Pop muzik

Nov 11, 2015 at 4:29 pm
Pop muzik

Why do we hate on some pop musicians? If it’s the bad music, I can get behind that. In the world of pop, being a songsmith isn’t always part of the resume. Take Maroon 5: Would they still be famous if it weren’t for Adam Levine’s Mark McGrath impersonation? They’ve had plenty of songs shoot to the top of the charts, but they never stick around. Soulless, forgettable, disposable songs. Cotton candy. It tastes sweet enough but disappears without any lasting effect. Other pop stars feel the hateful burn just because of their popularity, and that’s been a game that goes all of the way back to the beginning of pop music. Take a musician who gained wide appeal and they turn into chum in the eyes of critics, sometimes for no good reason.

It seems like it goes back to the art kid vs. popular kid argument. If the popular kids like it, it must be worthless. Most of the popular kids don’t want to think too much about music, it just needs to provide an upbeat soundtrack in the background. Art kids invest in the intricacies, so their championed music must be better. There are way more sociological points that play out, but we’re only skimming. Just the same, sometimes it’s just about the scene, and those art kids are blind to an actual, great pop song just because of who is singing it. Case in point, a few years ago I did a blind taste test on WFPK, played a song without telling anyone who it was, and asked if listeners could guess the artist and tell me if they liked it or not. A dozen or so phone calls confirmed that it was without a doubt The Black Crowes and they unanimously loved it. Expect that it was Hanson. I waited a few months and played the same song at a different time, but said it was Hanson and got just as many hate calls. I expect that it was all based on the fact that these folks had already made up their mind about the brothers three and were deaf to actually listening.  

The latest version of this game came when Ryan Adams decided to cover Taylor Swift’s “1989.”  I had played Swifty a few times on the air within a very specific context and was trashed by our members every time, with bellows that she should never be played on our airwaves. Now, I do agree to the extent that we’re not a pop station, and we as fans all pick sides based on our own sense of self, which is important. The goth shirt is the reflection of who that person is or who they want to be. The Jay Z shirt is a lifestyle. The sneakers go with the skateboard. But, it’s when we shut out the opportunity for discovery that we miss some of the best moments. Taylor Swift wrote a really great album, but it was lost to a whole world of people because they didn’t relate to the other people who liked her. But then, Ryan Adams covered it and suddenly one of their own was saying that not only is it OK, but that they’re good songs. Not one person called me to tell me that they didn’t like the album. In fact, I have had a pretty steady stream of requests to hear more of it. I remember one of our listeners remarking that if this record, recorded exactly how he did with all of the exact same lyrics, was before Taylor Swift’s, it would have been Americana Album of the Year.

I’m not blind to the fact that the sound and style play a part in all of this. Ryan’s version is a more rootsy reading, and if you despise pop, then you wouldn’t have liked it as much if he used the same production as Taylor, so that’s a point in your corner. But it does prove that a good song is a good song (even though that’s a lazy assessment and sentence on my part).  I’m guilty of it from time to time, too, but I try to keep an open mind. Is it possible that Maroon 5 have a worthwhile song somewhere in their catalog? No. But that has nothing to do with my disdain for them as people. Also, it does.

Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.