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Thursday, August 28, 2003
Mark at k-punk reduces a number of the responses to his and others' critiques of the SFJ article on JT to "that hoary old chestnut, 'it doesn't matter what genre music belongs to, all that matters is whether it is a good song or not...'" Not mine, I hope, as I don't think that's what it amounted to. It's not that simple. It matters and it doesn't. Let me explain.

Mark clarifies the problem with this particular argument thusly:

And one of the many things wrong with the 'it's all just music right' line is the suggestion that Pop is separable from Image - or that it's desirable to make the separation - that must be spurious. The rise of Pop is just as dependent upon visual as audio technology; in fact, Pop's essential implication in the (photographic/ film) image is surely one of its defining features.

But since when is pop the only genre that relies on image? Is "the music" the only reason people go see Al Green, or jazz quartets, or The Locust, or, hell, classical orchestras? Of course not. The image always matters to the music, and as a matter of fact, it's the image that (for good or ill) we find ourselves mainly talking about. So if all music is connected to its image, is it impossible to separate the music from the image in punk/avant-garde/jazz/any purist genre you care to name? I'd be interested to hear his answer.

He goes on to talk about the way the music does just become the music on MP3s/iPod, and speaks of the "threats to Pop posed by the invisibility of the Mp3". Aside from the fact that "image" is tied up in every choice of instrumentation, lyric and production that you make, regardless of whether or not you know anything about the band, I gotta say that as someone who works at a record label, it looks OK from here. We're not doing great, don't get me wrong, but it sure doesn't feel like we're on the verge of extinction. Quite frankly, if I don't believe it when the RIAA says that MP3s are going to kill the industry, I don't believe it when a MP3 fan says it either.

Because--tie-in alert--the songs, by and large, can't exist without the image, and that's one of the things the industry is so good at providing. And the image, as I say, needs to be there for every kind of music for it to be widespread; the image is why, as Mark et al say, music is the most engaging artform we have today.

But here's the thing: I (and not a few other people) like the image of pop, just like some people like the image of punk or street-cred electronic music or whatever. That is to say, the image makes me like the music more. Whereas there are other genres where I will like a song from it despite the image: folk or hardcore or trance or even punk, to a certain extent. And so I recognize that other people have this kind of allergic reaction to pop, and I accept that, although I'd like them to get over that, just like I'd be happy if someone got me over my hardcore allergy. But in the meantime, I think you can look beyond the image to find the song underneath. I don't think we want to separate the image from the music, but what we can do is to--as the phraseology goes--recontextualize it so as to make people enjoy it more. This is the inclusiveness thing, and it's a vibe I think we don't necessarily get from fans of a lot of other genres.

At any rate, it's a thorny issue, I suppose, but I do think, ultimately, that a song as a composition, as opposed to an actual recorded piece of music, can be separated from its image, and thus, the cover song. This is what I mean when I talk about looking for the song. Maybe that'll make it more clear.