Article Response: The Death of Pop, Part 1

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Tom in death of pop shocker.

Freaky Trigger, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

The lyric quoted, "All that matters is that you recognize that it's all about respect" - just to invite all kinds of flaming flack on myself, I'm going to propose that maybe people are fed up with the pseudo-ghetto 'tude that makes living in urban areas such a lovely experience, and even more fed up with rich pop stars simulating said ghetto 'tude, which of course influences the rest of society etc. 'Respect' is becoming a catch-all word for an entire anti-social ethos. OK liberals, start flaming.

tarden, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Actually, I'd agree. This is to some extent what Neuro was saying but he said it in such an inflammatory and racialised way that it swamped his point. Respect shouldn't be demanded, it should be earned - and I'd say it should if possible be mutual. More to the point it should have an object - you should respect somebody for a specific thing, not just abstractedly.

Tom, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Wait a minute... are you SURE this is Tom Ewing? I think that whoever the cockfarming, I mean, webfarming bastards were that ate the old site, they have EATEN Tom's brain, and replaced him with an imposter!

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I hope that the second article will explain what the first article was saying.

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 one.

the pinefox, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I kind of agree with the pinefox -- I'd really have to see the second part of the article to see how it all fits together.

Nicole, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

OK: because I came late to the party expecting no party, subliminally called by ghosts of echoes of party that ended LONG ago (which I also missed, truth be told), I choose to disagree. And the name of the reason I disagree is called JennyCam, and the name of the reason I disagree is called Myleene Klass, and the name of the reason I disagree is called PROG, and the name of the reason I disagree is called slash (obviously not be confused with Slash, who is a hairy guitar-player from the midlands). More when I've worked out what I'm talking about (maybe).

mark s, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

If you can write me some slash involving Hear'Say, I will bloody well find a new host, and re-open Pop Music Fan Fiction for yer, Mark!

masonic boom, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I'm going to try really really really hard not to read this thread cos it's a 3-part article and parts 2 and 3 exist as note-form only. I don't think either part 2 or 3 will explain part 1, though. Part 1 is basically saying, here is a working definition of what makes certain records pop, and here is a reason why on the face of things that kind of pop would appear to be in trouble (rhetorically speaking = 'dead')

Tom, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

tarden - No flaming from here. I completely agree with what you're saying up there.

Patrick, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I think Tarden's right here. You can believe in social equality and cultural pluralism while still finding certain behaviours and attitudes repulsive.

Good piece, BTW.

Robin Carmody, Thursday, 21 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Contribute an answer, it says. Easier said than done.

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

If self-awareness is bad for pop, surely analyzing why self-awareness is bad for pop is even worse.

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

It may be that I'm just used to Tom's habit of laying out ideas that he may not completely agree with (or maybe, hasn't always agreed with - I know what it is when I read it but have trouble explaining it), but the question of his sincerity in the article never entered my mind - why would it? It seems sincere enough to me.

Josh, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I agree with much of the article, except in those parts where tom seems to suggest that things are qualitatively different 'now' (as opposed to an unspecified time in the past). As an account of the tensions (and more or less willing suspensions of disbelief) which always exist within chart pop, it'll do fine for me. The argument for now being significantly different to the time of (to pick an example more or less at random) Bros has yet to be made, I think.

In that context, talking about the death of something seems a trifle melodramatic, to me.

Tim, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I like Andrew's answer a lot. It's making me think a lot about the idea of "post-pop" and if that is a genre or not. According to his logic, well, no, it's not logically possible as a genre. (Though honestly, "post-modern" is a logical oxymoron, yet it exists)

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 it?

Then again, is Kid A/Amnesiac era Radiohead "post-pop" by my definition?

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 (sixteen 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 it?

"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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

1. 'Wouldn't post-pop be interesting?' No, I don't think so; unless it's equivalent to something we (we?) have already - Lloyd Cole, Magnetic Fields, Pulp or whatever (I don't mean to equate those examples).

