What the hell is this shit you’re listening to? Is something I regularly get asked when my headphones are snatched from my ears or a friend wanders into my bedroom without knocking - although, in this case, the revelations could be worse, obviously. Usually I do not feel the urge to defend the evident lack of artistry in something like Lady Gaga – the Remixes, because in stating that I like it brings me down to the level of the standard of the album in the eyes of the onlooker. This is something we generally want to avoid, a topic I covered in another post a while ago, the scapegoat of the Guilty Pleasure. We want people to think that we are interesting, considered, fashionable individuals, who came to our conclusions on our own about music and culture – conclusions that represent us, so they have to be good.
However, I think it’s time we get off our high horses about music, art and so on, and see it for what it is, or rather, what function it performs, and then view it from that angle. In the wide spectrum of music Pop gets a fairly rough deal. Its lyrics don’t stand up to much past telling someone you love them, fancy them, want to dance with them, while displaying tokens of how cool you are, how flexible you are in as little clothing as possible or how many honeys you can pay to cluster around your sagging, Swarovski crystal-encrusted crotch. It’s image is also as such – over-sexed, talentless wailers, levelled out by autotune and a gang of record-label stylists and PR team, just to make sure you appeal to the audience that will like you enough to part with their cash to prove it.
No – pop is not the prerequisite of truth and integrity. It is the drug-fuelled, perpetually horny, all singing, all repeating underclass of music, continually unaware, still pouting with a plastic smile. There are no deep emotions in pop, even the word ‘Love’ has been bleached out and turned into a rhetoric device that is really only code for ‘Shag.’ Just let me ‘Love’ you. You’re ‘Love’ is my drug.
But are we, the deriders of the artifice of Pop, really so profound in every aspect of our existence? When we shake our bodies on the dance floor after eight pints, trying to feel up whoever is next to us, are we thinking, ‘Yes, I am the paradigm of truth, I am the Human Spirit crammed into just one small body, I am dispelling all the lies that culture has built up, I am the Only, the Genuine.’ Probably not. And if you do, you’re a bit of a dick. We think about how good it feels to move our body to a repeated beat, how great it is to be in a crowd of people who think the same as you, who are as enthused about this moment right here, like you. You think how great it is to be alive. If pop is about one thing it is this - this moment, this time right now. This is its most instant appeal and its primary drawback.
Let me put it like this: We do not function on one level all the time, we flit between them. To stay on one level would be boring and tiring. If we understand the importance of these various levels at the appropriate time, then we can get the most from them. If I go into a bar and am annoyed that no one wants to talk about the finer points of Aristotle’s literary critique The Poetics with me, then I am missing the point of the level. People go to bars to chat, drink, flirt, dance and relax. I could always turn around and go to a little artsy café on the corner where chatting, drinking, flirting, dancing and relaxing might happen with an opening for Aristotle.
Basically, what I’m saying is that Pop is something to be primarily enjoyed on one level – the level it is intended to be, on a dance floor, in the background of a bar, making your toe tap on the bus, later to be forgotten. Sure, my favourite pop artists are those that try and transcend this (admittedly) limited generalisation, people like Janelle Monae, Missy Elliot, Of Montreal, Vampire Weekend, Beck, Bjork, Rufus Wainwright, Imogen Heap and Patrick Wolf. These are people who appreciate one level but see further expansion into another.
But let’s not forget the outright perpetrators of Pop, and their virtues – Britney Spears, arguably the world’s most famous pop star, sang well written and produced songs (my favourite, produced by the Neptunes, is here) lived a life-style we all envied a bit, even if we also hated the idea of it, put on a show and made millions of people across the Globe want to dance. Then she is forgotten (although, is actually bringing out a new album in March) and superseded by someone else who performs that function – Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, Kelis, The Biebe, Usher, STILL bloody Madonna, and so on. Of course there are the debates that these over-sexualised pop icons shouldn’t be directed at young teenagers and that this is distorting their perceptions of success. But I really don’t think that is down to the pop industry. I think that is down to the government and parents to provide relevant, aspirational and intelligent options for their children. Pop will remain as it has done; as something to amuse and entertain us. It has never sought to provide us with the answers and anyone who thinks it does is deaf as well as blind. But, in that moment when the lights are dim, when your vision is hazy and your body moves in time with the music, it can seem like a moment of transcendence – not that this will last, like most good things, the Pop aura fades with the rising of the sun, and you are left with ringing ears, an aching body, and the memory that you had a great time last night (providing that you didn’t over do it. That’s outsides the limit of this article I’m afraid).
Mainstream pop is something to, well, pop up and down when you want it, something to live inside for a moment or two, a dream, a bubble, a fantasy for a short period, perhaps. When I think about pop songs now, the sort with lyrics that only have relevance within the song, instead of looking down on them as shallow hedonists, I can think that maybe the beat is great, the song is catchy, I want to hum along and tap my foot, I want to be in that moment for a short while, I am in praise of the ephemeral lapses in and out of Pop.
Now, Move, move, move those hips, shake, shake, shake that ass.
Missy Elliott - Pass That Dutch
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