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    • CommentTimeSep 12th 2009
    So I've been listening to a lot of stuff on Spotify lately, which means listening to the odd advert for new singles aimed squarely for the hit parade. When listening to an ad for the new Mika single, I found myself thinking "Wow, he's irritating, but ultimately I think he's good for pop music". Because I like to think that a healthy, vibrant pop music scene is ultimately good for all types of music. Or is it? Do less mainstream acts need pop music any more? Did they ever? Who's putting on who? What's your relationship with pop music?

    For the record, my own tastes are fairly varied, but a couple of my favourite bands (Super Furry Animals and Sparks) are to my mind 'proper' pop music for grown ups. But that's just like, my opinion, man. Who (if anyone) floats your pop boat these days?
  1.  (6772.2)
    I've been really obsessed with the last two of Montreal records lately but they're kind of on the fence. I can't think of anything else to call them but pop but they do some really whacked out avant garde stuff. Other than A LOT of Prince and a strange R. Kelly fixation most of the pop stuff I like tends to be like that, sort of straddling the line between traditional and abstract. The new Sunset Rubdown is great and I've been getting really into the Santigold record.
  2.  (6772.3)
    All I seem to hear in pop today is bad lyrics rapped or autotuned over a hook from an 80s or 90s song. So I’m just listening to the originals, which have better lyrics, better musicianship, real singing, and in most cases superior production. But I’m not really seeking out anything that isn’t mainstream.

    I do love seeing photos of Lady Gaga though I have absolutely no clue what (or even if) she sings. Her outfits are about the only thing I’ve found that’s done well in contemporary pop music. If your music isn’t going to be memorable, you might as well wear avant-garde coutre like streetwear.
    • CommentAuthorVickyHall
    • CommentTimeSep 12th 2009
    I am going to attract much criticism now and say the following: Lady Gaga is the best pop star since Kylie got her groove back.
    • CommentTimeSep 13th 2009
    Actually Vicky, I'm interested to know what all the fuss is about, because I can't really see it myself. I know it's sometimes hard to deconstruct the music you like, but what is it that you think makes her so good?
  3.  (6772.6)
    While this thread should not be about Lady Gaga, I don't get why she's popular, she seems like a tone deaf Gwen Stefani with a Ziggy Stardust fixation but my good lady thinks she's great. I'm sure there is tonnes of great pop music out there, I am just not often exposed to it, what I have heard does seem to be an awful lot of bad rehashes or semi-coherent street yoof babble, so really nothing much has changed.

    One thing I think is that pop music and the charts that really define it are now superfluous.
      CommentAuthorDoc Ocassi
    • CommentTimeSep 13th 2009
    I have to admit that I don't know much about pop music, my only exposure to it is while working I occasionally have to drive distances and when BBC 4, BBC Scotland, or Classic radio have nothing nothing to offer, I'll scan through the rest of the spectrum. I find most it too irritating to listen too, this has been true since I was old enough listen to radio, and I suspect this has always been the case.

    I don't see pop music as any type of genre, or even a selection of the best of all the genres. I see it as a business, marketing a sound product with a high sales orientation, not deviating heavily into unknown territory, but focusing on saturation of the soundscape that people live in. I wouldn't say there is no music involved in this because there are some fantastic musicians creating music there. I would however argue that they are there because of their business acumen rather than their musical talent.
    • CommentTimeSep 13th 2009
    Pop is a hard one to pin down. From my experience of interviewing musicians and producers, it's a label that few embrace, beyond the manufactured likes of boy bands and the recurring meme of the Pop Princess, which I am sure dates back much further than even the ancient, crone-like brain of Madonna can remember. I think that with the way music is now distributed and consumed, the avant garde and experimental acts have less to worry about in terms of competing for market share. It's a big world, and there's room enough for everybody.

    That said, some of my favourite 'pop' sounding music is from experimental bands, like Stereolab or Pavement. I think the thing that depresses me about pop is its longstanding commodification of indie music. It's depressing as hell to hear indie bands using trance riffs and drum machines... it's almost as bad as the Beatles-copyist, backward looking elements that were the cancer at the heart of Britpop. In short, I love it when the alternative scene embraces pop. I can't stand it when pop embraces the alternative. That probably makes me some kind of awful hypocrite.

    I would like to hear more pop themes expressed by truly experimental bands: to have people who were great musicians become truly popular, and publicly celebrated. But that's not the way we are going - the mass media's fixation on test-tube boybands and autotuned clothes-horse divas, not to mention the flash-in-the-pan reality TV losers, will continue apace. Meanwhile, those who like 'proper' pop music (ahem... I know that's a horrible way of saying it!) can sate themselves on the likes of Florence and the Machine and Bat for Lashes... or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs... who are all pop to the bone, but kooky with it.

    Personally, I just try and avoid pop... then when it creeps up on me, I can be surprised either way! Seriously though, look at the album charts. The Beatles, Michael Jackson... Vera fucking Lynn for crying out loud. If the albums / singles are still the standard by which we judge what is 'pop' then we're idiots. People use Spotify, iTunes, Pirate Bay or whatever.

