clap clap blog: we have moved
Friday, February 13, 2004
Sort-of abstract to this which for some reason I didn't include:
- What we think of as "political songs" are really ideological songs.
- What we think of as "political humor" is really apolitical humor.
Oh, and political songs need to be ambiguous because it's a more accurate portrayal of the political process in a single statement than would be otherwise.
posted by Mike B. at 10:58 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, February 12, 2004
Quo Vadimus (on figh-uh lately, by the way) posted a link to this Chris Rock article a while back. It's a great little piece, albeit mainly because it contains a sort of unjustifiably large number of selections from Rock's current stand-up set.
But I've wanted to comment on this bit for a while:
But the beauty of his comedy and the reason he is pop is that though a tough moral streak runs through his comedy, Mr. Rock remains steadfastly nonpartisan.
The problem with this stance--and you don't have to watch too many late-night monologues to know how widespread it is, Leno's wink-wink emergence as a de facto crypto-fascist notwithstanding--is that, practical though it may be, it's pretty antithetical to the whole idea of comedy; if anything, it tends toward nihilism, and even more than tragedy, this is what comedy diametrically opposes. Comedy is about breaking through what's currently existing, about opening up possibilities without regard for self-interest necessarily. It's not a wholly good thing by any means: sometimes what's currently there is worth preserving. But I think if you are a comedian, you should be a little more conscious of this idea.
It's certainly not true that taking a political stance is anti-pop. Being populist doesn't mean trying to appeal to everyone; indeed, as a political term, it actually means appealing to a very particular element of society, the working poor. Even in art, it doesn't mean what the author's implying here. Britney's first album didn't appeal to anyone above the age of 16, and yet you'd certainly call that pop. Moreover, choices it could have made to appeal to a broader demographic were deliberately avoided. I'm not saying that Rock avoids making somewhat controversial statements, but the whole formulation of the argument there--that expressing your political beliefs is a betrayal of your pop impulses, a view you'd certainly expect me to be sympathetic to if true--just isn't accurate.
If I were to translate Rock's "career suicide" statement, it would go something like this: "Look, I'm really pretty much a party-line Democrat, like the majority of African-Americans, but I can't admit that, because the country's in such a conservative mood right now, and enough people who control the media outlets I need access to are conservative that it just doesn't seem worth the risk to come out as a Democrat when I could continue to do what I'm doing now, i.e. working some of my political beliefs into the act, but also using politics as a source for jokes about personalities in the same way I use other celebrities and ignoring the political content." I mean, come on, making Clinton jokes hardly disqualifies you from being a Democrat.
I'm not saying his stance isn't useful, but it's not really true to the idea of comedy. And I think he's overlooking a few other options here. For instance, let's look at this quote:
"Look at Bill Cosby. Look at Dick Gregory. As far as who's the bigger activist, who?s got more stuff done." Mr. Rock cupped his hands around his mouth and whispered, "Bill Cosby." Then he said, "That's how you do it. Do I want to march down 125th Street or do I want to put myself in a position to give Tuskegee [University] $40 million? That's where it's at. That's the real gangster shit. That's the real activism."
Now, on the one hand, I can't deny the wisdom of his statement. 99% of the time, having the power of the purse is more politically effective than speaking out, to say nothing of the positive social changes Cosby arguably brought about through his work. (Normalizing blacks as middle class, etc., you know the spiel by now.) But on the other hand, I'm not sure that Bill Cosby and Dick Gregory are your only two choices here. For one thing, there are a lot more people in Gregory's position than Cosby's; I'm sure that young black activists would love to be able to set up scholarship funds, but they can't, and it's ultimately the luck of the draw as to whether they can get to the point where they can. There's certainly no evidence that Gregory would have gotten to Cosby's point if only he'd kept his fool mouth shut, and that granted, what are all the people who know they'll never get to that donate-$40-million level supposed to do? Continue to avoid taking political stances and just hope? That doesn't seem very useful. Now, admittedly, since the fact is that Rock himself is pretty close to that Cosby level, maybe there is a good argument to be made for him continuing along that path. But it hardly follows, as the author seems to want to conclude, that this is the path for every comic.
