Pop

30 Days of Music: #029

day 29 – a song from your childhood This is one of the hard ones. Melancholy, really… The prevailing David Inkpen theory that having Meningitis ruins your memory rings true with me, as I don’t really have many specific childhood reminisces to fall back on. The story behind my choice is pretty sad, too. With no further ado, I give you the entirely fitting… Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – December, 1963 I don’t really have the vocabulary to talk about this song – it could’ve easily fell into one of the “song people wouldn’t expect you to like” categories if I didn’t break it out at every house party. But that’s just as well, as I think it’s fair to assume you’ve heard it and you don’t need my analysis of why the fuzzy/floaty combo works so well, or why such a basically-told generic story makes for a compelling sing-a-long. As for why it reminds me of childhood: well, it’s older than me. I was thinking of picking some Britpop, but most of the stuff I heard on the radio then, and discovered for myself a few years later (it’s worth noting that until the start of my teens, I wasn’t really interested in music), but those are too overlaid with all the memories since, and all the surrogate memories of the 90s. It was on a CD my family inherited in the glove-compartment of a car we inherited. It reminds me of a sad time, but without making me sad. But, enough of that: Blank emotional expressionism isn’t my thing, I’m not good enough at it. Just listen to this song, preferably with as many people as possible in the room.

30 Days of Music: #030

I committed to this yesterday, and if you have a blog, I implore you to join in. If not, I implore you to read. Keep up with me, and see if I can keep up with the list. day 30 – your favorite song at this time last year Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights I wish I could pinpoint exactly when I first got Spotify. I was in love with this song and, not owning any of Kate Bush’s stuff, it became my Bush-listening device. And ridiculous as it is to suggest that a song two decades old that I’d heard hundreds of times before changed my outlook… it did. Yeah, I lost my poptimism virginity to Kate Bush. What of it? This is particularly apt because it’s been almost exactly a year since I turned this into an active blog and eventually bought alex-spencer.co.uk. The turning point, in my mind, will always be the Britney post. It was here, with Kate Bush holding my hand, that I was led into the defend-Pop-to-the-death mindset that is now, I think, my final mode. It was around the same time that I discovered Freakytrigger (the Wuthering Heights entry of Popular being the first thing I read) and started reading Paul Morley’s Words & Music, an very serious ode to silly pop. It was here that I realised I love pop, as long as it’s by a woman… Ridiculous, operatic melodrama about a 19th Century novel I’ve never read. An instantly-recognisable, Gothic ghost-story in song. #1. Top Of The Pops. Emily Brontë! Top of the Pops! How could I not fall in love?

Looking the (April) Fool: 30 Days Of Music

Stolen from Kieron Gillen* who stole it from Sarah Jaffe who stole it from love & zombies. I’ve never got involved in one of these blogger memes before, felt like the time. (New month, battling dissertation insanity, fighting a bad habit of long-long-long-form writing.) A daily song on a set theme, with accompanying writing. As follows: day 01 – your favorite songday 02 – your least favorite songday 03 – a song that makes you happyday 04 – a song that makes you sadday 05 – a song that reminds you of someoneday 06 – a song that reminds of you of somewhereday 07 – a song that reminds you of a certain eventday 08 – a song that you know all the words today 09 – a song that you can dance today 10 – a song that makes you fall asleepday 11 – a song from your favorite bandday 12 – a song from a band you hateday 13 – a song that is a guilty pleasureday 14 – a song that no one would expect you to loveday 15 – a song that describes youday 16 – a song that you used to love but now hateday 17 – a song that you hear often on the radioday 18 – a song that you wish you heard on the radioday 19 – a song from your favorite albumday 20 – a song that you listen to when you’re angryday 21 – a song that you listen to when you’re happyday 22 – a song that you listen to when you’re sadday 23 – a song that you want to play at your weddingday 24 – a song that you want to play at your funeralday 25 – a song that makes you laughday 26 – a song that you can play on an instrumentday 27 – a song that you wish you could playday 28 – a song that makes you feel guiltyday 29 – a song from your childhoodday 30 – your favorite song at this time last year In a sparkling bit of originality, I shall be doing them… backwards!Day One struck me as the big one, so I thought I’d build up to it. I look forward to the challenge of posting something (however small) every day, and to seeing what I choose. Some of them, I have no clue. If you would like to join in, please, go nuts. *As we say round these parts: Standard.

