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.