But more importantly, I think there's a clear option or two or three for political comedy beyond the models suggested by Gregory's complaining-about-things-and-marching-in-the-street and Cosby's middle-of-the-road social critique. For one thing, it's important to realize that neither one is, in fact, actually comedic. The Gregory model--which, since I don't want to get tied up in issues of how much Gregory actually conforms to this model, I'll call the "ideological model"--explicitly places the joke-teller outside of the joke, failing to implicate the source in the issue being addressed most of the time, and when you're standing outside the carnival looking in, you're not being comedic, you're simply an observer. It is a bad joke; it is not comedic. The Cosby model, on the other hand--the late night, "pox on both your houses" Romeo & Juliet model--by saying, as Rock does, that everyone's stupid (except me, and maybe my audience) shuts down all hope for change, assumes all is corrupt and debased and that this is bad and not even worth dealing with; your job is simply to sit outside it and throw up your hands in exasperation. By explicitly denying avenues for change, it's not comedic, it's tragic.
So what would a truly comedic political humor be like? For one thing, it would refuse to sit outside. If you'll permit me to be really pretentious and quote Mikhail Bakhtin:
Let us enlarge upon the second important trait of the people's festive laughter: that it is also directed at those who laugh. The people do not exclude themselves from the wholeness of the world. They, too, are incomplete, they also die and are revived and renewed. This is one of the essential differences of the people's festive laughter from the pure satire of modern times. The satirist whose laughter is negative places himself above the object of his mockery, he is opposed to it. The wholeness of the world's comic aspect is destroyed, and that which appears comic becomes a private reaction. The people's ambivalent laughter, on the other hand, expresses the point of view of the whole world; he who is laughing also belongs to it.
When humor sits outside, it provides its audiences with the illusion that they're outside, too. You don't have to provide them that luxury, no matter how undeniably comforting it might be. By implicating yourself in a comedic critique, you present a far more honest picture of almost any issue. In addition, you should feel free to take sides, but more importantly, you shouldn't be afraid to take different positions--truly take them--over time. This sort of deliberate irony will let you fully appreciate the value of both approaches, and you can both mine a lot of comedy and a lot of insights from the process of uninhibitingly setting the two against each other. The joke-to-joke seesaw from one viewpoint to the other ("Today, President Bush mispronounced something! Also, John Kerry's hair looks weird!") may come off as more intelligent--you're too smart to be duped by either side--but it's ultimately less valuable, because it presents both as essentially invalid when we know that's not the case. (Or, at least, I hope we know that.) You don't have to be so self-involved, so concerned with being right, that you miss the opportunity for a good joke.
Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying that either the ideological or R&J model are bad ones. I'm just saying they're not comedic, and they're not really political, either. They're just jokes. And that's OK, but presumably there are some comics who might want something more.
But while we're talking about political humor, let's move on to political songs, shall we? From Chuck Eddy's P&J comments:
A more politically correct blip in my ballot is that, for the first time in ages, I suddenly seem to love protest songs. Maybe I just read the newspaper more this year, I dunno. It was hard not to, and it was hard not to take pre-emptive quagmire and Constitution dismantling personally, plus what used to be paranoid wacko conspiracy theories now seem like good common sense, so maybe topical songs just hit me harder because of that. But I'd argue the three explicit anti-war demonstrations (Panjabi MC with Jay-Z, Living Things, Man in Gray) and one explicit illegal-immigrant statement (Molotov, whose Mexican-American audience may well now vote Republican next year) on my list might be just more evidence that the Left is finally getting intestinal fortitude; ditto Merle Haggard's "That's the News," which I almost voted for as well. These records still all come off kinda muddled and confused, in a way, but then so do Clark and Dean and Edwards and Kucinich, and I'd vote for any of them too, you know?
Before we start, let me note that I don't want to single Eddy out here--it's just a close-at-hand intro to the topic. But really, that whole bent to this year's P&J comments rubbed me the wrong way. Let me try and explain why, in addition to talking in general about the problem with "political music."