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Intellectual fetishizing by music geeks of mindless pop intended for teenage girls; I think the default assumption, especially given the irony of writing about something you claim is immune to criticism and context, is that it's ironic, an overreaction against what you perceive as a subculture of holier-than-thou indie elistism. If I took it seriously, I'd have to conclude that Tom is arguing that people who really care about music ought to quit wasting their time investigating obscure independent artists and just keep their radio on Top 40. This idea is so fundamentally at odds with my perception of the world that my brain resists believing that it's an opinion reasonable people actually honestly hold. (Or, if they hold it, that they'll keep holding it for very long.) I'd have the same initial reaction if you wrote that all the really interesting stuff in food is happening in microwave dinners.

glenn mcdonald, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

"mindless pop"

mark s, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Ooh, this has just given me a really great idea for a blog name, since I've been trying to think of one. Thank you Glen, may your muse shine on as brightly as a diamond.

Nicole, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Nicole - Ooh, let us know when your weblog gets started. Will it be about music ?

Patrick, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

It will be started when I finish this irritating summer class, so maybe 2-3 weeks down the road. It should probably be really really boring, but might possibly involve musing.

Nicole, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I meant music, not musing, though there might be some of that as well. Damn.

Nicole, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I hope someone will respond to Glenn's post up there - he's definitely bringing up some valid points.

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.

Patrick, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Glenn: all I have ever thought - whether or not I've 'argued' this is another matter, since it seems so well-duh an idea - is that people writing about pop music should be true to their ears, as it were. If they are enjoying something, and they like thinking about why they are enjoying it, then it shouldn't matter what that something is. In my case I realised that I was enjoying radio pop a lot more than I was enjoying most other things, and so I decided to start writing about why. The "overreaction" to indie stagnation is an editorial emphasis, not a listening one.

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 artists.

Tom, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

OK, I'm kind of confused about Glenn's conclusion above. Tom nowhere directly advocates ignoring music outside the charts and I can't see any evidence that he thinks this. Just because you state that there are exciting things going on in the top 40, or even if you state that the *most* exciting things in music at the moment are currently the most popular, it doesn't mean that you are automatically denying the value of searching things out elsewhere.

Richard Tunnicliffe, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Totally irrelevant clarification time!

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.

Tom, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Tom - Yeah, I remember you writing that Destiny's Child's big album wasn't so hot. I guess I'm still shocked that *three* different people reviewed "Survivor" on NYLPM when the song had barely even been released, like it was some huge event or something. But yeah, they're not a specifically "Tom" thing :).

Patrick, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Re: Glenn's 'microwave dinners' - it's that old 'sometimes I like steak sometimes i like mcdonalds' thing, isn't it? And nothing's 'mindless' if you put yr mind to it...

Andrew L, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Glenn's frantic (yet futile) denial of the 13- year-old girl within is a lesson to us all.

mark s, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Yes, you are absolutely right – Pop is dead. A stunning blow, but not entirely unanticipated. I am spreading the news as rapidly as possible, so that all our friends who are in the Pop ‘bag’ can get out of it before their cars are reposessed and the insurance companies tear up their policies. Sad to see Pop go (and so quickly!). I was fond of it. As fond, almost, as I was of its grave and noble predecessor Rock. But we cannot dwell in the done-for. The death of a movement is a natural part of life, as was understood so well by the partisans of Chanson, which is dead. I remember where I was when I first heard that Pop had bought it. I was in my study with a cup of tequila and the new Hear’Say single. Hear’Say’s work is, we agree, good – very good. But who can make the leap to greatness while dragging behind them the burnt-out boxcars of a dead aesthetic? Perhaps we can find new employment for them. On the roads, for example. When the insight overtook me, I started to my feet, knocking over the tequila, and said aloud (although there was no one to hear) ‘What? Pop too?’. So many, so many. I put the Hear’Say single away and turned to contemplation of the death of Plainsong 958AD.

The Ghost of Donald Barthelme, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

"we all thought it strange. there, sitting in the front row of miss mandible's class, was the boy band, 'nsync. they said, 'pop is dead, tom said so. we're here to learn about different things. about science and philosophy, things that will help us find jobs with security and pensions." and so--dammit, stevie. you've infected me.