TOP OF THE POPS, TOP OF THE POPS!

You remember Christmas; you know, tinsel, presents, over-indulgence. When all you could hear were the classic Christmas hits, and the big Christmas Number One. Killing in the Name Of. There’s more to say about the event than even this lengthy article has room to support. Rage Against The Machine getting to #1 with a song that peaked, nearly two decades ago, at #25. Not just that, but to Christmas Number One, the one chart result the whole country is trained to care about. People’s reactions? Well, we’d need a whole new website to talk that one through. All the backlash about “oh it’s still going to Simon Cowell” (not true, the man doesn’t own Sony) or “it’s a silly song” (being honest, 17 years removed, it kind of is) isn’t the point. The point they missed is, do we still care about the Top 40? The music in the is the world to a certain demographic (shudder); the pop-discovering, identity-forming young teens. But the spread of that isn’t top-down, it’s bottom-up: what a marketing person would be able to call viral without having difficulty ever looking their reflection in the eye again. It spreads across playgrounds and the backseats of buses, through word-of-mouth and mostly, through phones. Ringtones; playing a new song to your mates; Bluetooth, if you’re that old-skool. Y’know, for the kids… It’s this kind of able-to-hear-it-anyway method that renders the chart unimportant, I guess. Who needs the public at large acting as a taste-maker, when you’ve got your friends skimming for the best bits and playing them to you? For me, card-holding Indie Kid, this means flicking through blogs and occasionally even traditional magazines with Spotify close to hand, and the recommendations of a few particular friends. I get to choose whose taste I trust and listen to the songs immediately. No more relying on the general public. But us alternative types, the indie kids, the obscurity seekers, we never should have to care about that anyway, should we? But I think the charts are important. As historical record for one. What was it like being young in 1977, really? 1982? Check the charts. Look at freakytrigger.co.uk’s genius Popular, which is going through every British #1 ever since the first (Al Martino’s Here In My Heart, since you’re asking) and writing an essay on each. They’re also important as a way of making music feel like it matters. Giving us a story. You might well have sneered at a sudden Michael Jackson fan produced by his death. But, to go one notch more credible, how much of the Blur/Oasis enjoyment rode on that feeling of being in a gang? Still sneering? Have you ever worn a band t-shirt, liked someone because they liked the same type of music? You like being in a gang, admit it. But ultimately, it’s all just music, right? Sounds that do or don’t vibrate your ear drums the right way to make you feel something. Why should all the trappings matter? Because it makes people interested. Let’s look at the Top 40 right now as I write this (for the blog-o-sphere, now a week ago). Numbers five and six in the chart right now are the same song, in two versions- Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, the original and as performed by the cast members of American smash-hit TV programme Glee (which I still haven’t seen and am holding out hope will be good, but that’s a mainstream-embracing story for another time). That song has snuck back into the public consciousness loads of late- your university life has probably crossed paths with an anthemic singalong at some point. We’re all just a smalltown girl… It’s the same story as Rage- a third-party makes you suddenly care about the song, and before you know it it’s being thrust to the forefront of pop culture all over again. But those are old songs. The Top 40 is a signifier of the new. Singles are the currency of freshness in music; something new every week please, more and more until I’m full. My esteemed colleague Tom Lowe suggests here that this is a dangerous attitude.But how is this desire any different to the music obsessive’s constant hunt for a new favourite band? Not necessarily following them but being aware of the charts, I have discovered a lot of stuff I genuinely love. It took months of singles for Lady Gaga to click with me and now I celebrate every time I hear Bad Romance (#7) because something so unusual made it through. Weirdness being the lifeblood of pop, the home of the novelty single. The rest of the chart is hit and miss. I hate Iyaz’s Replay (#1), still don’t get Florence or her Machine (You’ve Got The Love, #8). I can’t help but raise an eyebrow at Owl City’s blatant Postal Service rip-off Fireflies (#2, and I implore you, if you like this, to seek out their seminal album Give Up). I probably shouldn’t but I adore Sidney Samson’s Riverside (#3, though it seems much bigger than that) and rather like 30H!3’s Starstrukk (#4) which cheekily combines Katy Perry, a few great lyrics and some good gimmicks to hide the fact that it’s a bit generic. There’s no denying that ‘pop music’ today is an umbrella that covers a whole lot of ground, a lot of it really interesting. Who’d have thought something that sounded like a Death Cab For Cutie cast-off would ever make it to number two? And more good stuff more popular means less overplaying. Only you can prevent another Sex On Fire, kids. …But maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ve hit that point in life where I mellow out, stop caring about music with the intensity of a teenage zealot. I’m also less exposed to overplayed, overproduced rubbish- I club a lot less these days (getting old), am generally exposed to the radio only for short bursts, and can’t afford music TV. But I think the charts are important- even when […]