Partially, the problem is that these folks--critics and musicians alike, but mostly musicians--just don't know enough about politics. Now, don't get me wrong; while I've certainly said before that political elitism, unlike artistic elitism, is sometimes justifiable and certainly wholly within American and liberal ("in the classical sense") political values, that's not really what I'm advocating here. I'm not saying that these people should shut up, because they shouldn't; good for them for participating in the discourse, although a pat on the head is really all I'm willing to grant. And neither am I saying that no musician or comedian could ever know anything about politics, since not only are there a good few who do pull this off (George Carlin, John Stewart, etc.), but I myself have managed to learn both the guitar and at least enough about politics to discuss it without looking like a moron (or I hope so, anyway), which is partially why I'm so annoyed by this stuff--I know it COULD be better if people really wanted to be.
It's problematic because they look like idiots, and when you look like an idiot, people are far less likely to take you seriously. And this should not be so forgivable. Sure, Eddy gets the same muddled message from Panjabi MC as from Howard Dean, but Dean's trying to appeal to a wide swath of the electorate, not express his own personal viewpoint, which theoretically is a lyricist's whole reason for existing. The sad bit about lame-ass "political" songs is not their ineffectiveness, but their incoherence. A national politician has a good excuse for being vague and strategically dumb; a musician has none, unless s/he's being overly careerist, in the Chris Rock mold. And that would certainly seem to be indefensible to someone who cares about politics. (Although if done well--Eminem's undeniably careerist artistic/political participation in the mini-culture war surrounding the first three albums was masterful--I can certainly find it very interesting.) But I don't think this is regarded as political speech by most people anyway. Britney saying "I support the President" seems like a more commercial than strictly political speech act. No, it's the straight policy statements and ideological critiques in art form ("Politics are back! In art form") that are generally regarded as political speech, and lord, they're dumb. Find me ten statements from political songs that are anywhere near as coherent, informed, or relevant as a run-of-the-mill NYT editorial and I'll give you a cookie. Now, I'm certainly enough of a musicologist to admit that it's often the force of the words and their delivery more than the lyrics themselves that makes the political point, but the problem is that if you admit this, i.e. that non-verbal music itself can make a political statement, then you're opening up a whole can of worms that I'm not sure most proponents of "political music" are interested in having an honest discussion about; sure, they'll pretend like they can hear the anti-corporate rhetoric in an instrumental Godspeed song, but really I'm not sure they want to grant that something without any of the "I'm political!" signifiers like angry lyrics or socially conscious packaging and presentation can have political content. Even if they do, I think it's going to miss all the ambiguities in something that might not necessarily conform to a radical agenda. And ambiguities is a big part of what politics is about, for better or for worse. This is way too big a subject to deal with right now, so I'm going to let it lie. (You could do worse than see my LCD Soundsystem post for a rough overview of the messages you can convey musically.)
But I think a bigger problem with most people's understanding of politics and how this gets into music is that they think politics revolves around certain issues or ideas, like war and environmentalism and women's rights. But it doesn't. Anything can become the subject of politics: a boy from Cuba, cows, cell phones, ATMs, etc. Because politics has become all-pervasive, to say that a song about the President is political while a song about driving a truck is not is simply ludicrous, and arguably the Bush song is closer to the politically personal relationship love song stuff that we'd reflexively think of as anti-political. (How different is "I hate you for your foreign policy" from "Did she go down on you in a theater?" anyway?) Politics is a process, not a monologue about abortion or racism or any subject at all.
And so if you want to write a political song--and by all means, do--you don't need to state your position on and/or justification for a particular issue that could be voted on by Congress. You just need to introduce that positional ambiguity that's missing from so many songs, which either seem intentionally obscurest or annoyingly single-minded. Take a position, give the opposition, play around with it for a while.
I'm going to stop talking about this now, because during a short break I realized it's actually one of the subjects nearest and dearest to my heart, and I'm not sure how good of a job this post is doing of representing it; I'm beginning to suspect "not much" may be the answer. In a way, there's too much to get into and not enough time and not enough coherence. So there it is, for now. Maybe more later.
posted by Mike B. at 6:20 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I suppose this deserves a substantive response--we already started discussing it in the comments here--but I don't think I have the energy right now. Still, let me address two points.
