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Thread: What is good about Pop Music?

  1. #16
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    "When I discovered that by Pop music people meant "music for imaginary rather than real communities" I was depressed for about a month."

    I think my earliest obsessions with music grew out of adolescent projections of communities I was most certainly not a part of. It dawned that this 'real' was fundamentally an imaginary, that my understandings were flimsy, tenuous, warped irreconcilably by what I took as my entirely nebulous cultural pedigree (embarrassingly typical, probably). Was depressed for a month etc. etc.

    So this was like some gaping wound trauma that ahistorical pop sugar rushing went some way to "resolve". This is formalism and myth-making as much as moments-in-love - grime or jandek or javanese gamelan music can be 'stripped of anything approaching life' but they remain sets of features, shallow austere or otherwise, like the simultaneously flattened-out & distinct character-profiles of comic book trading cards. Mia apparently has a couple shiny tin foil holograms.

    If there is a full-on aggressive/committal pop position (beyond loving tunes like a summer breeze) it really is a consumption-crazy thing and it's, at least for me, impossible to sustain. There's too much music, you either go mad or start to grapple with some chaotic set of criteria for selection/commitment. Source of much anxiety is whether this process is just an insular and confined-to-personal thing or for lack of a better phrase a broader more connected enthusiasm....

  2. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by blissblogger

    those ads for ipods creep me out, the idea of people looking outwardly normal and repressed and grey-faced on the subway but inside they're freaking out and going bliss-crazy
    The Dr Who writers should do an episode with "evil iPods",
    headphone strangling beasts on the tube,
    white tentangle/snake headphones everywhere.
    Ness Rowlah

  3. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by scissors
    I think my earliest obsessions with music grew out of adolescent projections of communities I was most certainly not a part of. It dawned that this 'real' was fundamentally an imaginary, that my understandings were flimsy, tenuous, warped irreconcilably by what I took as my entirely nebulous cultural pedigree (embarrassingly typical, probably). Was depressed for a month etc. etc.
    well i think there's something definitely "adolescent" about my whole approach to music and the way i think of the dance music scene as a community that i somehow belong to . . . . and there are things virtuous and vicious about maintaining this stance, self-realizing and self-destructive . . . . obsessive-compulsive investigation of music (in particular certain "junglistic" stands of the 90/93 uk hardcore sound, w/o said sounds getting too drum'n'bassy -- and despite this obsession i know far less about this one area than the average brit of a certain age, and far less about every other area of music than most people at dissensus), an investigation made all the more easy in recent years by the ready availability of sound clips on the internet, an investigation that is really a retreat into my own private fantasy land, and yet what i find (cool records) does serve from time to time as my gifts to others at parties and perhaps satisfies a kind of artistic yearning that is otherwise frustrated -- so yeah i'm a real doozy psychologically

    Quote Originally Posted by Backjob
    Yeah but see, this "pop mindset" is to me a totally artificial construct. Nobody here is talking about the real pop consumer, the person who consumes through the radio and tv and buys a couple of cds a year . . . .
    of course it's possible the real pop consumer spends his time & money on things that he deems more important . . . . perhaps he paints, perhaps he reads voluminously, perhaps he's a sportsman, perhaps he makes his own music, perhaps he's so deeply involved in a love affair that music no longer matters----- or perhaps he's like mike skinner, smoking weed, drinking beer, playing video games, wanking off, and down-loading free music for his i-pod ----- or perhaps he's devoted to his family, coaches his kids, spends his money on their needs rather than on records ----- so who really knows the priorities of this "pop consumer" -- as woebot said from the beginning, he is something of a strawman

    i hate to complicate this discussion irredeemably, but k-punk's all-too-brief discussion of laddishness (in his post on scritti politti) is apposite
    Last edited by dominic; 30-03-2005 at 05:28 AM.

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    i'm kind of daunted by the depth of perception on display here.

    (blissblogger! dazzling! send me your invoice!)

    it's going to prove difficult to pick up, but seeing as Backjob has bravely stepped in to the fold I'm going to pick up two of his points:

    a) what about music which aspires to be pop?

    music which aspires to be Pop, like BEF or Annie is oxymoronic. its a trojan horse, almost by definition not Pop, it is (for want of a better term) Rock. however i don't want to occlude that what i'm questioning/assailing is the reception of pop, the consumer-oriented defintion. in this schema music aspiring to be Pop becomes Pop in spite of its own attempts to become Pop (if you catch my drift)

    b) just micropolitical wrangling on the internet

    have to fundamentally disagree here. the pop ethos has strangled just about ALL critical writing on music. i'd even argue that The Wire's position (that bastion) has been defined rather timorously by its near total encroachment. "ooh don't mind us, we'll just plough our own little furrow, dig our little tunnel deep under the mountain" rather than flicking two fingers to the by now practically unassailable edifice of smug consensus.
    Last edited by Woebot; 30-03-2005 at 08:43 AM.

