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Wednesday, August 27, 2003
To address another point K-Punk and Simon bring up: what's at stake with the championing of pop? Hasn't pop as a genre, by definition, already "won?"

Leaving aside the issue that pop-as-a-genre sounds pretty different today than it did thirty years ago, and speaking more for myself than for "popists," whoever they are, the point is not championing a genre but in looking beyond the stereotypes and morals associated with that genre to find the good stuff within it, a task made more possible by getting beyond the weird it's-only-good-if-everything's-good album-rock standards and embracing da song. (Which has now become so obvious that even PF is doing it.) I'm sure Matthew Yglesias would have some fancy Harvard term for this, but what Simon/K-Punk are accusing SFJ/etc. of is the sin of judgment-by-classification; only good things are in category Y, only bad things are in category Z. Classifying by worth, in other words, instead of actually by characteristics. Things that are pop are good. Things that are rock are bad. Not true, I hope: I'm just looking for a good tune. The genre it's working within is interesting and may make me more involved in the song, depending, but ultimately a melody's a melody, and I hope I stay true to that dictum.

So what's at stake? Well, a) finding good songs, but also b) trying to break down barriers and change critical standards within all the music we love. I think it's pretty clear at this point that cross-pollination in pop is one of the things I (and the folks I seem to agree with) like: the Bollywood in Missy, the rave synths in Outkast, the 60's-girl-group in Britney. But it runs both ways, because we still heart the "underground." So what's at stake is encouraging indie (of whatever stripe) to engage in the kind of joyousness, innovation (or innovation-as-reference) and mass appeal of pop, even if it doesn't actually work, because the songs that can result are, well, interesting. I mean, good lord, Wayne Coyne's already realized this. Why not collaborate with a producer? Why not pack in the hooks? Why should you always go for difficulty? I'm not saying I want everything to always be pop--I just want it to be an option open to more people, just like I think lo-fi and strong melodic songwriting should be options everyone tries out at some point.

This, in other words, is why Liz Phair matters: because whatever the results (and as we know, I at least find one song on the album well worth the experiment), it is worth a try, and she should not be brought down simply for the trying. Someone who has released an album made on a four-track should be able to release an album with a Neptunes track because they really love pop, not because they're "selling out." Moreover, they should be able to embrace all the glorious trapping of pop like cheesy photo shoots and advertising blitzes and the like because that's part of the game, part of the fun for everyone. Personalities are not unitary, folks, and you don't know the whole of a person based on one album, no matter how confessional it may seem. Don't tie us to mysteriousness. Don't call us lame cause we ain't listening. D-d-d-don't stop the beat.

UPDATE: The issue was also brought up at Mostly Weird, which is great because you get to see him seriously use the line "At best, critics who write about pop acts are just jacking off," a hilarious take because I wasn't aware that writing about music served any substantive purpose no matter which genre you're writing about.