First off, Dominic writes in comments:
However, I wouldn't lose any sleep over receiving insults from clap clap readers. I'd take turbo-charged over bland and over-easy any day of the week. "It's all just music, man." "The field's too big to survey and sort, man." "Who am I to judge, man, and who are you." People unable to take sides, horizontally and vertically.
Some of this is, of course, a matter of opinion--I suppose you could say I'm unable to take sides, although Pitchfork might disagree there--but I think some of the attitudes ascribed to me are just clearly inaccurate. Mainly, I never said a thing about "who are you." There was no "you" in any of my poptimism replies. For instance, here I say: "it doesn't matter because we don't care. This statement only matters if you care if 2003 was better than 2002, and the people whose critical philosophy generally seems to run parallel to mine just don't give a rat's ass about that as far as I can tell." You'll notice there's no "you" there, just "we." I wasn't saying that no one could possibly ever make an intelligible yearly survey of pop or have some sort of understanding of the field. I was just saying that criticizing "poptimists" for saying pop is good when 2003 sucked is just invalid, outside the field of our reference, because we don't care, we're not list-makers or surveyors or rankers. You can be, and more power to you. But we're not, so it's unlikely that telling us some arbitrarily determined period of time hasn't contained a sufficient amount of good pop will make us any less enthusiastic about music. And I still don't feel particularly bad about that.
Secondly, I'll grant that one problem with this stance is that a lot of the best new music--even if it's just regurgitations of old music--comes from people who really truly think that "all music sucks now." If they think so to such a degree that they have to remedy it themselves, if it bothers them so much that they're compelled to go out and do something better just to give themselves something to listen to, this can be a great motivator of creativity. This is true. (A bit stupid sometimes, but still true.)
So if anyone was worried about it, I just want to reassure them: I feel this way. Sort of. Oh, don't get me wrong--I really am excited about new music right now. I have three mix CDs of mostly new stuff, along with at least 5 other recently-released CDs, and I can hardly decide which one to listen to in the morning. But this doesn't mean that I don't think they all suck and I could beat them all in a heartbeat. Just because I like all this music doesn't mean that I don't think the music I make, or could make, is a billion times better. You could certainly disagree about this, but--how to put this?--you're wrong. I am so much better than everyone else out there right now that it's not even funny. So don't worry about poptimism squashing creativity--there are still lots of people cocky enough to love music but love their own music much, much more.
posted by Mike B. at 4:36 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Sorry no posts today--got busy. Maybe some before the end of the day depending on how the ass-riding (ha ha) goes. Definitely some major ones tomorrow, most probably on "political humor" and "political songs." Check back then.
posted by Mike B. at 4:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Man, Chuck Eddy's ballot is so hip.
Just joshin'. He did pick a song from one of my fav NYC bands, Man In Gray, as his 7th-best single of the year, so I got no complaints. Rockin'! (Not to mention a song from John Morton's Lyacon Pictus group...)
Also, here's Klosterman's ballot.
UPDATE: Eddy's comments, which include the astute line:
And as for Sherman [his son], it's pretty obvious that one reason he finds the Fountains of Wayne video more sexist than Lil Jon and 50 Cent vids is because "Stacy's Mom" and the depiction thereof shock him *more*, not less, than the rap guys-- because, for one thing, FoW hit closer to home. The video is *set* in the suburbs. And it features a young teen kid lusting over a *mom*. Gross, right? Whereas with 50 Cent et. al, Sherman can keep a distance --- in a way that many of the black 12-year-olds that T. Coates and N. Drumming referred to can't.
posted by Mike B. at 5:50 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I had a Very 90's Lunch, buying both the Probot album and the Courtney album. I listened to about half of the latter on my way back to the office. First impression: it's good, and it's loud. Nothing's really grabbed me yet, and the first ballad, "Hold On To Me," a) isn't as good as "Malibu" or "Dying," and b) has a chorus that reminds me in a very insistent way of some other chorus of some other song and I can't think of what it is for the life of me.
"Mono" sounds way, way better than it did as a download--just really fucking loud. I really like "Sunset Strip" and bits of "But Julian..."
