I Pity The Haters

The most intense and divisive conversations I have with people nearly always begin with, "I have a song I want to play you."

Pop music is a litmus test in the process of young adult coolness authenticity: "You listen to Bon Iver?" [You're cool.] "You listen to Kylie Minogue?" [You're lame, unintelligent, out-of-the-loop, immature, self in-actualized.]

Essentially, pop music can be enjoyed by girls aged in single digits, so if you listen to pop music you have the taste of a nine year-old. Of course, there are exceptions. Lady Gaga, for instance, has been scratched off the Guilty Pleasure list by Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, the birthplaces of indie cred and tectonic divergence zones for what is and is not acceptable to have on your iPod. Other exceptions involve music sites like Hype.fm and Pandora. ("If Taylor Swift plays in my Pheonix channel, I can't help that. I only have so many songs I can skip per hour!")

You can also be so out you're in, like Fergie. I'm not sure how that works, but everyone loves Fergie. I know cokeheads and band agents and American Apparel employees alike who will lose their shit when "Glamorous" comes on. "This is my jam!"

The irony is that many artists with a massive "underground" (i.e. depressed hipster) following like Uffie have pop sensibilities stronger than major aboveground musicians. "DVNO" by Justice is more radio-friendly than anything Gwen Stefani ever released, and she has multiple #1's and a legion of teenage fans.

Acceptable music acts like The Gossip, Tokyo Police Club, and Surfer Blood are the aural equivalent of nails being repeatedly driven into my skull. If I was a cave man, I'd love the grating chorus line of "Keep The Car Running" by Arcade Fire, but I heard Britney Spears' "Crazy" as a preteen inside a Chuck E. Cheese and know that pop music can change your life.

Pop music doesn't alter your life in the same way Fiona Apple does, however. Pop music is so frothy you don't even need to filter the lyrics. With our intellectual webs disabled, pop music hits directly at our pleasure (or pain) centers. The sensation can be so real even the most jaded of hipsters will, I guarantee you, dance when "Rude Boy" plays. They will belt out Mariah's "We Belong Together" in private. They will play Katy Perry's newest single, "Teenage Dream," and tear up in their rooms reflecting on high school memories.

"Teenage Dream" is a perfect example of Pop That Changes Your Life: "You say I'm pretty without any makeup on/...let's go all the way tonight." Damn. Have we not all lived through this? Why cast hate on a story told through this medium? As if hipsters speak more eloquently than most pop music is sung. "You make me/ feel like I'm living a/ teenage dream." There's no pretense. Come as you are, listeners, because we've all been teenagers and you don't need a degree from Columbia and a longtime pretend relationship with "a fashion designer from Brooklyn" to appreciate the first time you woke up and realized you were a little less innocent than you were the day before.

I pity anyone who can't appreciate the sugar rush of Kylie Minogue's "Get Out of My Way" or the electric bounce of Leighton Meester's "Your Love's A Drug." A good pop song, on first listen, can be better than sex. Just as pop can give life, however, pop also taketh away; I remember listening to Usher's "Love In This Club" (a painfully mediocre pop song, really) in the car for the first time and nearly getting into a wreck due to my temporary ecstasy.

We cheat pop music out of whatever potential it has to effect people when we label it the way we do; "deep art" can often be even more transparent than pop, which has a sense of irony and is rarely serious. There's more humor in Perry's "California Gurls" than in any song The Heartless Bastards ever conceived, more tangible emotion in Robyn's "Should Have Known" than any sculpture in the MoMA. (This may or may not be an exaggeration.)

I can't convince anyone to like pop music. You understand the appeal or you don't. However, like someone born with a poor sense of smell can never understand the appeal of French food, I can only try my best not to rub it in.


Stacey Smith said...

I hope I'm all straightened out now.

Anonymous said...

let's go all the way.