― Freaky Trigger, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― tarden, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― Tom, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
Tom... *our* Tom... *slamming* the latest crop of pre-fab pop and
*liking* the new Radiohead album?!?!?
You're an IMPOSTER!!! Freak!!! Kill the mutant!!!
Damn, I have fallen into an alternate world this afternoon. I think
I'm going back to bed, and not getting up again until I've woken up.
― masonic boom, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
It's a strange thing, this. Tom Ewing is - I've often said it before -
knowledgeable - intelligent - a really fine writer - a nice guy too,
as far as I can permit myself to say. On the face of it, I suspect
that he is one of the finest pop critics of our day. Yet so often I
just *don't know what he's on about*.
I can see loads of statements in his article that I disagree with.
But I don't think I can see what his main argument is, if there is
― the pinefox, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― Nicole, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― mark s, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― Patrick, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
Good piece, BTW.
― Robin Carmody, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
I don't like this game, and I don't think I understand the rules. I
started thinking about what would kill pop in a discussion of the
difference between the Bowlie Festival (pop) and the following All
Tomorrow's Parties festivals (post-rock), and why there will never be
a post-pop, because pop will eat everything ('scse me).
It's not a genre, it's the top (or bottom) end of all of the genres.
It's a simple turning-away from scenes, a willingness to throw
yourself on the whims of the general populace. And there's no turning
back: Will Smith can't hang with NWA, Blink 182 can't hang with Black
Flag, and Oxide and Neutrino can't hang with some underground garage
crew or other (don't look at me). It's making music cause you want to
make more fans, and make more fans happy. Occasionally (Britpop, for
staggeringly obvious example) these things make a happening, but it's
not a scene: no-one ever got slagged off for betraying Britpop, just
for not making music the kids wanted to hear.
And I don't see why picking a cut-off point and calling it Pop from
there on in makes any sense. The Backstreet Boys _are_ the New Kids
On The Block. Westlife (really, really) _are_ Boyzone. Mariah Carey
has been around forever. They're more shiny these days, but anyone
who's read The Manual should know that doesn't mean shit. And
obviously, you do; I'm not ignorant of whom I'm speaking to.
Although if you're going to call it Pop, a) don't, and b) don't mix
it up with pop. pop's been around longer than me or you, and will see
us both out.
And the argument against N'Sync turns back and bites itself. From my
point of view, the image of the artist and what they (or their
managers) might feel about Pop isn't really as important as the fact
that I cant stop humming the bugger. And if longevity and durability
aren't fit subjects, whither "Backstreet's Back"?
andandand... I'm not really the msot methodical of argument
contructors, am I?
"Pop is dead, long live pop", as the best number one with a bullet
band of the last few years once sang. So, forward to the next
article, and the state of pop criticism. Which is always
entertaining, but remember that the usual arrows are pointing the
other direction here.
― Andrew Farrell, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
But I'll admit that I can't tell whether you're being sincere or
ironic. I can't tell whether you can tell.
― glenn mcdonald, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― Josh, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
In that context, talking about the death of something seems a trifle
melodramatic, to me.
― Tim, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
Post-pop would be great if it were a genre, taking the same
deconstructing principles of post-rock, and applying them to Pop
instead of ponderous art-rock. I mean, that would be great, wouldn't
Then again, is Kid A/Amnesiac era Radiohead "post-pop" by my
There is Pop as a genre, and pop as a phenomenon. Although Pop may be
dead or dying, or already on it's timelord-like tenth life, pop will
outlast us all, as long as there are charts. It's pop with a little p
that eats everything.
Sorry, I'm not saying anything new, I'm just sort of saying "good
post" to Andrew.
― masonic boom, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
"I'm happy, ain't feeling sad
Got sunshine, in a bag
I'm useless, but not for long
The future, is coming on"
may be the answer there. But thank you for the welcome.
