Leave Pop Music ALONE!

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Are the consistent charges that the likes of Gaga and Katy Perry make “soulless” music fair? Does pop music cop more than its fair share of flack? Dhanesh Patel “investigates”…

We’ve all heard it. In fact, most of us have probably indulged in it on the odd occasion. “Oh, I don’t listen to chart stuff, it’s just processed crap”. “It’s just so fake”. Is it perhaps fair to suggest that usually there’s a huge stench of hypocrisy that accompanies these statements? Indeed, bastions of the guitar music press in this country can frequently be found to make snide comments about any kind of music that has the audacity to break out of the guitar/bass/drums formula – something increasingly apparent in an age where anyone can make a snarky comment on a blog and find at least a handful of likeminded readers.

The most complementary sound bite likely to come out of the mouths of these people is “it’s a good pop song”. I beg you to let me in on this – what distinguishes a “good song” from “a good pop song”? Are the fans of rock music just as shallow and image obsessed as the music they constantly deride? Consider this –  imagine if Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ had been strummed on a reverb drenched guitar and sung by a singer whose vocals were muffled to the point of incoherence (in a vain attempt to emulate Lou Reed). Would people still be deriding the song’s “mindless” lyrics? Or would they, safe in the knowledge that the band looked “authentic”, hail the song as the “return of the great British guitar band”? And that’s a hypothetical situation based on anything but the very best chart music has to offer.

To take another example, go onto Youtube and search for any well known rock band covering a mainstream pop song. I’ve gone for Biffy Clyro’s cover of Rihanna’s monster hit ‘Umbrella’. Predictably the top rated comment is something along the lines of “THAT’S how you do it Rihanna”, accompanied by several other like-minded, ill thought of critiques (my favourite being “the original of this song was crap but this version is amazing”). I’m sorry, what? How can someone’s opinion of exactly the same song fluctuate so wildly on the basis that it’s being strummed on an acoustic guitar and being sung by a less capable singer? It’s still the same chords, the same melody – for all intents and purposes it’s the same. Surely this is undeniable proof that these kinds of people are essentially a mirror image of those they deride (except for some reason the image that appeals to them is a hairy Scotsman with a guitar as opposed to Rihanna…I won’t venture a guess as to why).

It would be erroneous to suggest that image plays no part in the appeal popular music has to all of us. Whether it’s something obvious such as Lady Gaga’s music videos (‘Bad Romance’ being a favourite) or more implicit, such as Slash’s insistence on fulfilling the rock star cliché to a T (an irony lost on many of the people described above), image is an integral aspect of most music. Perhaps the greatest source of the hostility towards pop music therefore stems from less from the music itself and more the package in which it’s delivered? Because let’s face it, as much as a Biffy or Strokes fan wants to believe they’re above all that, they buy into it just as much as anyone else.

 

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7 Comments

  1. avatar

    In all honesty all pop music is starting to sound the same. All the chart toppers are starting to have a catchy dance affiliated melody and it’s really just getting repetitive now.

  2. avatar
    Andrew Baber on

    Good Article. I would agree with Shiva to some extent that it does sound very samey at the moment, many artists seem to be relying on big synthy beats… shown pretty much by Britney’s recent releases. But a good song is a good song and it shouldn’t be dismissed just becasue it’s a pop song.

  3. avatar
    Dhanesh Patel on

    Yep they do rely on “big synthy beats” but how is that different from relying on “big rock beats”?If anything pop music is actually as a whole more open to outside influences and changes its sound frequently, whereas rock music has stuck with the same template for half a century. Now I’m not saying that’s a bad thing but people have a tendency to hold music they DON’T like to higher standards than music they DO like.

    The above discussion is one manifestation of that, but it’s also apparent whenever someone writes off say a Britney Spears song on the basis of her lyrics, even when they listen to equally inane lyricists such as Axl Rose or Jon Bon Jovi. Again, I’m not saying I don’t prefer those bands but I sure as hell don’t listen to them for their lyrics. It would be far more honest for people just to admit they don’t like pop music rather than trying to rationalize their taste in the manner demonstrated above.

  4. avatar

    I don’t think its so much the music that causes people’s ire than it is the way in which the industry works in promoting and selling these acts. While I may not care for most pop music, I have no real animosity towards Lady Gaga, Katie Perry or whoever, I just ignore them and listen to what I like. If they’re entertaining people, fine, nothing really wrong with that.

    Thing is the music industry is geared towards what they believe will make them the most money, which has no relation to how dedicated a musician is to their craft or whether it sounds new and interesting. They’ll promote similar banal personalities to sing similar banal songs. Most pop music ends up sounding pretty similar, lyrics about love, verse-chorus-verse-chorus, all in 4/4, 3 minutes long, same intruments, same singing inotations or whatever. In this interview from the ’80s, Frank Zappa explains this pretty well, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UAWqwLjN70

    That said, the internet has made niche areas of music more accessible and easier to find, though it works the other way in how big name pop acts can hijack it to further promote themselves.

    • avatar

      Should also add that many of the rock acts you’ve mentioned can easily be considered pop as well. Though its not always this black and white, e.g. ‘Revolution 9’ couldn’t be considered a pop song just because its by The Beatles.

    • avatar
      Dhanesh Patel on

      All industries are geared towards making the most money possible. This is really a non-point.

      Nearly all popular music is in 4/4 time whether it’s Britney Spears or Nirvana so I don’t really see what you’re trying to say. Of course there is a wider variety of music out there but this article was really addressing the kind of music snobbery that exists towards pop music from people who think their own musical tastes are way more “authentic” than they actually are. I agree with your point that a lot of the acts I have mentioned could be considered pop, which is basically the point. People like to think that the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Foo Fighters are a world away from the chart music they ridicule but they all share those qualities you outlined in your reply.

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