and sending countless Jerky Boys and Crank Yankers to the unemployment lines), and pirated pornography, the raison d’etre for the internet (along with surveillance and Zork), laid the groundwork. But it was Steve Jobs’ triumph of design that made it so that the human mind would never again be burdened by oppressive possibilities of leisure. At last free time was eliminated, and all play could take on the omnipresent and dignified stressfulness of having a job. And that might have been the end of it; mandatory fun for every waking moment. But boredom, as either human virus or inherently human trait, proved itself to be wily and indomitable.
No stranger to cliches, boredom would cut a vacuum as soon as you look at it. It took just five years for humanity to adapt to the void left by ennui’s death and produce an antibody. On March 12, 2012, answering an evolutionary need for some semblance of meditative disquiet, the first Mac DeMarco album was released.
Mac DeMarco, for the reader who has not dated a youngish white urban male, or driven through greater Los Angeles in the past 10 years, is a Canadian singer-songwriter who plays a loose, ’90s slacker variation of ’70s soft rock (a genre he calls “jizz jazz,” presumably because “Jason Mraz” was already taken). He’s blandly handsome, looking like a freshman pledge in a less-toxic fraternity, or a slightly less punchable Matt Taibbi. He smokes cigarettes. Which, to the reader of a certain age, may not seem like a distinguishing characteristic. It speaks highly of young people’s wise distaste for the tobacco industry that, for DeMarco, apparently, smoking is “his thing.” (As of this writing, DeMarco may have quit smoking. But so, in death, did Humphrey Bogart. Iconography bucks history.) While not a household name, DeMarco’s Spotify page has more than 10 million monthly visitors. His song “Chamber of Reflection” alone has been played 332,000,000 times. He has hundreds of thousands of fans, including such notable aesthetes as Post Malone and the YouTube vlogger Emma Chamberlain. What DeMarco might lack in pop-star fame or omni-culture radio play, he makes up for in influence. There are hundreds of Mac DeMarco clones, of every gender, with millions of plays on Spotify and YouTube. He also, more than any other contemporary artist, has, as CREEM writer Kirk Podell puts it, given “permission to young white guys to not have any fashion.” In fact, it is this willful inclination to dress like shit that, as much as the smoking or songs, Mac DeMarco is best known for. It’s not that the singer dresses “badly,” per se. Rather, in his flaccid collared T-shirts and assiduously distressed baseball cap, DeMarco dresses like objectively nothing at all. Taking the Regular Joe anti-showbiz aesthetic of hardcore to its logical extension, DeMarco proudly puts on his biz called show looking less like someone who might acknowledge live music as performance and more like a Little Leaguer on laundry day, whose parents also actively dislike him.