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I think the phrase I was reacting to most directly was "a watertight case that the charts were once again going to be the only party worth crashing". Combine that with your (Tom's) NYLPM post lauding that Salon piece about two-step, and "Moments in Love" and NYLPM's focuses on chart pop, and I build up a pretty strong impression that you think this is the most important music being made at the moment, and that critics who don't confront it are misdirecting their attention. I'm obviously a supporter of writing about what you like, even if it's something not usually taken seriously by critics (Roxette being my pet pop example), and I've written specifically about the teenage-girl in me (who happens to respond most strongly to Shampoo), so I ought to be sympathetic to your cause. But I lose you when you jump from enjoying a song just because you like how it sounds to dismissing critiques of it along any other axis. Although you assert that "artistic autonomy is irrelevant to the impact of the finished product", I don't see where you've provided any cogent argument about why this is any more true or false about pop than it is about Black Metal or bluegrass murder songs or Amnesiac.

glenn mcdonald, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

When I saw Glenn McDonald's post I had a feeling that the sky was about to fall in, and that he would be thrown to the jackals. He was thrown to the ghosts, anyway.

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 ears, though.

the pinefox, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I've written specifically about the teenage-girl in me (who happens to respond most strongly to Shampoo)

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Rats! Next you'll be telling me that teenage girls don't listen to Daphne & Celeste!

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Most teenage girls I know lust after Thom Yorke, cause, you know, he's well cute, he is. ;-)

masonic boom, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I was going to write something very dull and complicated about the idea of "real" "teenage" "girls" and what they have to do with pop and pop theorists, when my mind went spinning back to an old article by Meaghan Morris which I realised made my points much better. If anyone's interested, it's titled 'Banality and Cultural Studies' and you can find it here:

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 *bimbo*.'

stevie t, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I'm sorry to say that I don't really know what Stevie T is telling us here. My own view (again?) would be: it might not be a good thing to go on about 'teenage girls' as an archetype. It might be better to recognize that there are millions of teenage girls, all particular and complex (or simple, for that matter) in their own ways. If I was a 'teenage girl' I would be annoyed at someone presuming to know what 'teenage girl' meant (beyond a simple designation of age and gender) - even, or even ESPECIALLY, if that person happened to be a teenage girl themselves.

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.

the pinefox, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Pinefox has a point, since the only teenage girl that I know of posting regularly to these boards (and apologies if she's not actually teenage) listens to Penderecki.

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- pop').

Tom, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Teenage girls and their likes/dislikes aside, as much as I enjoyed Tom's piece and thought it was an intelligent piece of pop criticism, it made me think of Tom Wolfe and the acknowledgement that journalistic objectivity is a sham. I'd like to extend that idea to serious discourse outside of journalism as well. How can we pretend that we can "judge" a current genre or even note the quality of the stuff being produced without considering the influence of our respective ages and experiences?

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Pop = not getting worse, tho possibly reaching a plateau or impasse, in ref. a "generation" of young performers' own boredom with aspects of repetition and limitation at delivery end of project (dangers of repetitive strain injury in young dancers etc). Parameters of discussion — wherein unexpected excellence of pop over last few years could originally be somewhat acknowledged and explored — need to be re- examined fairly sharply. Routine apposition to "indie" a big critical weakness, as indie's own relative autonomy and/or quality deeply in question (esp. in ref self-defeating avoidance of "excellence"): apposition to tougher (?), perhaps (?) less compromised musics — free jazz? rap??????!???? — a problem yet to be solved, as the critical discourse *surrounding* and *supporting* said alt.musics basically still SO weak, unevolved, complacent, frightened, reactive etc etc... esp. in ref. the sedimented/ occluded politics of their own (alternative haha) mediation.

mark s, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

The confusion arises, I think, from talking of the stuff you like as "Pop" - even, Nik Cohn, in 'Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom!' calls the stuff he likes 'Superpop' and Bangs and Reynolds are awash with invented genres. Coin a half-decent neologism and you're free to define [Max Martin+BritneyxTimberland/Destiny's Child divided by turbo-capitalism] however you want. I dunno: hyperpop, uberpop, nupop... actually none of those are very inspiring are they?

stevie t, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Megapop, underpop, picopop, praeterpop, omnipop, deep pop, transcendento-pop

mark s, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

We used "machine pop" a few times a while back, and I still like it - wish I'd remembered it for the article. It's a bit Kraftwerky but it does suggest all sorts of things: the protoolisation of the music, the sense of a huge diffused collective mechanical responsibility for the finished product, the piston-beats of the iconic singles.

