Tuesday, February 08, 2005

More Pop

I noticed in that last post that almost all my images of pop involved people with guns. What's so cool about guns? I don't know, I don't like them in real life, but in movies, they're awesome. Perhaps it's because it's such a great prop, it gives you power and gravity. I'm all for gun control in real life, but in the movies, sometimes a firearm is needed.

Anyway, movies and comics, we know what's pop there now. But what about music, and my other favorite medium, TV? TV's probably a bit easier, since it's basically the same as movies. The most pop show on TV now is Alias. It's all about dressing up cool and being a spy, few things are more pop than that. The show is at its best when it busts out really cool, innovative costumes, in interesting settings. Sometimes the plot gets lost, but at least they always look cool, no matter what they're doing.

The other pop TV show, one that has both substance and surface is Cowboy Bebop. This series is beautiful to look at, and for a good chunk of its run is a salute to being cool. Spike is the ultimate pop character, and the music of the series creates some amazing purely aesthetic/music moments. Like The Invisibles, this show is at once beautiful, but also has a lot of depth. You can appreciate it on many levels.

Music is a tougher realm. Despite having an actual genre called pop, I don't think that catergory includes all of what is actually pop in music. It's tough to actually describe what makes a song pop, it's more one of those things where you hear it and you know it. The best pop album of all time is Daft Punk's Discovery. The songs are really hooky, with really infectious beats that just make you smile. 'Digital Love' is perhaps the most pop song of all time, with vocoder vocals, great quasi-cheesy guitar, and just phenomenal music. What are the lyrics? Not great, but they work in the context of an undeniably pop song. On this album, you've also got 'One More Time,' 'Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger' and 'Something' forming an army of brilliant pop songs. They dress like robots, this must be pop.



A recent album I listened to that was incredibly pop was Gwen Stefani's Love Angel Music Baby. 'What You're Waiting For' is genius. Other than this sort of fluffy club type music, we've got another favorite genre of mine, Britpop, from people like Oasis and Travis. These are songs that aren't trying to reinvent the wheel, but they work as really entertaining pop songs.

The undisputed masters of pop, the Morrison of music, are The Beatles. What they did was create songs that are at once incredibly complex, and imminently pop as well. 'Magical Mystery Tour,' 'Strawberry Field,' 'Penny Lane,' these are all great songs that really pop, but are also really deep, with a ton of instruments that work together to form an interesting whole. Too many bands today that make really 'important' albums like The Beatles did get bogged down in really ugly music. Pop music is always beautiful, and that's what The Beatles' stuff was.

I think that's one of the main problems with much of today's music that's actually popular, stuff like Linkin Park, Korn, etc. It's just so ugly, there's no sense of joy in the making of the music. That's part of the pop aesthetic, in The Invisibles, you can practically see Morrison loving any minute of his writing, I can't see Linkin Park doing the same.

So, why is pop a dirty word in music? Why is it synonymous with selling out, and why is being beautiful and melodic somehow not a goal? I feel like a prime case to explore is that of Radiohead. They made one of the best pop albums of all time, The Bends, which, like The Beatles' stuff, is complex and groundbreaking without sacrificing great song writing and beautiful musical moments. Then they drop an even better followup, OK Computer. From there, there probably was a need to reinvent, but they go so far in a glitchy electronic direction that they lose a lot of the pop train, making music that's so self consciously distant from their past stuff, it becomes much less entertaining. I enjoy Kid A, but the fact that it's less melodic doesn't make it better than OK Computer. I love electronic stuff, and if Radiohead had dropped something like DJ Shadow or Massive Attack on us, I would have loved it. However, they straddle an odd line between electric and rock, not really committing to either, and therein lies the problem.

This isn't to say that all music need to pop, pop is more instantly listenable, but there's merit in music that's more mood than melody. As much as I do love Sub Sub's really poppy single, 'Ain't No Love (Ain't No Use),' I like the stuff they make as Doves much more, even though it is definitely less pop.

Some of the bands I like correspond to Wong Kar-Wai's less narrative (melody), more mood. Air feels sort of like a Wong Kar-Wai movie, where you're not letting a vocal guide you, you're more just enjoying every moment of the music.

So, pop in music, it's indefinable, but a lot of really good club stuff has it, and when it works, it's horribly undervalued. I'm unashamed to say that 'Like I Love You' and 'Rock Your Body' by Justin Timberlake are two of the best songs of recent years. These are infectious songs that just pop.

Pop, when you hear it, see it, or read it, you just know it somehow.

Related Posts
Pop! (2/7/2005)
Cowboy Bebop: The Show Which Has Become a Genre Unto Itself (1/23/2005)
Daft Punk (2/11/2005)

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