― Andrew Farrell, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
2. I admire Tim H's ability to 'get' things. I almost feel like I
have a little more insight into the mysterious article, just after
reading his reply - because I kind of feel that I do understand his
reply. He seems to be saying that Tom E said that there was a New or
Recent kind of pop - a kind of discrete movement - which was doing
things or to which things were happening. Whereas Tim H seems to be
saying: no, there is a long continuity of pop. I feel that Tim H is
right, somehow. But this is mainly because I do not understand the
basis of Tom E's view that there is some kind of 'new pop' which is
worth talking about in its own right. (Obviously I have never heard
half of the people that Tom E talks about.)
I also agreed with Tim H about the death of melodrama, I mean, the
melodrama of death.
― the pinefox, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― mark s, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― Nicole, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― Patrick, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
What I find interesting is that Glenn and Tom are both huge music
lovers with terrifically broad tastes that go very far pop (Glenn's
love of Jewel and Alanis Morissette being a less dancey equivalent to
Tom's thing for Britney and Destiny's Child) and just as far in the
non-mainstream direction, yet their stances seem diametrically opposed
in the aspect of their tastes that each chooses to emphasize.
I'm not quite sure how you can assume - from this article, at least -
that I don't think people should explore more small independent
― Tom, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― Richard Tunnicliffe, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
While I think Destiny's Child have made some good singles, I'm really
not that huge a fan. They seem to be used as shorthand for "that kind
of pop Tom/Freaky Trigger likes", but Writing... is patchy and
Survivor isn't much better. But yeah, a good singles band.
― Andrew L, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― The Ghost of Donald Barthelme, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
anyhow, just finished reading the article. before reading it,
contemplating the phrase "pop is dead" and recalling some of tom's
recent thoughts, my idea on how it'd go would be like this: pop has
gotten too smart for its own good. once it was one hundred monkeys
with one hundred typewriters, eventually producing not only
shakespeare, but joyce, nabokov, and borges. now the monkees
[sic] have decided that they want to BE shek'spere, etc.
which is how tom's piece seems to conclude, that autonomy is
detrimental to pop music. and it's at this point that i'm loath to
bring up the fact that david browne (david browne!!) beat tom to this very
point in entertainment weekly, almost a year ago now.
as i sit here downloading the new mandy moore single, having just
enjoyed "pop" on ktu in the car, i'm afraid i can't agree with tom.
if i'm to be true to my own ears -- a listener first, and then a
thinker -- i must say that pop keeps rolling on.
― fred solinger, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― glenn mcdonald, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
He didn't make his case more appealing (however appealing or
unappealing it may be) by implying a) that Tom E is a 'music geek'
and b) that 'teenage girls' are in some unstated way dubious or
inferior. a) Tom E is a good, clever geezer - a right geezer - a
geezer what drinks beer and stuff. b) I think we all know, and don't
need anyone else to assert (as I am now doing), that it is wrong to
slag of 'teenage girls' (or 'teenage boys' for that matter). They
come in all shapes and sizes. (Or so I'm told.)
In a way those overheated (microwaved?) polemical points get in the
way of serious discussion of the music. But is there such a thing as
serious discussion of the music? Is it possible? Tom E decided that
he liked what was in the charts. For those who don't, there is no
debating with him, or vice versa - like he says, they're his ears,
and he's gonna use them.
I think that the geezer McDonald is kind of on to something, though,
in saying that Tom E shouldn't make world-historical generalizations
out of the evidence of his ears, if he's then going to say 'Well,
they're just my ears... I just like the music, mate'. But one reason
I may be wrong here is that Tom E might say: the point is to make
vast silly generalizations on the basis of your ears - because it
makes life more... EXCITING.
Tom E's writing, though often hard to understand, might be one of the
things that might make life more exciting. I still don't believe his
― the pinefox, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
I don't know if you're male or female, Glenn but I'm sorry to report I
know almost *NO* female Shampoo fans, except for the Japanese ones.
Shampoo were a male, middle aged, primarily journalists' wet dream,
not anything to do with the *real* pop urges of teenage girls.
If you want a teenage girl band that actually appealed to teenage
girls, you've got to look at early Kenickie or something like that.
― masonic boom, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
In glenn's defence, I think he's talking about some kind of idealised, platonic
'teenage girl'. No hang on, that's even creepier.