  5. #20
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    woebot sez:

    It's such a seductive idea isn't it, that the micro mirrors the macro? But isn't it a comforting fantasy? Granted, sometimes clever artists capitalise on this, moulding their content so it fits with people's erroneous notion that there is indeed such a flimsy cosmic organisation.
    this doesn't make any sense at all to me. no-one ever says x-aspect of social totality "mirrors" y-aspect of social totality, but rather that x-pop single resonates with y-aspect of modern life, ("pop single" meaning rachel stevens OR kano obviously, both are on the 'this week's new releases' stand at hmv, both chart, both are pop). if you don't think music resonates with social existence ("flimsy cosmic organisation" -- hmmm, why "cosmic"?), what do you get out of grime, which is surely all about that kind of resonance. (oh, same for dylan, but he counted his money so i guess he's ruled out.)
    sympathise with blissblogger's points but at the same time opting out of consumer culture/opting for more you-friendly consumer choices (ie less market-oriented music) are fairly low-level political choices aren't they? i don't think anyone can exactly take the high ground either way based on their choices of music.

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    Quote Originally Posted by henrymiller
    opting out of consumer culture/opting for more you-friendly consumer choices (ie less market-oriented music) are fairly low-level political choices aren't they? i don't think anyone can exactly take the high ground either way based on their choices of music.
    yeah i agree, in some ways it's a battle, or to put it less melodramatically, a disagreement between modes-of-consumption and their attached sensibilities

    i suppose what's irritating about pop-ism, which is not so much a straw man as such as an extrapolation of certain traits and tendencies towards their ultimate destination, is that side of it which leans towards the celebration of the fake over the real ( that whole line of argument that "fake grime/dancehall/etc" = superior because more poppy than the genuine article; selling out leads to more enjoyable music etc)


    and also celebration of non-quest -- the non-questing consumer, and the non-questing producer

    wanting it all on a plate made out as a kind of virtue

    and the celebration of instantness as ALWAYS superior to more difficult or slower-yielding pleasures

    consumer laziness is fine (there's all kinds of music i have a lazy attitude towards, i'm sure if i ever venture to grapple with Extreme Metal, the Wire's new hot zone of subcultural capitalization -- and hey i've still got my subpop prerelease cassette of Earth's first lp, i thought it was 'ambient grunge' though! -- it'll be in a totally dilettante, indolent manner)

    when it's turned into a sort of proudly lazy ethos, a virtue, that's when it becomes more irritating

    but as someone said upthread, there's a strong element in which these disputes are totally irrelevant to the vast majority of pop punters

    mind you, i think the idea of the maundering-along 2 cds a year doesn't give a fig for genre consumer is also possibly a construct -- really there's a myriad of ways of engaging/semi-engaging/being dis-engaged from pop

    when i think of people i know who aren't part of the blogging world and how they relate to pop there's a whole span of types, many so singular you could barely call them 'types' at all

    i know someone who barely reads the pop media anymore but who's favorite band is the Libertines even though she's pushing forty but six years ago was a fanatical junglist

    i know someone who NEVER reads pop media and is totally outside the blogging universe but who somehow mysteriously keeps up ... not w/ ariel pink and kononon no. 1, say... but, well, a few years ago i rang her up and she said "me and Tabs (her four year old), we're into Fiddy and Sean Paul.." this is someone who's quite posh and a 37 year old single mum but who's somehow kept up with street music . i think because she's into dancing and mixes with people a fair bit younger than herself

    "normal", "civilian" types will often have the most peculiar record collections, real haphazard accretions of stuff

    and the trajectories they follow often are exceedingly erratic (and interesting therefore) c.f. the more selfconscious and "questing" ones we virtusosos-of-consumption (i hope the irony is audible there) pursue

  7. #22
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    Completely agree about 'normal' people's bizarro record collections - there's probably a really strong case to be made that the more into music you get, the more boring and stereotyped your record collection becomes as it either fits into a neat genre specialist slot, or broadens out to cover all bases...

    But I was thinking about the whole pop consumer issue last night and another thought occurred to me - there's actually a real freedom from consumer culture in choosing to seek your meaning in pop. So many things in life have been imbued via marketing with a supposed meaning about your identity - we're supposed to express ourselves through our choice of shoes, phones, cars, watches and of course music.

    And picking certain types of genre music does make a strong statement about identity. Whereas liking pop makes none at all, because it's the default option. I mean anywhere outside London, saying you're into 'grime' and then having to go into a 5 minute explanation of what that means, signifies "hipster wanker" very strongly; as opposed to saying "well, I really like the new Gwen Stefani album" which is much more likely to be a point of contact with other people.

