Posts Tagged ‘pop music’

Pop Music: I Get It. Everyone Needs a Big Mac Once in a While

Monday, May 23rd, 2016
Radio, video
Boogie with a suitcase
Your livin’ in a disco
Forget about the rat race
Let’s do the milkshake, sellin’ like a hotcake
Try some buy some fee-fi-fo-fum
Talk about, pop musik
Talk about, pop musik
– M

(Oh, yes. Yep. I sure did.)

I read this article, Hit Charade, in The Atlantic this morning. (Oddly, it was written last year – not sure why it popped up today, or where I saw it.) It’s a fascinating and disturbing discussion of the songwriters behind huge pop hits. Interestingly, the majority of this crap is created, via a fairly precise money-making formulaic process, by a handful of men (who are primarily middle-aged, white, and Scandinavian.) Finally, an article that kind of sums up why my eyes involuntarily roll when I have to hear this shit.

As producer Louis Pearlman put it:

. . . the Backstreet Boys went from playing in front of Shamu’s tank at SeaWorld to selling out world tours. Millennium, released in 1999, is one of the best-selling albums in American history. Pearlman then decided to start an identical boy band, performing songs by the same songwriters. “My feeling was, where there’s McDonald’s, there’s Burger King.”

That’s it! It’s fast food. It’s not good for you. They’re feeding you Big Macs.

No one can live on Big Macs.


I have a group of neighbors (and beloved friends) that I hang out with a lot. We joke about our differing tastes in music pretty often. I am the self-proclaimed music snob. They will play a song, or the radio will be on in their car, or they’ll be discussing pop music or the Billboard awards show? (I don’t know, I muted that conversation, ladies) or mention a song (or sometimes an artist) and I will say that I don’t know that song or artist. Years ago, they were in complete disbelief that I might not know a Beyonce or Drake or Maroon 5 or Taylor Swift song, or whatever, but I think they actually get that I REALLY DO NOT KNOW THAT SONG. NEVER HEARD IT BEFORE. I REALLY DO NOT LISTEN TO THE RADIO. (Okay, occasionally NPR or 97.1 THE RIVER, but I’m not talking classic rock here.) Now, to be fair, we can usually find some middle ground in classic rock or some eighties stuff. And also, so as not to be painting them all with the same brush, some also like stuff that I consider good. (You know who you are. Get over it. I am not painting you with my sweeping brush.)

This is not at all limited to that group, either. My own children like this pop crap. Nicky Minaj, and Selena Gomez, and other “artists” that all sound the same to me. We have a rule in our car that the driver gets to pick the music. I took my son and his friend to a baseball game one time and played my music in the car and they proceeded to toss me such insults as, “Pop music rules” and “Rock and roll sucks.” (My heart broke. The saving grace is that he actually has come around on that, and while he still listens to crap, he also has a nice appreciation for the harder stuff.)

Sometimes I think, “Well, I guess this means I’m really old now.” Other times I think, “Was this how mom and dad felt when I bought that “Like a Virgin” 45, or when I turned over the Some Great Reward cassette again and again for hours on end? There is no doubt in my mind what they were thinking when they saw this album come in the house.
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I still remember. Dad did what Lisa and I refer to as “Cat Face.” It’s akin to Grumpy Cat; Cecil was the original grumpy cat. Cat Face was derived from Cecil getting the look my cat, Scully, had while riding in the car.


Super-tangential side note: I picked this album cover for its’ memorable parental shock value. Shocking at the time, but later, even more ridiculously fun teenage shock value moments of memory include the following:

  • My dad’s disgust over a Lubricated Goat CD lying in my car
  • A particularly heated discussion over dinner about whether Jesus might have masturbated, somehow precipitated by my recounting tidbits of a My Life With the Thrill Kill Cult show I had seen at Masquerade the night before.

I also used that album because it is one of those albums that I remember studying over and over, sitting in my room, looking at all the pictures while listening. It’s right up there with being a really little kid in our Alpharetta playroom, looking at the people on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s, or a few years after that, sitting in a den in our NY house, playing Rumours, and looking at the cover, wishing I had an outfit like Stevie’s, and wondering what the deal was with Mick’s weird dangling balls belt thingie. [/end tangent]


By the end of The Song Machine, readers will have command of such terms of art as melodic math, comping, career record, and track-and-hook . . . One term remains evasive, however: artist. In the music industry, the performers are called artists, while the people who write the songs remain largely anonymous outside the pages of trade publications. But can a performer be said to have any artistry if, as in the case of Rihanna, her label convenes week-long “writer camps,” attended by dozens of producers and writers (but not necessarily Rihanna), to manufacture her next hit? Where is the artistry when a producer digitally stitches together a vocal track, syllable by syllable, from dozens of takes? Or modifies a bar and calls it a new song?

The reason I can’t get into radio pop shit, but which i’ve never been able to put into words, is this: Where is the artistry? (Not lost on anyone is that the magical outpouring of Prince grief from every corner of the universe was due to his artistry, right?) This article, with its discussion of templates, and magic, proven formulas, and hooks, and emulation. . . gah. It almost made my head explode.

I fully admit that this is a rambling, quickly-penned-in-20-minutes-mess-of-a-post, devoid of it’s own artistry, but this article really struck a chord with me, based on a few recent discussions about my (supposed!) music snobbery. After reading this article, though, I think I am going to stop calling myself a music snob and just start saying that I like music that doesn’t come from a template cranked out by a machine. It seems I’m into Artistry. (Watch out, y’all. I’m now totally highbrow and fancy and stuff. Also, I like lyrics with ideas. Real ideas. And poetry. And imagery is nice, too.)


Small disclaimer:

  1. Some of this pop crap IS on my running list. Particularly, I’m thinking about that Kelley Clarkson song that is mentioned in the article as a Yeah Yeah Yeahs ripoff. But running is different – I like that dissociative feel of the repetition of a beat and the rhythmic pattern of my feet pounding the pavement.
  2. I am not really judging people who listen to the radio stuff. We like what we like. I just don’t feel like there is much about pop music that feeds my soul. But I get it: Everyone needs to eat a Big Mac every once in a while. They taste good, even if it’s not worth it, because you end up in and out of the office bathroom the rest of the afternoon.
  3. There are songs that my kids latch on to, radio songs that make me cringe, but that they cannot help but love. And I get it, those songs are like candies, little gum drops fed right into their sweet little cherub mouths. And so, let it be stated, I am not above a dance party with R. to Taio Cruz’ “Dynamite”; I may have gotten down with the girl to Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” And yes, she adored that GODAWFUL ABERRATION of a song by Florida Georgia Line song, “Cruise.” It has been played in my car with the windows down, and damn it, yes, I sang along. Because when your 8 year old wants you to sing it with her, damn it, you sing.
  4. I really like Ryan Adams. Like, I love him with pink and red hearts that cry and expand and fly into the air and stuff. I will not apologize.

The real point of this post? Gratitude. I’m glad there are people out there still making the authentic, true, whimsical, beautiful, and terrible sounds of the individual and the experimental collectives of people coming together and creating original things of amazement and shock, even if it means that I have to make some effort to find them. And I’m thankful that I still feel compelled to seek them out. Just put a bullet in my head when I don’t want to find them any more. I’d rather be dead than live on Big Macs.