    I leave you with my favourite 'pop' song of the moment.
      CommentAuthorPaul Sizer
    • CommentTimeSep 13th 2009 edited
    I'll weigh in quickly here; I love well done pop music, and believe it can come from many different sources. Agreed; much of what is on Top 40 radio right now makes me want to go back and listen to the original sources they've ripped them off from (rappers using vocorders right now are a current pet peeve, as they seem to think that they've just discovered it.)

    One of my favorite groups of all time is the Pet Shop Boys, who are unquestionably a pop band, although they for certain branch into many other genres, like Broadway show tunes, gay disco, industrial (yes), and even experimental electronic music (not quite to Autechre levels, but still). Yes, a majority of what they do is straight forward pop singles, but they infuse everything they do with the essence of what pop does very well; give you a hook to remember something about that song. A hook means you hum it in the shower, in the car, when you're whistling aimlessly. Same thing as remembering Beethoven's 5th Symphony automatically.

    So I don't have a problem with Gwen Stephani, Rihanna or Maroon 5 writing a good pop hook; fair play, it's as legit as a Beatles pop song for that requirement. I also don't have a problem with NIN writing a good pop song, or the Fuck Buttons. Some will always cry "Sell Out", but tell me that the year I heard a stadium full of people singing "I wanna fuck you like an animal" wasn't some kind of screwed up "pop" moment.

    Indie music is always wary of the "pop" label, because it is seen as a betrayal of their intent, but if that's a real concern, then you're more worried about your image and not the music you're producing. Having the grace to accept when a "pop" song comes out of your brain and using it's power to get the rest of your music to more people is a much needed skill and should be embraced.

    And to make my point with the genius of the Pet Shop Boys, here's one of my favorite tracks, the complex and intelligent "Being Boring", in a beautiful video by photographer Bruce Weber (sorry, they won't let me embed it):
    • CommentAuthordot_xom
    • CommentTimeSep 13th 2009
    I still believe that the greatest pop album ever was and is Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. Wonderfully catchy music, seemingly genuine and heartfelt lyrics and just a feel-good vibe that any good pop album should inspire.
      CommentAuthorDoc Ocassi
    • CommentTimeSep 13th 2009
    Looking back at my previous post, Paul has probably got a lot closer to it than me, the hook, the part of the song that sticks in your head, seems a more accurate description of what pop is than my cynical explanation.

    I guess this is why it is so hard to pin down because this idea can mould itself into any form of music.

    The one modern band that hits this more than any other I can think of is Polysics. Enjoy.

    Polysics - I My Me Mine
    • CommentTimeSep 13th 2009
    Interesting stuff, and I'm loving that Polysics song. I hope I'm not misenterpreting what people are saying in that it seems to be a question of integrity - that catchy, hooky songs are fine when it's being done for the sake of the music rather than just to shift units. For some reason my brain is connecting this to Lemon Jelly, who Wikepedia say this about:

    Lemon Jelly are known for their imaginative live performances. In 2003, Lemon Jelly performed a number of concerts around the UK. Instead of having a support act, Franglen and Deakin organized a giant game of Bingo, presided over by Death and played by many members of the audience.[2] In other shows, support was provided by Don Partridge - a traditional one man band - whilst "Jelly Helpers" distributed sweets to the crowd. They also played a Saturday Morning gig named "Jelly Tots" as a charitable event for children. In between sets, classic British children's cartoons were played over a projection screen, and the event featured bouncy castles, clowns and hundreds of balloons. They have performed headlining sets at Glastonbury Festival, V Festival, Reading Festival and The Big Chill amongst others.

    To me, that's the kind of inclusive, exuberant and slightly silly ethic that good pop should embrace - making music that kids and festivalgoers alike can enjoy, but doing it primarily because it's fun.

    Lemon Jelly - Nice Weather for Ducks
  4.  (6772.13)
    I really, really hate to point this out, but half of 'modern' pop music is modern country music. Case in point...

    Maybe it would be more accurate to talk about the 3 and a half minute pop formula than anything Billboard says the masses are listening to. Right now my favorite pop is things like Polysics and -M- French pop!

    • CommentTimeSep 13th 2009
    See, that right there is the reason I like to dabble with some FIP from time to time. You used to be able to pick it up on this side of the channel, but I''m not sure you still can. It can be very hit and miss, but you still get exposed to some interesting sounds.
    • CommentAuthorAlexGBYMR
    • CommentTimeSep 13th 2009
    For me the best in "modern pop music" is represented in the Flaming Lips and Baddies.
    Listen to the Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots album and tell me it doesn't inhabit your brain for hours afterwords (this being "the hook" that gets talked about).

    As for Baddies, they do a quirky, angular kind of pop, as witnessed in these two videos;

  5.  (6772.16)
    Cheers for the M citation. I've been enjoying Oldelaf et Monsieur D lately as a sort of French TMBG and M looks more straight-up.