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).

Tom, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

The thing about teenage girls wasn't intended to imply that teenage girls are an undifferentiated, uncritical mass, but rather that this kind of pre-fab pop treats them like an undifferentiated, uncritical mass. A self-aware writer-about-music can claim to like this stuff on considered aesthetic grounds, but what about the lunch- box-buying, gossip-mag-consuming anonymous millions succumbing to the marketing machine? Part of my objection to this stuff, no matter how pleasant it does or doesn't sound, is that it seems so clearly, to me, like debilitatingly superficial and conformist propaganda aimed at precisely the most impressionable. I can see all sorts of socially- encouraging, self-awareness-inducing, self-image-improving things that might come from listening to Shampoo and Kenickie and Alanis, if the listener suddenly decided (even accidentally), to pay thoughtful attention to them; I haven't been able to discern any such potential value in Christina Aguilera or O-Town, and only the faintest, most dilluted trace in Britney. This is pop going nowhere, targeted at people in exactly the life-stage where they have to start deciding where to go. It's soma, poured into the water supply of a city that needs to wake up. So it scares me to see someone patently capable of thinking clearly defending it.

glenn mcdonald, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

That reminds me: I was possibly unfair to the geezer McDonald in implying that he had a dodgy view of 'teenage girls'. All he said was that the music was aimed at teenage girls. Maybe it is - I wouldn't really know. But his saying that didn't necessarily mean that he thought that teenage girls were *really* all the same, silly, clever, bad, cool, or anything else.

Apart from that, obviously, I stand by my relatively irrelevant comments about 'teenage girls'.

the pinefox, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

glenn, a question out of interest: do you like 60s "teenpop"? and by teenpop here, i mean music that isn't written by the performers, so we're talking the ronettes, the crystals, the shangri-las, the monkees, dionne warwick, dusty springfield, leslie gore, the archies, etc.

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 technology.

fred solinger, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

My knowledge of that kind of 60s teen-pop is limited to a few survey compilations and a Shangri-Las best-of, and I like them, but a) I don't pretend to know much about the cultural role that music played at the time, and b) it's not playing it now, so it's hard to have the same conversation about it that we're having about modern pop. I like A*Teens, Steps, a few B*Witched songs and the one line in "Stronger" about her loneliness, though, so it's not that I'm incapable of enjoying the music. The debate, to me, is not about what you enjoy, it's about what you endorse (and so too the relationship between enjoyment and endorsement). What would you think of someone writing glowingly and articulately about smoking because they discovered they like the taste of menthols? I'd be inclined to think they were being disingenuous and/or irresponsible.

glenn mcdonald, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Whoa, everyone's talking about talking about Pop Muzik.

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

More discussion here.

glenn mcdonald, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I should at this point mention that I'm really pleased by the amount of discussion all this has generated, even if I'm not replying much (because it's kind of a work in progress). Thanks everyone contributing to this thread - not to mention on Earth-B and Earth-P!

Tom, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

1. I can't tell you how nice it is to hear that someone else didn't really understand Tom E's very difficult article.

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

It's not that "autonomous author" has unquestioned currency, it's that it's the term Tom is using, and every time I try to substitute any paraphrase the discussion bogs down in arguing about whether my other term means something different, so I've switched to using Tom's exact terminology in an attempt, not entirely successful, to keep the conversation on track. Personally I prefer "puppet pop" or, more evocatively but trademark-transgressively, "Real Doll pop".

[Also: "Zenotic Method", neologized from Socratic Method and Zeno's paradox (in which you can never get more than halfway to anywhere).]

glenn mcdonald, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

[ps I've worked out TE's strategy:
Throw dodgy tidbit in GM's direction. GM gnaws angrily at it. Half a dozen oaves leap at him from difft directions and belabour him with their best rubber truncheons. By and by, exhaustion reigns. TE unleashes pt.2, a farrago of ungrounded gibberish which renders EVERYONE PRESENT AGHAST. But strength is spent and all bestest weapons are worn but to nubbins. Slack and sleazy, Ewing the Grate Manipulator triumphs boo. The end.]

mark s, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

As I understood it, Tom's article was meant to comment on something that's happened to the current run of chartpop - like the last 5-6 years - the "death" thus being something of a dramatic rhetorical device. I'm sure you could argue in a way similar to Tom's for other periods of pop excitement - not sure if he intends that generalization or not. But the article itself just focused on the recent run, so criticizing it for failure to notice/admit that "pop" has been around, in similarly exciting periods of history, for a long time, just misses the point.

