Saturday, February 19, 2011

Music in the Morning: Pop

I would never call myself a lover of Pop Music, more an affectionate observer from afar. I think that at it's best Pop is a rarified distillation of the era in which it was created. A snapshot of the most common denominator of a given zeitgeist. Pop is a thing that is constantly evolving, and is very much a part of the fabric of American Culture.

In the fifties and into the early sixties Pop resided firmly in doo-wop. It's mostly dudes crooning about getting to first base, and girls in poodle-skirts wondering out loud as to the whereabouts of their boyfriends... and from the perspective of a guy born in the early eighties, this perfectly encapsulates the "simpler times" that my parents are forever waxing poetic about.
In the Sixties Pop moved away from necking, and into a concern for the The United States place in the world, and how it went about using it's power. Kids stopped hanging out at "soda fountains" and started "smoking grass" (well done youth!) and having opinions. I understand their parents found this to be disquieting.
The Idealism of the sixties is short lived. While JFK's assassination seems to fuel it's fire, the assassinations of the late 60's, especially Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy's seem to tear out it's heart. By Nixon's second inauguration it has receded almost completely, surviving only in the shallow grotto of San Francisco, and a few other enclaves like Ocean Beach in San Diego (where they are still protesting Vietnam). Completely turned off by politics the youth of America turned to decadence as a means of coping, and pop music followed.
Which drifted easily into the wonton materialism of the eighties. America's philosophical conflict with Communism had devolved into a celebration of stuff. It was a rejection of the spiritual and the idealogical in favor of the purely physical (and shoulder pads).
And then the Berlin Wall came down, and the USSR fell shortly there after. For the first time in as long as anyone could remember the United States didn't have An Enemy. We were the undisputed masters of a global system of our design. The youth of this generation grew up knowing that we could do anything we wanted to do, be anything we wanted to be. We were as gods... and it totally scared the shit out of us. And pop music was there to reflect our fear and uncertainty.
We quickly grew exhausted with all the self reflection, however. "The Nineties" much like "the Sixties" lasted only as long as it's heros. And the fall of it's angst-ridden standard-berrers saw the lights of this era start to sputter out. Even before the fall of the Twin Towers you could taste the hunger to escape, and september eleventh only speeded the process. The very late nineties and into the early-mid Aughts is what some people call "The Golden Age of Pop" Where divas like Mandy More and Cristina Aguilera were created out of thin air, and boy bands such as N'Sync and the Back Street Boys were assembled to chase the Lilith Fair lovelies off of the radio. And the undisputed queen of this era was Britney Spears.
Pop Music doesn't always have to be art (lets be frank, it's usually the furthest thing from) it can be just "a fun time" and thats okay. We need mindless entertainment to keep us sane. So Pop music doesn't have to be art, but there is an art to pop music. It requires an instinct for approach (like double dutch), and an ability to read the spirit of the time. This is an art at which Britney Spears is a master. Her new video builds on her own mythology; it takes the contributions of later pop starlets, like Lady Gaga and the "literature" of video games and Youtube and folds them into herself. She captures the frantic overstimulation of life in the Internet Age, the fear at the sense of a roller coaster out of control. As a piece of music, its utterly forgettable. As a display of her mastery of the Art of Pop, it's sublime.
(Britney Spears scares the effing Shit out of me)

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