More later if it merits it.
posted by Mike B. at 4:26 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Since we're linking insults, in this k-punk thread which linked to my post linking to this k-punk post responding to this Flyboy post responding to k-punk's response to Marcello's 1985 thing...in that thread (whoops, forgot what I was saying) my readers get compared to a poem by the author of Cats or something. Which seems like a good thing, right? But I think he means it in a mean way. On the bright side, though, it apparently means I've staked out a clear critical position, so that's nice. But just to fuck with people, maybe I'll just review pudding for 2 weeks. I probably won't, though I wouldn't mind eating a lot of pudding.
UPDATE: I have to go eat some pudding now.
posted by Mike B. at 4:15 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I'm sure this'll be up everywhere in a sec, but for now: P&J results!
1 OutKast Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Arista)
2 The White Stripes Elephant (V2)
3 Fountains of Wayne Welcome Interstate Managers (S-Curve)
4 Radiohead Hail to the Thief (Capitol)
5 Yeah Yeah Yeahs Fever to Tell (Interscope)
6 The Shins Chutes Too Narrow (Sub Pop)
7 New Pornographers Electric Version (Matador)
8 Basement Jaxx Kish Kash (Astralwerks)
9 Drive-By Truckers Decoration Day (New West)
10 Dizzee Rascal Boy in Da Corner (XL import)
1 OutKast "Hey Ya!" (Arista)
2 Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z "Crazy in Love" (Columbia)
3 The White Stripes "Seven Nation Army" (Third Man/V2)
4 Kelis "Milkshake" (Star Trak/Arista)
5 50 Cent "In Da Club" (G-Unit/Shady/Aftermath/Interscope)
6 Johnny Cash "Hurt" (Universal)
7 Fountains of Wayne "Stacy's Mom" (S-Curve/Virgin)
8 R. Kelly "Ignition-Remix" (Jive)
9 Junior Senior "Move Your Feet" (Atlantic)
10 Panjabi MC featuring Jay-Z "Beware of the Boys (Mundian To Bach Ke)"
Fountains of Wayne! New Pornogaphers! YYY! Basement Jaxx! Albums turned out a lot better than I expected.
Singles ain't too bad either...
UPDATE: The website's up now, if you tried it before and couldn't get through, and Fluxblog has a roundup. I got two comments in, which I am still young enough to be kind of giddy about. I also swear I see some people I went to college with in there, but maybe I'm just going crazy. Of people Flux didn't mention, I noticed Courtney-in-RS-reviewer Rob Sheffield, frequent Sasha correspondent Joshua Clover (whose Klosterman snark I'm not even gonna touch), Julianne Shepherd of Cowboyz 'n' Poodles (I think), and Amanda Petrusich of Pitchfork. That's just comments--lots more in the ballots. Here, for instance, is Jascha Hoffman's hilariously Pitchfork-y ballot.
Hey, maybe Ryan will respond to my letters now! Hee hee hee.
Anyway, here's my ballot. More obsessive analysis as the week wears on, probably.
posted by Mike B. at 11:29 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, February 09, 2004
The comments to this Woebot post (yes, yes, poptimism again, I know) have finally prodded me to make a post I've been meaning to make for a while...
This area is a minefield. You do what I would tend to do and equate Pop with chart music. I think other people involved in the debate thihk of Pop much more broadly. That's one source of misunderstanding; one of many! :-)
Luckily, I can sort it all out.
This is indeed a problem for our little conversations here; I think it's clear by now that when Tom says "pop," he's thinking of something different than when Simon says "pop," and all of these are different from when the NME or the Grammy committee says "pop." We need some way to resolve this.
On the one hand, it's understandable that everyone's conception of genre is going to be slightly different, partially because of their original entry point into the genre (someone who came to industrial via Nine Inch Nails is going to have a different idea of what "industrial" sounds like than someone who came to it via Throbbing Gristle, for instance), partially because of value judgments people associate with the genre ("Nirvana's not pop! They're way too real!" "The Offspring are so not punk! They suck!"), along with various other factors that might cause two people to slot a group into two very different areas; if nothing else, Simon's prog survey is evidence of this. And this is valuable, and is the source of a lot of delightful arguments. As long as people sort of acknowledge this--"Well, I don't think Dizzee Rascal is hip-hop, but that's because of blah blah blah"--it's perfectly fine, and not really that confusing.