― Nick, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
The key paragraph being, perhaps:
'In pop epistemology, a complication is introduced via the procedures
of projection and identification that Elaine Showalter describes in
"Critical Cross-Dressing." The knowing subject of popular
epistemology no longer contemplates "mass culture" as bimbo, but
takes on the assumed mass cultural characteristics in the writing of
his own text. Since the object of projection and identification in
post-subcultural theory tends to be black music and "style" rather
than the European (and literary) feminine, we find an actantial hero
of knowledge emerging in the form of the white male theorist as
― stevie t, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
I am not saying that teenage girls are especially vulnerable and need
extra protection from generalization. It's more that *whenever* these
generalizations start to knock around - whether they're about teenage
girls, or 'music geeks' who like crappy records, or Scousers who left
for southern New Towns at an early age, or people who write pastiches
of Bruce Springsteen - laziness, slackness and insenstivity are
probably trailing in their wake.
OK, we often need generalizations. They're not always bad in
principle. But generalizations about 'what teenage girls are like'
are liable to be too vast to be helpful. It's not that teenage girls
are all grate and kool, or that they're all dumb consumer dupes. It's
that they're all different.
I try not to be the first to bring the "teenage girl" archetype into
a discussion. It tends to get brought in anyway, usually by people
making generalisations about the sort of people who listen to pop and
making them in a negative way.
The academic as bimbo thing is somehow related, surely, to the Momus
interview, where some *very* interesting things were said that
nobody's replied to, least of all me.
I might try and explain the autonomy thing later but I've had so
little sleep it wouldn't be sensible to do it now (very briefly it's
not to do with an actual assumption of artistic autonomy or not, it's
to do with the presentation of that autonomy as something to be
valued in the consumption of the records. This is present with R'head
and black metal and not with, say, Westlife. Listening strategies -
listening to non-pop music *as* pop, for instance - are something
else entirely and I'll get to them).
Tim H and Glenn are both right about several other things and
hopefully things will be a bit clearer when the other parts of this
article-series have emerged.
Final pedantic clarification. Moments in Love is not a specifically
pop-oriented feature. It just so happens that the first two entries
were deservedly celebrated chart hits. (Daft Punk isn't even pop by
my tight definition anyway, though very possibly they might be 'post-
― Tom, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
Tom claims that the excellence of chart pop started two years ago and
is about to end, or has ended. Perhaps nothing has ended but Tom's
brief flirtation with it? From my perspective as someone who has
hated chart pop since I was twelve, I didn't see any difference
between Baby One More Time and say, Fantasy by Mariah Carey. Chart
pop sucked, always has, always will. But I'm 21, and just discovered
indie rock and all its inherent snobbery last year. I'd be willing to
put money on the prospect that in five years or so, I may turn into a
Backstreet Boys enthusiast just the same, or whatever their
equivalent may be in 2006. I won't be writing any articles about how
indie rock is dead, though. I'm not so sure that pop actually changed
anyways, or if there was a deliberate 'movement' of nu-pop at all. If
I were Tom, I'd be asking myself if this wasn't all just a musical
version of the convertibles-and-Ray-Bans mid-life crisis. Of course,
I'm also asking myself if I should just go out and buy a few
turtlenecks for the long, cold, snobby road I'm going down every time
I write articles for the school newspaper about free jazz. But
seriously, do others agree that pop is getting worse, or are people
just getting tired of it again?
― Dave M., Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― mark s, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
And it does what I think any good name has to do which is address,
confront and reverse the main criticism of the music - that it's
manufactured, alienated, and production line. So machine pop is
saying 'yes we know', and it's also saying that not only are these
good things but that they are actually the neccessary things that
differentiate this genre from other ones (which is kind of what my
article is getting at).
