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Miscellaneous - Pop Stars

  by Jon Rogers

published: 23 / 4 / 2011

Miscellaneous - Pop Stars


In his regular 'Hitting the Right Note' column, Jon Rogers examines the case for pop music over rock and more serious art

It is all too easy to be dismissive of pure pop music. The latest cute pop sensation – all singing and dancing, lacks artistic credibility, is nothing more than a cute, pop puppet simply doing what the behind the scenes Svengali is telling them, warbling out the lyrics that someone else has written that has as much depth and substance as a piece of paper. In short, in rock’s critique of pop, the pop singer just isn’t credible; they’re light, frothy and frivolous and a mile away from the far more serious business of being a rock musician. The pop star sings songs about the infatuation and heartache of young love. The rock star has more serious concerns on their minds. I mean, you’d never have one of the greats like Captain Beefheart singing such a frivolous ditty as ‘Happy Love Song’... would you? So, as the famous slogan has it: ‘Fuck Art, Let’s Dance’. Now I like a good bit of ‘serious’, beard-stroking music just as much as the next person – but let’s not get carried away here. If you can’t appreciate a large dose of great, frivolous pop music and embrace its life-affirming joyousness then you really do need to get out more. Great pop music – and admittedly, just like all art forms, there’s a lot of dire rubbish out there – can transport you out of your mundane, dull and unglamorous lives. After working all week long in some dull, 9 to 5 office job that corrodes your soul what better way to pick yourself up out of that rut than don your glad rags and dance your cares away to the latest pop hits of the day. Who wants to stay in your bedsit and listen to the entire back catalogue of (the admittedly brilliant) Joy Division or the Smiths? That aspect of pop transformative powers to lift you out of the mundane has been recognised – either consciously or unconsciously – by all the great pop stars and make them larger-than-life characters. You can’t imagine the likes of Lady Gaga simply walking down the street in jeans and a T-shirt, let alone actually appear on stage dressed like that. They have that element of unobtainable glamour, that other-worldliness that us mere mortals can never have. So carry on wearing those outrageous dresses, the bizarre and freaky hats – or in some cases virtually nothing with only strategically placed bits of tape preserving their modesty. After that, who’d be interested in the likes of the All Saints jumping around in T-shirts and combat trousers. Dull. And a healthy dose of eccentricity also helps. Once again Lady Gaga is an obvious example but so are the likes of the rather wonderful Paloma Faith and Britney Spears. Putting to one side the question of mental stability, I want my pop stars to be larger than life, to behave erratically, do the odd wild and crazy thing, to appear on TV or stage and come out with stuff that is as bonkers as a bag of ferrets. This though is to be distinguished from self-important diva-ish behaviour. Anyone doing the latter, like refusing to climb a flight of stairs or flush the toilet because that sort of thing is beneath them, is just a spoilt brat. Appearing on TV and spouting a load of incomprehensible gibberish, like Ms Faith, and (importantly) not giving a toss what anyone thinks, is, however, most certainly welcome. And pop stars have to be desirable and sexy. Let’s face it, sex sells. Pop stars have known this since Elvis Presley started gyrating his hips. Just how many ugly pop stars can you think of? The early success of the Beatles saw hordes of teenage girls scream out their lungs as they watched them perform and afterwards there wouldn’t be a dry seat in the house, as the saying has it. As for Kylie Minogue, I don’t admire her for her songwriting ability or her rather limited dancing skills. Let’s face it dancing around in gold lame hot pants with the camera in the video, largely, paying lots of attention to her physical assets, got her rather a lot of male attention (and I suspect she knew she would). But the subtle trick really though is not to alienate one gender. Minogue does that fine balancing act that makes women want to be her and men want to be with her. A similar trick pulled off by Madonna at the height of her popularity. Whereas the likes of Boyzone, largely, just appeal to a female audience. I’ve no desire to be a member of Boyzone. Being Ronan Keating, well, just looks boring. A great pop song though has to make you want to dance. I have all the grace and style on the dance floor of a dying, epileptic one-legged fly but a great pop tune, like the Ronettes ‘Be My Baby’ or Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ just propel you to shake yer thang. And this is where sex comes in. As the common phrase has it, dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire. One aspect of criticism levelled at pop music is its, apparent, banal lyrics. I’d have to agree – to some extent – "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah" or the la-la-la refrain of Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ doesn’t really rival the great poets like John Keats or William Shakespeare. And great pop songs seem to have little to worry about apart from the trials and tribulations of young love, where to go to have “fun, fun, fun” during the summer and how to have a good time on a Saturday night. Not quite in the same league as Fyodor Dostoyevsky. But that’s not the point. In great pop tunes the message is in the music. There’s a place for well-crafted and honed rhyming iambic pentameter but not on some dance floor in the early hours of the morning. The message of the song is conveyed through the rhythm and beat with the lyric and vocals often really doing nothing more than just enhancing the melody. Which leads some critics to view pop music as rather vacuous. Indeed they may have a point but consider this quote from the great modernist composer John Cage, cited in David Revill’s biography: “I have nothing to say, I am saying it, and that is poetry.” You don’t need to have anything important to say for it to be considered art. For some pop music lacks ‘authenticity’ as invariably the singer of the song didn’t actually write the music or the lyrics and had little – or no – input into the creative process apart from adding the vocals, which very well may have been autotuned anyway. With pop stars I don’t care if this is true or not. I’m not bothered if they’ve written their own songs or not. I want them up on stage in some sexy outfit, all singing and all dancing. I want a spectacle, I want glitz and glamour. I want a performance. Whether or not the person up on stage has actually written the song they’re singing is superfluous. And anyway, that rockist argument doesn’t really hold. The acclaimed opera singer Maria Callas clearly had a great deal of talent, but as far as I am aware never wrote a single song or aria in her life. Does that mean that anything she sang lacked authenticity just because she sang other people’s songs? Admittedly though you’d be hard pressed to include the likes of Cheryl Cole in with Ms Callas. Which comes onto my caveat, all pop stars do have to have at least some talent. Okay, so I don’t expect them to be up to the standard of Ms Callas when it comes to singing but I would demand that that have some ability to carry a tune. I don’t mind a bit of studio trickery either with the likes of autotuner and if some singer hits a bum note I’m not going to be upset. But I draw the line at miming along to a backing track. You have to have some talent, especially if you’re supposedly performing live, which is perhaps why the likes of Cheryl Cole and the Saturdays will never really be great pop stars. Pop music has its place – and a very welcome one too. For all those po-faced music hacks trotting out their hackneyed cliché-ridden trite (and illogical) about how much better rock is over pop, you really do need to get out more.

Visitor Comments:-
431 Posted By: Myshkin, London on 12 May 2011
The important difference between the pop and rock genres, to my mind, is integrity. In theory (at least), the rock musician is credible because their 'art' is meaningful. Supposedly, it comes from the heart. Whereas the pop star just does what they are told, have little or no artistic input to what a song sounds like, is controlled by some Svengali manager in all aspects from what songs to sing, what to wear and what to say and in some cases just jumps around on stage in revealing outfits whilst miming to a backing track. Where's the artisitic worth in that? Admittedly rock bores stroking their chins can get dull and tiresome but it's unlikely you'll find me dancing to some frothy pop tune any time soon.

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