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Graham: The pains of being a Weezer fan

It seems like the less the band tries, the more successful it becomes

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Few bands are as infuriating as Weezer, the most frustrating band of its generation, which this year celebrates 25 years of driving fans mad.

For those who grew up with the nerd-rock heroes, it’s almost impossible to have any connection with the group today. Seeing Weezer on “Good Morning America” Friday, playing a listless cover of a-ha’s “Take on Me,” was like seeing an old friend at the grocery store and pointedly avoiding eye contact with them.

Weezer singer/guitarist Rivers Cuomo performs with the band at DTE Energy Music Theater in Clarkston, Michigan on Friday, July 13, 2018. The Pixies played first on a double bill. (John T. Greilick, The Detroit News)

Bands fall off, fans grow up and the two camps part ways. This happens all the time. But the Weezer situation is uniquely baffling to anyone who once related to the band and considered themselves a fan.

The derision was even the subject of an oddly specific "SNL" sketch earlier this season, which addressed the irritation of identifying as a Weezer fan.

Maybe Weezer wasn't meant to grow old. Maybe we weren't meant to grow old. But there's a disconnect between the band's emotional trajectory and our own, and seeing the group morph into a glorified wedding band hurts in a manner that is difficult to process. 

And maybe it has to be that way.

Weezer’s self-titled debut album was released in May 1994. It was the height of the grunge era, and Weezer was the farthest thing from it: they played heavy, crunchy guitars but sang poppy melodies, all delivered over the sheen of The Cars’ Ric Ocasek’s polished production.

At the time grunge heroes painted pictures of dreariness and depression; Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo was an outsider who hung up Kiss posters in his garage and grew up to rock out like his heroes.

The group took a hard left with its second album, "Pinkerton," an inward-looking rumination on isolation, alienation and half-Japanese girls. Its mix of guitars and soul-baring is largely credited with inventing the emo genre.

Casual listeners of the group moved on, but a sect of fans became deeply obsessed with the band. 

And that's where the problems began.

Many artists invite hardcore fandom. Grateful Dead fans still trade bootlegs of the band's shows, Smashing Pumpkins devotees hang on to their belief in Billy Corgan, Bruce Springsteen fans will tell you which bar in Jersey they've stalked the Boss at.

Weezer was never meant to be that group, which fans had to learn the hard way. The band retreated from the personal reflection of "Pinkerton" and has since made efforts to stay as surface-level as possible, as if to say any level of commitment deeper than passive listening will only lead to disappointment.  

The campy goof-rock of 2005's "Beverly Hills" was the first indication the band isn't in it as much as fans are, the next was the time the group named an album after a character on "Lost." You ever get the feeling you've been ripped off? Welcome to life as a Weezer fan. 

Last year's unremarkable-in-every-way cover of Toto's "Africa" was the latest slap in the face; the fact that it was Weezer's biggest hit in more than a decade proved that sometimes, effort is the enemy. The success of "Africa" earned the band a slot on this year's Coachella lineup, where it is one of the few rock acts represented. Go figure.  

And that’s where Weezer is today. It has become the good time karaoke band for a new generation of fans, and one of the few relics of the '90s enjoying current chart success. Why try harder?  

Weezer released its latest set, dubbed the Black Album, on Friday. When I saw it on Spotify, I paused for a second and thought about what the band once meant to me and what it means today, then I kept scrolling. Weezer isn’t for me anymore. There’s a new generation of fans that will grow up disappointed by them.