    Having said that, maybe part of the reason there's a popist backlash just now is precisely because saying you are "into pop", on the internet at least, DOES now have strong identity connotations....

  8. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by henrymiller
    opting out of consumer culture/opting for more you-friendly consumer choices (ie less market-oriented music) are fairly low-level political choices aren't they?
    yes -- it's a very low-level political choice

    nor is there anything artistic about consuming another person's work (unless you're a dj)

    it's more like post-Xian religious devotion

    and so here record collecting becomes a "quest" (SR's apt term upthread) to bring the spirits and deities into one's own private shrine, i.e., cabinet full of records

    or maybe not

    i'm merely trying to make sense of my own position/disposition

    Quote Originally Posted by Backjob
    And picking certain types of genre music does make a strong statement about identity.
    yes -- this is very true even though it's a low-level political choice and not at all artistic

    i'd say that my identity is closely bound up with the books on my shelves and the records in my cabinet, i.e., these are the things that i choose to "collect" around myself, they define my personal space ----- and they are also ways for me to connect with people other than through the medium of money & services

    now some people might say that to think of one's identity in these terms is "inauthentic" or sadly consumerist, that identity is determined not by consumerist choices but by one's actions, actions in the sphere of politics, actions in the sphere of the arts, actions in the sphere of love

    action = doing something with and alongside others or in front of others, such that your character & identity is made manifest to them -- and it is the others who will write your obituary & have the final say on who you are

    and writing books & producing records are modes of action and not merely instances of art, b/c by doing so you put yourself out before others, it's how you reveal yourself to the world ------ whereas there is no such revelation of the self to others in collecting records, this is merely consumerist retreat into the private domestic space

    and so the argument runs

    and i can come up with no good argument to set against this argument, only an empty shrug and "sorry, but i am the way that i am"

    Quote Originally Posted by Backjob
    I mean anywhere outside London, saying you're into 'grime' and then having to go into a 5 minute explanation of what that means, signifies "hipster wanker" very strongly
    yes and no -- there is at least that connotation

    if you live in america but are not into hip hop or reggaeton, and you then turn around and seek out grime, it's going to be hard to justify

    now i'm not into (nyc) hip hop or reggaeton, but i like some crunk and some grime -- so i need to work on a justification!
    Last edited by dominic; 31-03-2005 at 03:07 AM.

  9. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by dominic
    and so here record collecting becomes a "quest" (SR's apt term upthread) to bring the spirits and deities into one's own private shrine, i.e., cabinet full of records
    kinda corresponds w/ hegel's notion of the fetishized object as most primitive stage of religion (and so we post-Xians have as a matter of course moved in this direction)

    the object has magical properties

    in the grooves of the record the spirits move

    and in playing the records, we hear and feel the spirits, or we're gripped by voodoo (and if not "spirits" or "voodoo powers," then however you want to refer to it)

    and this perhaps also explains our dislike of cds and especially mp3s, b/c they lack the aura of the object

    OR perhaps it's more like Hinduism or other religions of India, i.e., the notion of the cabinet of records as shrine for the household god or gods

    (I realize that I'm straining for an analogy, a familiar explanation -- so please don't get the idea that I'm the sort of person who keeps his records in pristine condition! or that i'm some kind of boorish vinyl snob -- indeed i have a lot of music on cd! -- again, i'm basically grasping at straws for why this "low-level political choice" is for me so important)
    Last edited by dominic; 31-03-2005 at 04:12 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by henrymiller
    sympathise with blissblogger's points but at the same time opting out of consumer culture/opting for more you-friendly consumer choices (ie less market-oriented music) are fairly low-level political choices aren't they?
    Arguably not when position 1 means never actually buying any music, just downloading it. I presumably ought to get a grander drum to beat, like er, I dunno (empty skull echoes). Better bone up on my data!

    Quote Originally Posted by henrymiller
    i don't think anyone can exactly take the high ground either way based on their choices of music.
    This must be the default Pop reaction, to retort along the lines of "At the end of the day it doesn't matter" or "You're ruining my fun you prig" I suppose that's a fair enough reaction, "Anti-Pop" does seem an incredibly petty thing for one to take a microposition on, just looking for meaning in my wretched, shallow, music-obsessed existence I guess

  11. #26
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    some people like pop music more than the subcultural stuff it's biting because the very fact that something that a few months ago was a local or underground thing is now on popworld is jarring, exciting, and sometimes produces something startling. i don't know what woebot thinks of schaffel or richard x, but wasn't 'some girls' kind of an event in a way that another kompakt 12" is not? likewise, i'm predicting a new 'grime direction' for blazin squad (which, granted, is much more likely to be shit than 'some girls', which owned the summer), which, even if it *is* shit, will also be a kind of rich and stange thing to live through. like seeing dizzee rascal on TMF (free-to-view crapola digital music channel). it's a kind of dissonance.