But the problem is that "pop" isn't like industrial or punk or ambient or salsa: it's a high-level genre that rarely contains a song that isn't also wholly contained within another genre. Thus, electronic pop, R&B pop, rap-pop, pop-rock, folk-pop, pop-country, etc., etc., etc. And it means a number of different things. So we need something to differentiate exactly which conception of pop we're talking about.
And that's why I made this handy classification guide!
Pop-as-market-phenomenon. Chart pop. Any song or album--but not artist--that makes it onto the charts, "the charts" here generally regarded as being the Billboard Hot 100 singles and top 200 albums in America and whatever weird definition you Brits and Europeans and Japanese use that's the equivalent. Generally regarded as widening to include an album which includes a chart single but which itself is not on the chart, unless the sound of the non-charting songs differs significantly from the sound of the single. A very strict, mathematical formulation: anything that's popular is pop.
Can be widened to Pop-I.5, or what Pitchfork is currently calling "Uncharted Pop:" music that sounds like the current pop sound but is not actually, for whatever reason, on the charts.
So, by this definition:
Britney Spears is pop-I.
Magnetic Fields is not pop-I.
Folk Implosion's "Natural One" is pop-I but the album from which it came is not.
Yo La Tengo's "Nuclear War" EP is pop-I.
MPath is pop-I.5 but not pop-I.
Boston's first album is pop-I; their last is not.
Basement Jaxx is pop-I in Europe but is not pop-I in America.
Guns 'n' Roses is pop-I.
A Guns 'n' Roses tribute band is not pop-I.
A recording of Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony is not pop-I.
Christian Marclay is not pop-I.
Benny Goodman is pop-I.
Squirrel Nut Zippers are not pop-I.
Pop-as-sound. Anything that sounds like anything that's ever been pop. So when we call, say, the Rosebuds or Beat Happening "pop," despite the fact that they'd be happy to get onto the CMJ chart (which, no, doesn't count for pop-I), let alone even sniff Billboard's panties, this is what we mean: the sound, not the sales, make it pop. The pop sound it's referring to can be a pop sound that was on the charts, but it can also be anything that's just become generally popular over the years. (It does not, however, usually mean a retro sound that refers to something that was not pop; you don't hear people calling post-punk revival bands "pop" for this very reason.)
It's safe to say that this conception generally runs at least 10-15 years behind what's actually popular at the time. For instance, someone today throwing in handclaps or backup vocals going "ooh," or an analogue keyboard, would be regarded as including "pop elements" (and, of course, given that it's a pop-II conception, this could be said regardless of the song's actual success or failure in the marketplace) whereas someone including a Timbaland-esque beat would be said to be including "hip-hop elements," and someone including a grunge sound would be said to be including "grunge elements" (although I've never actually heard this said about anyone, now that I think about it). This is the common usage, but it doesn't actually apply to this definition, so someone writing a song that sounds like the Neptunes would be just as pop-II as someone writing a song that sounds like the Beatles.
This classification can be roughly divided into "retro," i.e. straight mimickings of past pop groups, and "poppy," which appropriates a general sound or elements of a sound that was pop at
some point but can't really be pegged to anything specific or which doesn't sustain the aesthetic over the life of the project.
So, by this definition:
Britney Spears is pop-II.
Magnetic Fields is pop-II.
Folk Implosion is pop-II.
Yo La Tengo's "Nuclear War" EP is not pop-II.
MPath is pop-II.
All of Boston's albums are pop-II.
Basement Jaxx is pop-II.
Guns 'n' Roses is pop-II.
A Guns 'n' Roses tribute band is pop-II.
A recording of Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony is not pop-II.
Christian Marclay is not pop-II.
Benny Goodman is pop-II.
Squirrel Nut Zippers are pop-II.
What musicologists and classical music folk mean when they say "pop music." Any music that is not art music. Music that is, or that can be, made by amateurs. Depending on your views on jazz, any music that is improvised in whole or in part, or (if you want to include most jazz) which does not proceed from some master plan.
