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Monday, February 09, 2004
Then again, I'm not so sure about this bit:

For better or for worse, the moment in pop belongs not to the Courtney Loves of the world, but to the Norah Joneses, the Josh Grobans and the American Idols. Their songs can be played in schools and in supermarkets; their promotional campaigns are engineered to be as safe and scandal-free as political ones; and their songs are so vague that no listener feels left out.

Well, I feel pretty left out of Norah Jones, and a lot of people do--indeed, I think that's at the heart of the complaints that indie fucks (a term I'm using here in an entirely neutral way, mind you) have about mainstream pop. All the little bits of it, the signs and signifiers, the production and the lyrics and the drums and the guitars and the mastering, it all puts them off. Readers of this blog probably don't need me to document instances when people have ignored a great song simply because it was by an artist they distrusted, or because you could dance to it, or because you could hear the lyrics, or whatever. But it's not just 28-year-old Modest Mouse fans that have this reaction: it's 14-year-old hip-hop fans, it's 35-year-old metalheads, it's 55-year-old classical fans, it's 47-year-old avant/free-jazz's a whole lot of people.

Norah Jones is not successful because she appeals to everyone, she's successful because she appeals to older people. And that's OK. But no doubt part of her very appeal to these older people is her jazz roots, and the way that they can feel like they are, in fact, not "falling for" an American Idol winner, but are instead listening responsibly to a "real musician" working in a "real genre." For almost all people, music fandom is built as much around what you won't listen to as what you will. Clay fans seem to have this weird, proto-racist anti-hip-hop thing going. Courtney fans rip on Limp Bizkit. Hell, even we popists have a tendency to loudly decry certain kinds of things--Godspeed, Bright Eyes, etc. And that's cool!

But the problem is that the Courtney album is very much a pop album, because it is trying to appeal to everyone. The persona may not be, but the album very much is. That's why Linda Perry. That's why Bernie Taupin. That's why "America's Sweetheart." Pop offers you that option, the option of liking it. It doesn't put up any barriers; it is "accessible" in the best sense of the word. It's up-front and sincere, even if it's sincerely ironic. And this is why I love it.

It's important to note, though, that if the option is there to love it, part of that very openness is the option to not love it, to in fact dislike it, possibly violently, and in that way help to clarify your own tastes in the way I mention above. Sometimes I think you can actually get more pleasure out of an album or artist by disliking it than by liking it, and if this is the case, then good for you. But there's also a certain pleasure in disliking something and then learning to like it; there's no believer as true as the recently converted, as they say.

So I think that having American Idols and Norah Joneses around is just fine. I think there's going to be a market for the foreseeable future for the underdeveloped musical tastes of the young, and that's fine--they've gotta start somewhere. And I think it's great that the music industry has finally found a way to sell music to older listeners, music that isn't just another album by someone they like 15 years ago, if for no other reason than it keeps me employed, but also because it means that there'll then be more money to develop new bands, and because it's always nice to have music you can listen to.

What I'm trying to say is that, while partially my beef is with the prejudices and allergies of listeners, it's also with musicians. This album looks so weird because it is weird--there aren't a whole lot of other rock people doing this these days, and if you don't think making accessible pop albums while simultaneously acting like a "real rebel" isn't a technique used by any number of your favorite bands, you need to revisit your history a bit. It would be nice if listeners were more open to this, and even better if critics were, but ultimately it wouldn't be so controversial if more musicians were doing it. Ah well.