    If we're talking about all-time great pop bands, why not XTC (who, unless I'm wrong, the Polysics borrows riffs from in that embedded vid above)? They certainly know (knew) from a catchy hook, and equally certainly had enough lyrical interest to be considered "for grown-ups."
      CommentAuthorCat Vincent
    • CommentTimeSep 13th 2009 edited
    I think my major problem with pop music is that part of me resents the power of the hook.
    Maybe it's that I'm especially prone to having them loop in my head, entirely separate from whether or not I actually like the song.
    (The modern idiom for this is 'earworm' but I still like to call 'em 'Pepsis', after Bester's The Demolished Man.)
    One of the worst of these for me is Come On Eileen, which embedded itself on first release and still makes me cringe... and then have fucking 'too-ra-loo-ra-lay' go around my transom for hours after random exposure.

    Most stuff in the pop charts makes me wince or want to stab out my ears (there goes 90%, mostly rap, boy bands, R'n'B (which may I say, in an old fuddy-duddy moment, is a term that should be reserved for the likes of Muddy Waters), mouthy mini-divas and especially the twin blights of Linkin Park and Coldplay-Who-Are-Shit.

    Of the remainder I do like Bloc Party, Kasabian, some of Reverend & the Makers, Bat For Lashes and what I've seen of Florence & the Machine is interesting. (I would note that while Florence is a comely young woman with interesting songs, a pleasing voice, great hair and immensely long legs, she has proven to be a most ungainly dancer. Evidence in the video for Drumming Song, which dislikes embedding but is in Youtube.

    What I especially like is when a rock outfit like Muse pull into the pop charts - I'm a sucker for guitarists who can play and pull of portentious songs (yeay, prog fan, I know it's obvious...). And I don't get tired of Placebo when they show up - I think many of their singles are fine pop but with a weight to 'em - Pure Morning, Special K & Nancy Boy as examples. And as ever I long for Julian Cope to get another chance to disgrace the likes of Top of the Pops.

    But there's always something to surprise me. Hell I managed to grudgingly like a Strokes song...
      CommentAuthorPaul Sizer
    • CommentTimeSep 13th 2009
    The Polysics song above reminded me of an older, Japanese synthpop/new wave band called The Plastics, with similar weirdness, yet falling into the "Pop" category:
  6.  (6772.19)
    Hey, I saw Polysics live last month and I was so happy when they played that! They all dressed up as airline pilots and cabin crew for the show and were just incredible. Pop music yes, but I'm sure I've seen it written that the last album was much more rock than pop...

    I love pop music. Like, not just the indie, avant and rock artists that embrace pop (the guy from the Cardiacs always says his music is pop I think, and it is hooky as hell, although all kinds of fucked up too) but the chart friendly manufactured stuff too.

    Of course not all of it, and there's a vast amount of terrible manufactured music with no redeeming features - created by focus groups to soundtrack commercials and otherwise provide some kind of wittering background drone. But then, there's a vast amount of terrible avant-garde music, and terrible metal, and terrible hard-core and a HUGE amount of terrible indie. I don't know that it all balances out, but I know that just as there are inspired people making music in other genres, there are inspired people making music in the world of pop too. You don't have to embrace an entire genre, you can just embrace the best bits.

    And (and this is the most important thing) NOT just to make money. Because the "pop" style, the "pop" world is part of the music they make. Some people don't want to play in a band with three other dudes, they want to make impeccably produced earworms that can be lipsynched by cute girls or boys (or both!). There are Girls Aloud tracks (usually from the Xenomania people) that I would defend to the death as being as good as anything Mastodon or Fucked Up or any other contemporary "alternative" artists that I also love. And going back to the birth of... modern pop music (pop here in the super-inclusive way that covers anything not classical) there are many, many geniuses who just worked in the back rooms, churning out hits for the stars. Motown and the Brill Building crew... modern pop is just as full of genius as it was back then.

    Less mainstream artists don't need pop music so much anymore - they can make money and court fans independently of the majors etc. But pop music, pure pop music or whatever's lighting up the top of the charts, is still necessary for a vibrant culture.

    Living in Japan, where manufactured bands are openly acknowledged as such, and the ridiculousness of replacing members when they get too old is openly embraced and celebrated (she "graduated" from the group and is now "mentoring" her replacements!) I get exposed to a lot of "plastic" pop music (although I miss out on most of the autotune r&b stuff some people mentioned. The biggest stuff gets imported here though and while I've yet to find an Akon track I like, Ne-Yo has some good ones) and some of it is fantastic.

    I was gonna post vids, but this is long enough already. Off the top of my head though the recent Kid Kudi ft. Kanye West and Common version of Lady Gaga's poker face is awesome, as are most Girls Aloud songs, a lot of Rachel Stevens' singles (and a few S-Club 7 ones too). Morning Musume (the Japanese group who replaces members that I mentioned above) have a few great singles like Love Machine, Yasutaka Tanaka is an electronic producer who writes all the music for the acts Perfume, Capsule and Meg and all are great. McFly (get over it) have some really, really well written pop tunes (albeit, deeply indebted to their influences). Sugababes had some good songs, and since I haven't mentioned any boys yet, the Japanese boyband Tokio have some good tracks and the solo album from JC Chasez of 'N Sync is really good (putting aside the fact that ol' Justin Timberlake himself has a few choice tracks).
  7.  (6772.20)

    Wow, the Plastics are pretty neat!