Apart from that, obviously, I stand by my relatively irrelevant
comments about 'teenage girls'.
if not, then it follows that you'd find nothing (or very little)
redeeming in britney et. al.; if so, what do you see as the
difference? and i pinpoint 60s pop in particular because i think much
of today's pop comes straight out of the 60s, only fused with 80s
― fred solinger, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
I mean, literally. Go here to see other people discussing this same
article (reprinted on another site)in some sort of parallel universe:
― masonic boom, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― glenn mcdonald, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― Tom, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
2. I agree with Mark S that we cannot so easily be sure re. what
is 'critical engagement'. I don't think that Glenn M, or Mark S, or
Ally garance, or DJ Martian, or Ned Raggett, or whoever, are all
pursuing the same grand project as me (or, for all I know, each
other). I don't imagine that those people would be at all happy to be
grouped with me, either. I imagine that they'd be appalled and
horrified. That's to say: posting sometimes to ILM doesn't mean
you're part of a group besides People On ILM.
3. To be Zenotic (??!): this phrase 'the autonomous author' is now
getting a lot of unquestioned currency, like we are all sure what we
mean by it. It's strange, because I always used to think that *no*
author was 'autonomous'.
― the pinefox, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
[Also: "Zenotic Method", neologized from Socratic Method and Zeno's
paradox (in which you can never get more than halfway to anywhere).]
― mark s, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― Josh, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
Why do I like it? What is it doing to and for me, and my enjoyment of everything else?
This is no different than for non-machine-pop.
That sounds like a criticism - but I don't think it should be:
because one of the jobs of a critic might, possibly, be to 'invent
their object' in such a way. If so, it might be that Tom E was doing
that job very well (he does lots of critical jobs well, I have often
But I don't know whether to think that there has been a 'recent run'
distinct from anything else, or not. On the one hand, I would like to
say, Yes - there are all those records that I hate, all conveniently
bundled up in that recent run. On the other hand, I am not sure that
I could draw a convincing line between that run and earlier records
that I hate.
"Seems to me pop's been just like this for at
least 40 years."
― Tracer Hand, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― Patrick, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
Some - possibly Tom - might argue that the British version of
pop these last few years (Spice Girls, Steps, S Club 7, Hear'say
etc.) should also be included, for monolithic coverage alone, but
I've always allocated it a different place in my brain.
As for "second-guessing" - I meant pop second-guessing itself
for the purpose of critical validation. N'Sync (and now Britney,
apparently) drafting in BT to make their music more appealling to
the non-pop masses was almost a foregone conclusion the
moment people started to (for the umpteenth time) realise that
there was something in pop music for people other than
teenage girls. Second guessing for the purpose of mass
commercial success I have no problem with - it's pop's job.
― Tim, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
As for "thrilling futuristic music coupled with a sense of
indestructible self-confidence and inevitability", how does this not
describe, say, "Funkytown", "Crush on You" or "Gonna Make You Sweat"?
What I think defines the music we're talking about is that for the
first time in a while a futurist musical approach was explicitly
associated with pop in and of itself - not the pop end of another
genre. By drawing disparate examples from all over the shop,
you can quite rightly demonstrate that the ideas circulating were
hardly new, but that doesn't disprove the novelty of this sort of
thing as a movement. Otherwise by the same token we
could say that Britpop is stylistically indistinguishable from any
other dominant stage in British music, simply because other
bands in a similar mould had existed for thirty years prior.
― Tim, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
Diff. between Bay City Rollers and N'SYNC: Rollers are in a slightly
different tradition, along with the Monkees. They are presented as
a 'rock band' with defined instrumental roles. So the do-they don't-
they play their instruments / actually *do* anything becomes part of
the presentation. This is a totally interesting pop model but it
hardly surfaces today and when it does - BBMak, Dimestars - nobody
seems to want it. It feels slightly out of date I suppose.
Difference between early 60s girl-group pop and N'SYNC: not much
except I wonder in terms of presentation....was artistic autonomy
even an issue in pop, pre-Beatles and Dylan? (Pre-criticism, in fact).
(Of course there are massive massive sonic differences between NSYNC
and all of the above, which should not be discarded)
But sonics aside these are nuances rather than actual differences.
Pop continues. As Josh has suggested, "dead" in the article is
rhetorical exaggeration (and intentional too). So what I'm saying -
so far - is that this particular machine pop moment is coming to an
end. When did it start? (I'm not sure this is relevant, but it's been
asked.) Musically I can't think of anything pre NKOTB which combines
mechanised music with a singer-dancer focus. The rash of hits I
mentioned at the start of the article weren't intended to mean 'the
start of machine pop', but were flagged up as the point at which
machine pop started to be aesthetically interesting to me, i.e. when
I realised I liked it. The public seemed to agree, since those hits
also helped start the recent period of complete commercial dominance
for the style.
