"working on my faults and cracks..."

10.16.2009

fresh to death

author's note: 
[the following sermon was written in rebuttal to certain comments from a drunken music argument that I once had with a college radio personality (and devout hipster). spex, if you see this, yeah I know it's two years late. get bent]



no, I am not gay
It's time I came clean.

Peel back the thick, digital layers of my meticulously organized iTunes collection, tucked between rows of seemingly cred-worthy playlists for "Pretentious Acoustic b-sides," "Conceited Singer/Songwriters," and "Smug Indie Shit," you'll find "Songs for Filing Tax Returns," a Genius playlist whose innocuous title bravely fronts for much seedier content hidden within.

Yes, it's true. I've been having an affair. A shameless, extra-auditory affair with pop music. And not just the pop from ambiguous or cleverly disguised "safe" bands known for quietly jumping the shark on their respective indie/alt-rock scenes and infiltrating the Top 40 (Fall Out Boy, The Killers, Bloc Party, etc.). It's the catchy stuff that I love. Call it what you wish--an infatuation, an addiction, outright madness, whatever. I've heard worse. You know the genre, and I think you even secretly love it. However, the difference between you and my addiction, is that one of us rolls up their windows at stoplights. Me? This blog is my AA meeting. Except I'm not here to break the habit. I'm here to spread the love.

So what is pop music anyway? It has many fronts--many perceived to be evil. Obviously, its detractors aren't without cause--the idea that pop is safe, watered down "music" written by someone other than the artist, and for a demographic instead of an audience, is both present, and understandable. But let's assume for a moment that pop music wasn't unfairly defined by exposure, physical composition, or artist pedigree, but by its accessibility (ie, how quickly a listener can "get into" a song), and emotive characteristics.

In reality, it's unfortunate that the term "pop" has completely lost its association with a style or genre of music, instead having become erroneously associated with its loudest stage: that of "recognition." What of the style itself? Pop music itself? Was Michael Jackson the King of Pop because he was the king of the charts? The king of having his music written for him? Or because he was a goddamn natural showman--the king of the catchy, dancey, all-in style of music that anyone with a toe to tap or a dashboard to drum could appreciate? He was the King of Pop not only for his accessibility, but because over the course of his career, he embodied every aspect of the genre. Indie pop? Dance pop? Trance pop? Pop-rock? Pop-punk? Trash pop? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

I'm getting off-target here. This is not a blog about Michael. This isn't about how the music industry classifies genres. This is about me, and justifying the misrepresented genre I so dearly enjoy.
What exactly do we have so far? Let's review:
1. I love pop music. 
2. Pop music is more than what's on the radio. 
3. Ok, that works. Roll with it. 

"More than what's on the radio." What kinds of pop might never hit the top 40? Take for example, the brilliant, and equally heterosexual Gay Blades. Trash pop at its absolute finest. I should clarify though--TGB branded trash pop should not be confused with "pop-that-is-trash;" ie, soulless, repetitive music that repeatedly tries and falls on its ugly face. Additionally, trash pop does not require one to be trashed while listening. In fact, there is no process in particular for me to experience trash pop. Sometimes with headphones, sometimes without. Sometime with pants, most times without. It is sweaty. Crunchy. Hooky. It retains the showmanship, and catchy danceable characteristics without possessing any of the usual post-production sheen. An exemplary polar opposite of this would be anything written or produced by Ryan Tedder--the man behind Kelly Clarkson and Leona Lewis, as well as Beyonce, Rihanna, and his own band, OneRepublic. I mean, here is a dude who wakes up in the morning, shuffles into his bathroom, and pisses out Grammies. 
The biggest stereotype with airwave-dominating pop music like this, is that it assumes that pop (based on my previous hypothetical definition) cannot be both catchy (re: "accessible") and intelligent or esoteric at the same time. These are qualities absolutely critical to guarantee approval by elitists and music cynics alike.

Shit. Getting off-topic again. How are we doing?
4. Trash pop is awesome. 
5. Even trash pop is still pop. 
6. "Pop music" is a gigantic, sweeping oversimplification of a genre ignored by overly self-conscious snobs who feel obligated to do so, because they're afraid to like something fun or accessible. Or even worse, something that others might like. 
7. Ah, so is that where I was going with this?

Allow me to reiterate; existing within the musical universe, there will always be pop music that is inherently, and irrevocably fucking awful. Like death and taxis [sic], this is inevitable. But imagine a world where "rock" music was written off, simply on account of Nickelback. Just the same, pop isn't all the Britneys and Kellys. It's not all on the radar, and it's not all written or produced by Tedder. If the pop on the radio were to serve any purpose at all, let it be the gateway drug, instead of the standard.
Try that, and holy shit, you just might like where it takes you.

So yeah. I love pop music. And I'm most definitely ok with that.



* And what would a meandering, convoluted diatribe about music be without at least a recommendation or three? In addition to The Gay Blades, Passion Pit (sway pop), Hockey (mustache pop), and La Roux (sucker pop) are several recent favorites that come immediately to mind.

3 contributions to this piece:

Kimbrolynn said...

You could essentially say that all catchy-tune music is 'pop'. You could... but you wouldn't.

Give me jangle pop.

Dagbert said...

Well, we don't do that for the same reason we don't call everything with electric guitar 'rock.'
Please, I don't want this to be easy.

Kimbrolynn said...

I have another to add--'rocking sugary electric pop'. That's how they are describing Tegan and Sara's new album, "Sainthood" :)

 
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