February 2, 2010

in defense of pop 2009.

I’ll admit it: I don’t expect much from pop songs. Their structural simplicity and preoccupation with adolescent anxieties often leave me craving more. Like carb loading at Home Town Buffet, a lot of current pop music comes across as sugary coated fluff – complete with mediocre vocal stylings and mundane beats. You’re full, but disgusted with yourself for dominating three rounds of cheesy bread. This disdain has led many culture-hating fundamentalists to cast
pop music onto the cultural shit heap as unbearable drivel - trite and momentary.

I suspect self-consciousness is at play amid this elitist mentality. I am inherently shady towards anyone who cringes when I Want it That Way blasts it’s 5-part harmony on the radio. That same d-bag who scoffed at my Pink album knows every single lyric to Since U Been Gone and sings the chorus at the top of his lungs when nobody is around.

Pop music reaches a much larger audience than rap, heavy metal, and country music, and as such good pop music eradicates regionalism. Miley Cyrus may be a manufactured prop, but her gem of a mass-produced single Party in the USA makes explicit what the lyrics' Nashville-to-L.A. pilgrimage and Jay-Z and Britney name-drops suggest—this isn't a mere single so much as a red state/blue state, hick/elite, rural/urban convergence. Jay-Z gets play in West Virginia and Kenny Chesney is loved in New York City. A great pop hook transcends cultural differences.

Speaking of bridging gaps, I’d argue that no pop performers (save for Madonna) have done more to promote tolerance in the past decade than Adam Lambert and Lady Gaga. Lambert gender bent his way to mainstream success, single-handedly making American Idol relevant again. And has any artist of any genre had more success than Gaga this year? Her New York-inspired performance art makes headlines every time she takes the stage. Do I get the Kermit the Frog ensemble? No. Do I jock Bad Romance? Hell yes!

RA RA RA AH AH AH, ROMA RO MA MA, GAGA OOH LA LA. That is some genius shit right there.

What is exciting – and dare I say important – about both artists is their unabashed embrace of their sexuality. The uncompromised integrity and nonchalant nature with which they approach the topic has been met with mainstream commercial success. Very telling in such a politically divided climate. Could an artist like Adam Lambert or Lady Gaga exist in the rap world? Would limited exposure on the indie circuit have been as impactful? Both artists have publically pushed boundaries of what is deemed socially allowable. Only pop music can promote such social change.

Pop music endures because of function. Pop songs have become personal cultural milestones. I remember exactly what was popular around 9/11 (Ms. Jackson), and what was on my radio when I heard about MJ’s passing (Boom Boom Pow). Every time I hear Tonight Tonight by the Smashing Pumpkins, or Stay by Lisa Loeb, I am transported to very specific sights and feelings of my adolescence, from turning on the radio for the first time as a licensed driver, to falling face first into bushes performing a sloppy version of Friends in Low Places.

Any 'best of' list these days will draw criticism simply because culture and music tastes are so fragmented. A lover of music in general, I greatly enjoyed Jacob’s top 50 list over at ISO50 – Empire of the Sun is a particular favorite. Having said that, it is impossible to quantify the amount of joy pop music has granted me this year into a ranked list. Instead I’m just going to include twelve cuts that helped me get the party started in 2009. Be careful – If you let your guard down these beats just might infect you.

The set list:

La Roux – Bulletproof

Black Eyed Peas – Meet Me Halfway

Adam Lambert – Music Again

Lady Gaga – Monster

The Ting Ting’s – That’s Not My Name

P!nk - Please Don’t Leave Me

Kelly Clarkson - My Life Would Suck Without You

Sean Kingston - Fire Burning

Gaslight Anthem - The ’59 Sound

Temper Trap - Sweet Disposition

Ke$ha - TiK ToK

Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head - Sophisticated Side Pony Tail


Anonymous said...

YES! What a great list.

Mike said...

La Roux is the shit!

Anonymous said...

Anybody that hates on Kelly Clarkson or Pink is fucking crazy.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't head of Gaslight Anthem - Love it!

Anonymous said...

I agree that pop music can get a bad rap, but in all honesty most of it is crap.

Anonymous said...

Eradicates regionalism or promotes a lack of creativity?

Corey said...

hahaha - You leave Home Town Buffet out of this!

Luke said...

1. this list is gayer than mauve easter basket grass.
2. "sober" is pink at her best.
3. you forgot passion pit's "little secrets"