And yes, none of this is new. I mention this even, at the end. If you
can find it, take a look at Nik Cohn's Awopbopaloobopawopbamboom for
an early sixties perspective on what he calls 'Superpop'.
― Tom, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
Surely not being pop is Daft Punk's only salvation: If their music
sounds like that because it's just them talking to themselves in their
private language, then fair enough, but if they're shovelling on the
irony in an attempt to shift units, then they should be dragged from
their cars and beaten. This doesn't apply to other artists: just Daft
Mitch: "There's nothing wrong with Radiohead making a record about
their last record, while pop most certainly shouldn't."
This also has the problem that it fails the Backstreet's Back test.
Wow. Have none of you ever sat down and talked with people who don't
"get" music, but still buy a lot? They do exist, (hence the success of
Travis, hohoho) and they're very scary.
Also, my respect for Tom (already very high) goes up several notches
due to the news that he also contributes to Barbelith. Also
fascinating to see the difference in slant that they immediately pick
up and run with.
― Andrew Farrell, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
2. Where does all this stuff about 'futurism' come from? The only pop
futurism (roughly speaking - ie. not in strict avant-garde terms)
that I can think of = Bowie (Starman, Ziggy and what have you) and
his New Romantic scions.
3. Seems disingenuous of Tom E to say, 'This Movement of mine has
ended - but I don't care when it began'. If you want to persuade us
that there has been a Movement, then offering some temporal
parameters would help (perhaps you do do this. I'm not saying that
you never do, or never would do).
4. Andrew F: don't know what you mean re. people who don't 'get'
music. Most people on this forum probably think that I don't 'get'
music. If people are buying lots of records, then - even though I
almost certainly won't like most of them - I think that they can
claim to 'get' that particular thing.
― the pinefox, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― gareth, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― Patrick, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
And of course there are extra twists in the loop. Sex awareness is one: any star with minor nous (and a thick skin?) can DIRECTLY
access fan-fantasies abt him/her from safe lurker distance. We already KNOW this feedback loop has nourished and smartened a
signif level of cult TV (Buffy/Xena/Star Trek blah blah): some of the core guys in THAT highly author-blurred collective ARE
surfing their equivs of ILM. Popstars caused a power-tremor: the conventional routes of power shaken by K.Marsh's brilliant all-
in-one-throw gamble, over the heads of studio-programmers, to the the SYMPATHIES of the MASS AUDIENCE...: then factor in Lara
Croftism/hentai-idoru/porn-as-the-new-goth tendencies, where's the Madonna of this major car-smash of zeitgeist shifts?
(Structurally this just = the 70s: yes, if you construct yrself a critical position which allows you to overlook-ignore-dismiss alkl
the big things that are actually happening)
Finally: and this (I believe) is at the heart, what I (v.obscurely) have been calling PROG. This combines the sense of a need for
progression (a highly stimulated, media-savvy-yet-unformed-naive audience growing up and demanding more; demanding what
they THINK they've been promise) with the sheer density of (as yet unanchored) NOISE now packed into the ordinary signal.
Competitive differentiation required a remarkable compactness of features w/o direct translateability: they seem like surface
tweaks, but they soon become the core of the identity (what you reach for when the top-level message begins somewhat to
alienate you). A ENORMOUS amount of unpoliced techy mind and cleverness (and reaction to intra-corporate boredom re the top-
level message, also) is poured into these: it's there ready to explode, just as prog did in the 70s out of the mass of psych-pop (which
was also noise and gimmick-rich, and starved of clear signal: disco and 80s masspop were — in different ways — far cleaner and
smoother). One of the things that happens to records is that they are PLAYED AND REPLAYED VERY OFTEN, very far from the
source: in which repetition, the readymades they all share lose force, while the tics swarm and mass and dissipate and reform and
ATTACK! (Attack = this silly jerks' melodramatic presentation of a "mindless" generation suddenly pouring their expressive intent
— a complex conflicted collusion between audiences and audience-focus-lightning rods = stars — into everything in the music
which isn't already tied down.)