Josh, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Here are some valid questions to ask about "... Baby One More Time":

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.

Josh, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

If you want to claim you know where the end point of this "current run" falls, I think it's fair to ask you to say where you think the beginning point was. Seems to me pop's been just like this for at least 40 years.

glenn mcdonald, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

One thing I don't understand is why everyone thinks they know what this 'recent run' is, and whether it exists, and when it's happened if it's happened. Is this 'movement' something that Tom E has invented?

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 suggested).

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.

the pinefox, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

"My knowledge of that kind of 60s teen-pop is limited to a few survey compilations and a Shangri-Las best-of, and I like them, but a) I don't pretend to know much about the cultural role that music played at the time, and b) it's not playing it now"

"Seems to me pop's been just like this for at least 40 years."

mark s, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

This is what I'm hearing from Mr. TE's article -

1. Many songs on the charts share a hyper-fussy production style and meticulously-planned hype/image positioning. At first I thought Tom was going to go into parallels here and wind up with the conclusion that pop is dead because music-by-corporate-committee sucks. But he says the opposite - "Pop is music where artistic autonomy is irrelevant to the impact of the finished product." I think I very much disagree with this - would "Whip It" have sounded the same after passing thru 20 Max Martin rewrites? "500 Miles"?

2. Said style of chartpop has got some great songs in it. Agree. At least for the 3 minutes they're on, which is all that matters for this discussion right?

3. This type of pop/hype nexus with interchangeable parts is a recent phenomenon yet already dying/dead because of ill-advised attempt at legitness -- noooo. Whattabout NKOTB? En Vogue? Is Justin T's 2-step move any different from Dawn going and making "worthy" songs in Lucy Pearl? It may be their own particular career suicide, but the parts are interchangeable, remember?

For me all these observations = death of bolt-from-blue chart shocker from Bloomington whose parents throw party on Sunday for the Top 40 countdown. But I don't even think THAT's true. In an era where everything accelerates, corporations aren't ultimately nimble enough to stay on top of all trends, or imaginative enough to come up with new ones. Tho it does take at least 1M dollars to even be at the table in U.S. radio (for all the payoffs) which ought to be illegal and hopefully will be soon.

Tracer Hand, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

It's really hard for me to think straight about any of this, the hatred I've got for major media outlets raging as hotly as it does thru my skinny little body.

My (small) point is that this "run" really started in the early 90s. Destiny's Child has got a different sound than En Vogue, more mechanized. But so has De La Soul these days (i.e. it's just the fashion, prob. impact of rave finally being felt on U.S. shores, not just some stupid vocal sample but kneading its way organically into the entire sonic strategy - too dull a reason but true I think). Anyhow: N*sync, etc. is an extension, the logical conclusion. An overdriven Pentium IV version of the supergloss Image of the Mecha-Pop Star in an Age of Media Control (NKOTB, Take That, En Vogue, etc.).

Re: self-obsession: Of COURSE these guys make meta-riffs, they're giving you "access" so you're not crushed with the overwhelming weight of their sanctionedness. They're puncturing holes in their own media balloon, crucially before you can (a la Beavis and Butthead). Overseriousness = DEATH in the pop market (except for v. specific moments like metal, onyx, etc.).

Tracer Hand, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Count me in among those who wonder when Tom thinks this current run of pop got started and what makes it different from previous pop. I can see a few new things - the Bay City Rollers and Leif Garrett never sold 10 million copies of an album, and never dominated the industry in the way that teen-pop does now - but I'm not sure that the music itself is produced and marketed in a much different way than it was before (or that it is more entertaining, which seems part of Tom's point).