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    I've actually been thinking about this kind of thing a great deal recently too... prompted by comparing the early with the late Scritti...

    I mean, I would say that I am 'aesthetically' but not ideologically a Popist... in that, I like and privilege Pop, by almost any defintion (check my end of the year round-up!). (It's rock and avant-tedium I have aversions to... rock will ALWAYS sound tired and old to me, indie is the worst music ever to exist on the planet, and who needs all that Wire-beloved noodling?)

    But it is popists' account and legitimation of their consumption that I reject, not so much what they consume. The depressing notion that 'if someone likes it, it must be good', the idea that there can be no other criteria other than pleasure, and that, fundamentally, Pop is ABOUT pleasure: this is what I find questionable.

    Was thinking about this in relation to Cupid and Psyche 85, which must be one of the most accomplished Pop LPs ever - don't try it kids, it's like audio crack. (1985, as I recall, was just prior to the ridiculous NME positing of guitar crap as 'perfect Pop'.) In many ways, C and P 85 was the culmination of New Pop and the legitimation of Popism: the triumphant occupation of the centre ground by the (formerly) marginal.

    What's always puzzled me about C and P is, where are the supposed 'deconstructive' elements... Isn't this 'just' pop music? I mean, yeh, as Simon says, it's all about surfaces etc, there is no soul - but (given that the whole soul thing is a superstition) it's not as if there is LESS soul in Aretha Franklin.

    Point is, even though few albums can deliver as much pleasure as C and P, I would say that it lacks something that was definitely there in the early stuff... but it's not that the early stuff was straightforwardly avant-garde either: it wasn't just marginal, it delivered enjoyment (jouissance) NOT pleasure....

    Pleasure is, literally, the repetition of previous satisfactions. But I think that it is only for Popists that Pop has to be like that.. Pop can still be modernist, challenging, uneasy, why not?

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    I started to write a long post tackling some of what i consider to be the more awesomely off-kilter sentiments expressed in this thread, but I'm not really sure where to start. The big stuff first I guess:

    "have to fundamentally disagree here. the pop ethos has strangled just about ALL critical writing on music. i'd even argue that The Wire's position (that bastion) has been defined rather timorously by its near total encroachment. "ooh don't mind us, we'll just plough our own little furrow, dig our little tunnel deep under the mountain" rather than flicking two fingers to the by now practically unassailable edifice of smug consensus."

    Matt please elaborate because I just don't know what on earth you're talking about (except the bit about The Wire ploughing their furrow). Do you really think that critical writing on music has been "strangled"? I dunno, i can't help but take this argument slightly personally, not because i think at all that it's aimed at me in the slightest but because it indicts me anyway. As a writer, and as a reader. Here I thought I'd read and engaged in an innumerable number of interesting, insightful debates on music in various forms (in magazines, on blogs, on message boards, in pubs and bars) where apparently it was all just smug neanderthal bleating of "this is catchy and in the charts --> IT IS GREAT! That is not --> IT SUCKS!"

    Maybe I can't be objective in this discussion because I do think of myself as a popist, but then I've never held the strawman position being attributed to popists, and to my knowledge none of the other self-identifying popists I associate with do either.

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    "Maybe I can't be objective in this discussion because I do think of myself as a popist, but then I've never held the strawman position being attributed to popists, and to my knowledge none of the other self-identifying popists I associate with do either."

    Or have I/we been doing this after all the whole time? If all attempts to think about pop music ultimately boil down to that then please liberate me from my ignorance now...

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    Tim, are you really any more of a Popist than me, really?

    Does liking and privileging Pop music and being actively hostile to rockism make you a Popist? If so, count me in...

    I took it that Matt meant that it killed all critical discourse about pop in mass media*, but surely we must celebrate that. Fanzines and the old music press were massively important, but what is happening now on the web is quite unprecedented: in terms of the interaction between serious intellectual work and popular culture, possibilities of immediate and global circulation and distribution etc etc. Let's stop looking in the rearview mirror.


    *There's of course a proliferation of REVIEWING in mass media; you can't pick up a broadsheet without some witless pontificating about pop (or rather rock, most such journos having rockist defaults).

    In any case, I would question the idea that we are in a time when Pop values reign... we are in a time of Celebreality.... in other words, of anti-sublimation, a double, contradictory desire to both have your stars as idealized objects AND see them with cold sores on their lips...

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