[To reduce it to a simplistic kremlinology of corporations: 60s/70s, corps in turmoil, central control-strategy-clarity lost; 80s/90s,
corps in new-tech heavy-ass consolidation; 2000+ corps again in turmoil, central csc lost again...]
Or maybe we'll be really lucky and the new Joni Mitchell will emerge...
― mark s, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
Your prog idea I need re-readings to get (or clarifications, heh heh
heh) - but would a problem here not be the sheer expense of producing
the packed-signal pop artefacts, which kind of limits their use
outside the corporate control structure...? Or have I not understood?
Or maybe I should call my-definition 'pop' something like Absolute
Pop to acknowledge the existence of a fuzzier and more nebulous
category which exists in the grey zone between it and, say, Cat
Many tumble in, but few return to the sunlit lands...
― Tracer Hand, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
Cyndi Lauper is no Madonna, but back in the day people would have
said she was. And soforth.
― Sterling Clover, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
But still, it's quite weird the way people are so used to the idea of
appreciating and getting excited over this stuff, that now even
though now they are totally being slapped in the face with it's
fakery (POPSTARS!) they still go through the motions of
traditional "artist" fandom. I mean, shouldn't the reaction have been
a NEW one? Isn't this a mass confusion? Isn't a mass disillusionment
logically to follow? Should be interesting...
― Kim, Wednesday, 27 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
However, Tom Ewing proclaiming The Death of Pop all sounds a bit
Build Em Up, Knock Em Down to me.
― The Dirty Vicar, Wednesday, 27 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
On reflection, I think it's becoming clearer that Stevie T was right
in what he said, above, and that 'The Death of Pop' is an
embarrassingly bad title, which is not really redeemed by talk
of 'deliberate hyperbole', 'provocation', 'irony', etc. As ever,
though, this is to cast no slur on the talented geezer Ewing himself,
even though I think I am realizing I find his whole take on all this
a mixture of the incomprehensible and (when comprehensible)
― the pinefox, Wednesday, 27 June 2001 00:00 (13 years ago) Permalink
― Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Sunday, 15 September 2002 15:32 (12 years ago) Permalink
― Justyn Dillingham (Justyn Dillingham), Sunday, 15 September 2002 19:35 (12 years ago) Permalink
― Julio Desouza (jdesouza), Sunday, 15 September 2002 19:52 (12 years ago) Permalink
― mark s (mark s), Sunday, 15 September 2002 21:28 (12 years ago) Permalink
― Tom (Groke), Sunday, 15 September 2002 21:54 (12 years ago) Permalink
Partway through [Frank's] book, in the chapter discussing "Superwords", I get quoted, a quote from this odd piece, which I've not dared read since I wrote it. My reluctance was based around my never finishing it - I never wrote the subsequent parts, and after a couple of weeks I'd forgotten what was meant to be in them. I was also afraid I'd read it again and think it was wrong - which I now do, but it's not wrong in any terrible or humiliating way so I don't know why I was so fussed.
The 'death of pop' piece sits as one of my most grievous examples of that Kogan bugbear, not following through ideas. I'm never sure how seriously I take this - I think a lot of ideas are un-follow-through-able, or rather than if you try to follow them through you get ground down and tired, so it's better to just spray them out and see if anyone else can do anything with them. This was always a guiding notion behind ILM, which I actually started half-based on a description I'd read of a Frank Kogan zine (its other parent was the "Question of the Month" box on 80s Marvel editorial pages). But maybe when I say "better" I simply mean "more fun" or "lazier".
This actually ties in a bit with what I was talking about in the Death of Pop piece. The bit I like most in the piece now is the section near the end about stage magic and pop existing in the same precarious showbiz state. In stage magic, pretending that it's all for real (i.e. that you actually possess supernatural powers) is seen as vulgar or a cheat; showing the wires is also frowned upon. A magic performance, in other words, is an idea that refuses - or cannot survive - a follow-through. Somewhere in the tangle of the article I'm suggesting a similar thing about manufactured pop.