Patrick, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Not sure about Tom, but my own definition of the "recent run" is a cross-section of teenpop and R&B from the US that first germinated in about '96 - the year of Backstreet Boys' "Backstreet's Back (Everybody)" Ginuwine's "Pony" and Blackstreet's "No Diggity" - all in their own way defining the new musical paradigm of sonically thrilling futuristic music coupled with (although more defined in the Backstreet Boys) a sense of indestructible self-confidence and inevitability. The rise of this music subsequently can be summarised by plotting the amount of work done by Max Martin and Timbaland, though obviously there were heaps of other people involved (artists including Ginuwine, Britney, Aaliyah, N'Sync, TLC, Christina Aguilera, Destiny's Child, Mandy Moore, Kelis, Jessica Simpson, Pink etc. etc.).

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Mark, don't be a jerk. In the first instance I was responding to a question about a specific set of groups ("ronettes, the crystals, the shangri-las, the monkees, dionne warwick, dusty springfield, leslie gore, the archies, etc."), none of which I happen to know that well. In the second I was talking about the existence of commercial not- written-by-the-artist pop through the ages, which I know well enough to hypothesize that it's been structurally similar at least as far back as the early 60s.

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"?

glenn mcdonald, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Well it's a different type of futurism, innit? "Funky Town" is disco, "Gonna Make You Sweat" is house - both of these are clearly pop, but they're pop as it manifests itself in separate styles of music (I have no idea which "Crush On You" you're referring to, hopefully not Aaron Carter's).

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Diff. between Lipps Inc. and N'SYNC: branding, which isn't something I talked about enough. Branding means that there is a 'band' or 'artist' for the consumer to focus on, i.e. the possibility of autonomy has been raised, and is then removed.

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Tim: "Daft Punk isn't even pop by my tight definition anyway"

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 Punk.

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

"Contributes to Barbelith" = a bit of a misnomer. UK webscene lynchpin and future of electronic publishing T.Coates e-mailed me and said, can I reprint the death of pop article? I said sure. And so here we are. But it's on the list of things I'd love to write something for eventually.

Tom, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

The Plastic thread is interesting and humbling because it shows up quite how much I've been writing for an audience - show the piece to a load of people who've likely never seen FT in their lives and you get comments like "Ewing has obviously been sitting on this column since 1999 waiting to plug names and titles in" and but-what-about- Timbaland defenses of pop. Sigh.

Tom, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

1. Tim F: what is BT? In my country it used to refer to the nationalized telephone industry - now privatized, I'm afraid, but still, come to think of it, called 'BT'. But there are lots of other tel. companies around now as well.

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

BT is, i think, a house music person leaning towards melodic side of things, arpeggioes etc, what i've heard i didn't like. maybe a bit william orbit? i'm sure tim f will provide a better description.

as for people not *getting* music, i have to agree with the pinefox. i would suggest that if someone buys a travis album and likes it, they *get it*. whether they buy a lot, or hardly any, they surely *get* it?

gareth, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Is the artistic autonomy (or lack of same) of N'Sync really that big a deal with the people who buy their records ? I mean, sure, when Hanson was doing well, fans kept talking about how they-play-their-instruments-and-write-their-songs wow-isn't-that-impressive, but isn't that just some after-the-fact my-fave-band-is-better-than-yours talk from people who would have bought the records anyway even without any perception of artistic autonomy ? If Britney Spears had written all the songs that made her famous, I think she would have sold the exact same number of copies that she did, it's just the way that she's discussed that would be different.

Patrick, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I was talking about people who can't (or don't see the point of) explain why they like the music they like. If you ask them why, they'll tell you it's nice. If you ask them if they like, say, the way the bass drops out in that part, and then comes back, they'll say they guess so, or just they hadn't thought about it, or that it's just, y'know, nice. I misspoke when I said they bought a lot of music (almost certainly not compared to most of the people on this forum) but they collectively buy a lot of music. I'm not saying you have to analyse when you enjoy, but you should understand why you would want to. Now more than ever, but that's the anti-corporate paranoid in me coming to the fore again.