It's unclear where "world music" fits into this; in a conservatory, it'd be in the ethnomusicology department, but for our purposes, it's unclear where, say, African tribal music belongs. It's pretty clearly not anything we would think of as pop (obviously and perhaps unfortunately, since pop-II's definition flows from pop-I's, pop-I's should be amended to state that the charts are generally those charts in the "first world"), but it's also not anything we would think of as art music. Maybe call it "Level 0.5 Classical" or something.
Needless to say, very few people who have a passing familiarity with the Smiths are ever going to be using "pop" in this sense, but it's worth throwing in there since just because those people generally aren't part of our conversations these days doesn't mean that this particular worldview of music, i.e. the music theory one, hasn't profoundly shaped the terms of the debate.
So, by this definition:
Britney Spears is pop-III.
Magnetic Fields is pop-III.
Folk Implosion is pop-III.
Yo La Tengo's "Nuclear War" EP is pop-III.
MPath is pop-III.
All of Boston's albums are pop-III.
Basement Jaxx is pop-III.
Guns 'n' Roses is pop-III.
A Guns 'n' Roses tribute band is pop-III.
A recording of Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony is not pop-III.
Christian Marclay is pop-III.
John Zorn is probably pop-III. (Experimental music is where this gets tricky; ditto for highbrow electro artists like Aphex Twin and Autechre.)
Benny Goodman is pop-III.
Squirrel Nut Zippers are pop-III.
So there you go. Of course, I don't really expect anyone to actually use this classification scheme, but I've thought a bit about it and I think these three levels are a pretty useful breakdown of the ways in which we use the term "pop." If you want to clarify, or add sub-levels (as I have with pop-I.5, for instance), feel free. I may post a revised version without the intro later.
 This all actually comes from a nighttime conversation with Miss Clap, who said that the problem is that when I say "pop" I don't really mean "pop," I mean this thing I've decided was pop. But I thought it was still pop, just a different pop, and so we broke it on down. At any rate, assist for this goes to her.
 A failed Florida hyper-pop band that only sold 30k records or so.
posted by Mike B. at 5:28 PM 0 comments Links to this post
If you haven't read Sasha's NYT Magazine piece on the Virginia Beach folks, do it now. Great stuff.
posted by Mike B. at 3:49 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Hee hee hee. Wow. This sounds like the kind of thing I'm going to like. Hmm--maybe what I was saying about pop's accessibility wasn't so dead-on. Or maybe that's exactly what Haines is playing with...
posted by Mike B. at 2:06 PM 0 comments Links to this post
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 fans...it'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.
posted by Mike B. at 1:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Rob's right: it woulda been nice if we could hear those messages fer real. (It is, perhaps, a measure of C-Lo's savvy that she did not, in fact, ring DeRo or anyone who might have posted the messages, but instead left 'em with staid-ish Times-er Strauss.) But regardless, there's a whole bunch of great stuff in Neal Strauss' review of the new Courtney album:
This last one in particular is killer. Partially because it makes the point (which I've made myself) that critics tend to respond better to "blank slate" artists who they can paint their own interpretation on rather than having to deal with the one the artist herself suggests. But partially, too, because it points out that, while it's stupid to judge America's Sweetheart on the basis of disliking Courtney's public personality, at the same time she's smart enough to know that this is going to happen, and so in some ways she has to take responsibility for that.
At any rate, great review.
posted by Mike B. at 1:06 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Random factoid of the day: you can listen to the entirety of Bartok's third quartet in the time it takes you to get from 1st & 4th to the corner of 2nd & 47th via the M15 bus and walking through Dag Hammerskold plaza. I did this last night and it was very nice, although I had a hard time hearing the first minute or so of the first movement over the noise of the bus. By the time I got off the bus at 45th street, though, I was banging my head to the third movement and looking up at the UN and man, it felt pretty great. I love the UN at night.
Full Bartok post sometime. Maybe.
 This is probably spelled wrong.
posted by Mike B. at 12:54 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Worth checking out: Jenyk.
posted by Mike B. at 12:43 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I'm kind of unclear which sort of blogs this is meant to be parodying, although I won't deny that it's a) fairly funny, and b) just as painful to read, albeit in a very different way, from certain other music blogs I could name. Is it supposed to be a riff on various NYC hipster blogs I don't bother to read?
posted by Mike B. at 12:43 PM 0 comments Links to this post