Except stage magic is - or used to be, I don't know enough about how it works these days - a stable form where this refusal is built-in and understood by performers and to an extent by audience. Pop is unstable, judging by the continual movement of its performers towards perceived autonomy and credibility (which very rarely translates to achieved cred). The 'death of pop' I was getting worked up about four years ago is always with us, a constant career trajectory. So the question is: why? And also - to paraphrase a question Frank Kogan asks a great deal - what do the performers gain by that? What does the industry gain? What do we listeners gain?Tom | 12.15.05
OK there is a pretty simple answer to "why" to do with people growing out of whatever pop stars they first get into and the idea/received wisdom that the pop needs to 'grow up' with them. But this feels a bit simplistic and I think there's more to it.)Tom | 12.15.05 - 11:06 am | #
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Well, stage magic has *some* instability in it -- it wouldn't be culture if it didn't have at least have a smidgen, but it's especially obvious in the more "post-modern" magicians like Penn & Teller, who sin against the Magician's Oath and actually explain some of the hoarier tricks to their audience.Michael Daddino | 12.15.05 - 1:01 pm | #
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Well, one thing I'd want to question or test is whether the "pop" impulse precedes the "self improvement"/"grow up" impulse or can be separated from it; that is, one shouldn't simply assume that we start fun and grow into seriousness. (E.g., maybe Max Martin grew from heavy metal to Cheiron.)
(And of course, thanks for the compliment.)Frank Kogan | 12.15.05 - 1:04 pm | #
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In Simon Frith's Performing Rites he says that pop, folk, and art aren't three different areas of culture but rather three discourses that tend to run at once in all areas of culture. And my thought when I first read Death of Pop Pt. 1 is that the oversimplification comes from assuming that when you're in "pop" you're playing by pop rules, as opposed to rock rules or art rules or whatever: whereas I see each performer and each performance setting up its own rules (albeit as a continuation or variation on what that performer or genre has done before). E.g., it's understood that Montgomery Gentry aren't claiming "this really happened" when they talk about the girl who leaves the narrator to go out west and partake of the hip-hop mess and then comes back because she really prefers down-home Montgomery (neither Montgomery nor Gentry wrote those lyrics, even), but it's also understood that Montgomery Gentry stand by the values and attitudes in the song, making the song very much part of their autobiography. And in "Tough All Over" you don't assume that Gary Allan is singing about an actual breakup of his ("Well, I hope you're not hurtin'/On the other side of town") whereas on "Just Got Back From Hell" everyone who knows the backstory knows he is claiming this really is autobiography (backstory mentioned briefly in CD booklet: "Angela Herzberg was a beautiful wife and an awesome Mom. We miss her very much. Maggie, Dallas, Tanna, Ty, Stormy, Cole and Gary. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call 1-800-SUICIDE or go to the National Mental Health Association at www.nmha.org for imformation") - yet that backstory also affects what you feel when you listen to him sing, "Life size dominoes/One falls after another/Things are tough all over" back on that breakup song he didn't write. I don't know if you'd call this magic, but there's an intensity that hangs like a ghost over the whole album.Frank Kogan | 12.15.05 - 1:44 pm | #
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- One problem with the original piece is that you talk about "...Baby One More Time" and "Bills, Bills, Bills" as if they were the same phenomenon, making your contention that no one differentiated the pop images inexplicable. "Bills, Bills, Bills" was self-consciously challenging, jazz-tinged r&b with supposedly sophisticated lyrics on the subject of romance and finance, a theme in popular black music that goes at least back to Bessie Smith. And the song got massive play on the hip-hop/r&b stations. The two followup singles crossed big onto the fledgeling Radio Disney, but there was no need to change style after that to get adult "cred," since Destiny's Child had the cred already. The interesting career trajectory is Pink's, since she followed as the freaky-white-girl takeoff on Destiny's Child, with similar words and music, same airplay, and just as much cred with everybody except herself. Her rebellion was to demand that on record she get to be the messed-up late adolescent that she perceived herself to be, and she jumped to rock to do it, getting even bigger on Radio Disney as a consequence. Now, this can be considered personal and artistic growth, but in image it's a move from "adult sophistication" to "teen agony." Which is why "growing up" is too simple a formulation (which doesn't make it altogether wrong).Frank Kogan | 12.16.05 - 9:31 am | #