Andrew Farrell, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Since Britney audience is (a) extremely variegated, since so large, (b) changes over time (eg gets older), then yes — probably this factor DOES impinge, Patrick. Pop teaches you it's OK to want more: the bolshier of its disciples fret (and worse) when more fails to emerge. One major way it impinges: out the mouths of the starts themselves. It apparently bothers some of them greatly: they are as prey as anyone living under liberal capitalism (like the Unthinking Robots they surely are) to a (confused and dilute) version of what has after all been LC's dominant aesthetic ideology for c.150 years, and remains the Common Denominator to "serious art" talk from Q to the Sun to the New York Review of Books (as in point-source authoring + select audience = superior art) . Hence recent emergence of worry into interview, and a crackle of cross-star dissing re "who's keeping it real" (cf Betty Boo on Westlife; Myleene on whoever she was pissed off with). Since one of the (many) things which makes the current situation difft is the extreme SIZE of the pool from which this pop-sector is drawn (in Roller days, who elswe was there: Jackson Five, Osmonds, that's it... and of course the Jackson Five produced ONE world-historical pop talent of EXTREME STRANGENESS and ORIGINALITY). Hence we can plausibily gamble that SOMEONE in this pool is gonna be swift and cute enough (not to mention: ANGRY AND BETRAYED ENOUGH — cf Robbie Williams) to turn the worry into a THING, instead of (as Tom worries) just dissolving into lame/whiny me-so- put-upon Spicer solo-alb terrain...

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

nothing to add here at the moment, except, GREAT post, mark.

gareth, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

The slide upwards to angry-Robbie defiant-Madonna independent stardom, or the slide downwards into oh-poor-popstar irrelevance, are still both steps out of pop, though. The tone of the article is one of observation not 'worry'.

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?

Tom, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Yes - very (characteristically) intelligent, (characteristically) brimming and bubbling with ideas as far as I can see. BUT I can't really follow it. I don't suppose you want to explain what that last big paragraph was saying?

the pinefox, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Robbie Williams and Madonna = no longer pop ?!? Tom, dude, you're turning into the Joe Carducci of pop. Whatever definition of pop that excludes them would also exclude half the artists in the top 40, and that makes no sense, unless to you pop is only about intention and process and not about result.

Patrick, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Joe Carducci's analysis is actually quite useful cos it forces you to get back to essentials. If we're going to use words like 'rock' and 'pop' we ought either to admit that they have no actual meaning at all beyond 'music' or we ought to consider what a tighter definition might be. I think in the end we might have to end up in the former position but it makes for interesting discussion (like this thread) to flirt with the latter.

Tom, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Also "steps out of pop" != "no longer pop". It would seem equally wrongheaded to me to deny that Madonna now is a different kind of thing than Madonna in 1984, as to say that what she is is not "pop". Maybe she's moved from being Pop in the tight sense of my article to "pop" in the broad shorthand sense.

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 Power ;)

Tom, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Brane sleeps once more, the soft doze of the justified ancients. Soon — this they knew — they would be on the move again, further down and further in. Where Saknusem's scratched glyph remained to be read, they could follow. But to light and knowledge, or just further heat and murk and monsters?

Many tumble in, but few return to the sunlit lands...

mark s, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

2000+ corps again in turmoil

Howzat? Time Warner's (and the other 3's) grip on radio stations, the Top 40, etc. is icier than ever, and even more monolithic. I don't think it's just a pose.

Big difference in corporate media strategy btwn 70s (what mark s is maybe calling a trial run for tech-pop, yes?) and 90s which saw advent of what Tom's describing: in 70s the public was SEEN to control the "agenda" much more than today. In the film industry, for example, a studio would give 60 directors a $1M each to go make a movie and see what stuck. If something flopped, no biggie. If something happened to do well, ROI looked great. Today a studio will give 2 directors $30M each, and market each within an inch of its life so that they're guaranteed (after t-shirts, video rentals, overseas sales, etc.) to at least make their money back if not this year then after their VHS-sized piece of shit has managed to soak up enough cash worldwide. This is essentially the same strategy that they're using w/Britney and N*Sync. I don't think prog-mission/re-commandeering of sonic ammo happens in that environment, at least not from Justin Timberlake; there's too much at stake. Which is why it's going to be so great when it does happen -

Tracer Hand, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

The new issue of Vibe has crushingly dull article about n*sync and how they're "stepping it up", "writing and producing".

Most curious angle: how it's becoming "okay for black people to like them" citing Puff Daddy and TLC as evidence.

Tracer Hand, Tuesday, 26 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Surprisingly, nobody has taken up Tom's most shaky premise, which is the "compartmentalization" of pop, and that the meta-awareness is removing this compartmentalization. I don't think the audience simply picks aspects, but rather that it imbibes the entire feel of a work, that it is impossible to seperate production, beats, lyrics, image, et cet. At the same point, the current pop-crowd has reached such a critical mass that they engage the discourse surrounding themselves, that they no longer enter the world fresh but rather confront a world of their own creation. A shakedown's a-coming, and only the strong will survive. But the teenpop crop is not the R&B crop is not the rap crop, and even as one wave evolves, others are on the horizon. I think it started with Britney cursing in Rio and was consumated, so to speak, when she took her own relationship's non-consumation to primetime. When the popstar ceases to be enigma, then the phenomina acquires a specificity which pushes it beyond pop. In other words, once the interchangability is gone, then we're dealing with something new.

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I was recently reading an article about fashion designer Mark Kroeker, that actually didn't mention music at all, but that got me thinking because of an idea they half dropped wherein the definition of art vs. product hinges upon whether or not the "designer" knows who his "customer" is while he's creating. In other words creating a mere product means that you find your audience, while creating art means that they find YOU. Probably nearly all pop consumers know this on some level, that they are not *really* appreciating independent art and are instead consuming a custom fit product that's just *posing* as art. Could it be that sometimes they enjoy this "ruse" better than the real thing because it just fits them BETTER? That it's very pretender/faker nature makes it all the more FUN? Therefore, yes, in this sense, self consciousness *is* the death of pop. Reality is no fun.

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I've read very little of what's gone before.

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 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I like that comment of the Vicar's. It's so Darren Tackle. He's probably right, too, come to think of it.

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) unacceptable.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 27 June 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

one year passes...
When are we going to see Parts II and III of this Opus? Is pop still dead? Or is it walking among us like a REANIMATED ZOMBIE COP (like in Angel last nite?). Or was THE DEATH OF POP all a bad dream, like that series of Dallas dreamed up by some other Ewing?

Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Sunday, 15 September 2002 15:32 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

This was definitely one of the more memorable threads we've ever had, and I haven't even worked up the nerve to read the actual article yet.

Justyn Dillingham (Justyn Dillingham), Sunday, 15 September 2002 19:35 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

well, thanks for reviving it, I shall read it and learn something on this quiet sunday evening.

Julio Desouza (jdesouza), Sunday, 15 September 2002 19:52 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

incidentally, the name of the reason I disagree that's called PROG is well embodied in the appleton single, which peaked at #2, and has gone oddly unmentioned on ILM

mark s (mark s), Sunday, 15 September 2002 21:28 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I wish I'd made notes about parts II and III because I can't remember what was going to be in them apart from a decision that pop was not in fact dead. II was going to talk about the press and the role of the critic in the pop process and III was potentially going to be a 'cover version' of an old Paul Morley article (with a new middle eight in tribute to Atomic Kitten).

Tom (Groke), Sunday, 15 September 2002 21:54 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

three years pass...
Revive! This thread was the one that hooked me on ILX. Tom resumed the discussion a bithere, in the last days of NYLPM (and incidentally had nice things to say about my book). I'm pasting in an excerpt from his post, followed by what we said in the comments box:

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 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 (eleven years ago) Permalink

Yes, one premise of the article is that there is a difference between one kind of music (which I'm calling pop) and other kinds of music. This difference rests - I'm suggesting - on the presumption or presentation of an autonomous artist behind the music. What I don't follow is how I'm then defending thoughtless listening. I'm defending a listener-centric listening, perhaps, but that need not be thoughtless.

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 (eleven years ago) Permalink

I don't remember what thread we had the discussion on but I was up on this point that pop isn't contra-rock, or contra-classical, or this or that. Pop is at once a subset of "everything else" and the opposite of "everything else" b/c even though you can say "this pop track is rock" you can also say "this track isn't rock -- it's pop!" and they're both true. pop is like a meta-genric social use category.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Tuesday, 24 January 2006 18:39 (eleven years ago) Permalink

you use it to pop yourself.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Tuesday, 24 January 2006 18:39 (eleven years ago) Permalink

Get to poppin.

(Or get to supercallifragilisticexpialidoshin', as Mary would say.)

Frank Kogan (Frank Kogan), Tuesday, 24 January 2006 18:49 (eleven years ago) Permalink

eight years pass...

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 (three years ago) Permalink

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