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yeah that's definitely one of the things that struck me as wrong about the original piece, the strange running together of various things under the banner of 'pop', "Bills Bills Bills" really standing out. I think I was reacting a lot more to the discourse about pop on the blogosphere-as-was and ILM-as-was than to the actual similarities between Destiny's Child and Britney. There was a moment when all that seemed like part of 'pop' to me.Tom | 12.16.05 - 10:01 am | #
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Well, they were all part of pop. It's just that pop doesn't have a single set of rules. And a question to ask might be isn't pop also part of the life of r&b and rock? Or maybe even the afterlife of r&b and rock? Whole hunks of Real Punk are about rock's refusal to follow through. What is the afterlife of rock? In relation to the ongoing evolution of a genre, maybe Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen lead to Lindsay Lohan, maybe Kim Gordon and Courtney Love lead to Ashlee Simpson. Of course Ashlee's story is that she's triumphed over her adolescent self-hatred, which leaves her the question of what to do next, now that that story's been told - though she's still telling it: recently revealed to Cosmopolitan that at age eleven she'd been an anorexic, which makes her TV-movie-of-the-week more than romantic-punk-hero. "My parents stepped in and made me eat."
I don't mean that movie-of-the-week designation snidely: I've known alcoholics and addicts who've told me it was a lot harder to admit to others that they were also bulimic. The torment is certainly real.
I can't say that Dylan, Lou, Iggy, Johnny, or Axl ever figured out how to grow their music up once they stopped flaunting how fucked-up they were.Frank Kogan | 12.16.05 - 11:57 am | #
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- (The posted excerpts I've seen from Ashlee's Cosmo interview also contain these tidbits: "I think I have good curves, and they're womanly," and "I have amazing boobs. I do, I know it. They're not too big, not too small. They're just perfect.")Frank Kogan | 12.16.05 - 12:01 pm | #
― Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Monday, 23 January 2006 15:43 (9 years ago) Permalink
Tom, was this your premise? Some of your comments here don't seem to be endorsing this. Anyway, this is what my comments are meant to challenge. In specific instances you can differentiate between pop and something else, just as you can differentiate between salsa and something else, etc. It doesn't follow that there has to be a general rule as to how to differentiate (you might differentiate differently in different circumstances). And what I really really really do not buy is that overall pop and rock play by different rules. Each performer and performance and context and interaction creates its own rules (albeit as a takeoff on previous performances etc.), but I don't see a general "We're in pop so we don't do autonomy, or at least we do it in 'pop' ways," or a "We're in rock, so this is how we do autonomy." Audiences hold performers and artists responsible for what they do, whether the context is pop or rock, and usually it's the front person who takes the heat no matter who or what else contributed to the performance or the artwork. Singers get held responsible for what they sing, DJs for what they play, dancers for how they dance.
― Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Monday, 23 January 2006 16:49 (9 years ago) Permalink
― Sterling Clover (s_clover), Tuesday, 24 January 2006 18:39 (9 years ago) Permalink
(Or get to supercallifragilisticexpialidoshin', as Mary would say.)
― Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Tuesday, 24 January 2006 18:49 (9 years ago) Permalink
I'm remembering this thread fondly after finally meeting Mark S in person at EMP Pop 2014. This same debate is still totally going on, unsurprisingly, fueled by recent grouchy screeds in curmudgeonly newspapers, and was addressed or alluded to by multiple speakers at the conference today.
I think it may be close to true that I've changed sides on this topic, sort of, in the years since. Or maybe the sides have changed. Or maybe I've stopped caring. Or maybe I've just stopped thinking I have any idea how one "should" write about music. But the music, at least, seems better than ever.
Anyway, hello to our adorable touchy younger selves so earnestly trying to fix each other's misconceptions right away. Should have just been patient.
― glenn mcdonald, Saturday, 26 April 2014 01:43 (9 months ago) Permalink