Like a final, fatal LiveJournal entry…

I am sitting in a room, different to the one you are sitting in. I am watching a television: on mine, Peter Andre is talking about Eminem. Perhaps he is on yours too. Now Edith Bowman is begging us to vote, please give us your money and keep watching, just don’t stop watching. And, hopefully, one part of this scenario will have jumped out and, frankly, slapped you in the face. In Edith’s words “Superfan Peter Andre is telling us why Eminem deserves the title of the World’s Greatest Pop Artist of all time.” Peter Andre. Superfan Peter Andre.He just told us that since Eminem’s comeback, “nothing matters” (including explicitly in that the death of his friend Bizarre). It meant nothing. Not now Eminem’s Relapsed. I’ve discussed my feelings on the comeback before. But I do love Eminem. However, Peter’s (obviously fully informed) speech tells us that he was the first person to inject any kind of edginess or controversy or, it is implied, politics into hip-hop. He was the first important white person in rap. Please, be quiet, Chuck D, Erik B, Beasties, and allow your erasing from pop history. This overstating of Eminem’s importance is starting to get at me now. I can understand the discussion of Eminem’s lyrics by an English Professor, and to be honest he’s the most relevant figure in a series of talking heads featuring James Morrison, Lemar, and some actors. But the claim of Eminem as a modern Shakespeare isn’t just hyperbolic- it’s fairly obviously not even accurate. Oh wait, have to stop writing. Up Next… Eminem The New Elvis.

It’s Britney, Bitch II: vs. Lady Gaga

Right now, the Q music channel is running a Britney week. Song after song by Britney, the constant video stream only interrupted by adverts. All day.Last night, I had an argument with my mom (never a pop music aficionado) over the Britney miming scandal, and the relative merits of Take That’s current touring Circus over Britney’s. Britney exposure is at an all-time-high. It’s time for a rethink. In my last post about our Princess of Pop, now Queen, I talked about Britney’s various, occasionally incongruous, identities. Watching all her videos in sequence, I think this is much more consciously realised by Britney (or, perhaps, Team Britney) than I gave credit for. The video to Womaniser shows her splitting into various aspects of herself (or, to the right pretentious viewer, of Woman). This tradition stretches back as far as Toxic, at least. It’s there in One More Time: Britney playing both schoolgirl and teacher. The fragmentation is within videos, within songs, as much as in the greater body of her work. There’s a forthcoming video (for Kill The Lights) based on “fan fiction”- a pop star who inspires her own fiction.Britney is brunette, blonde, redhead; cartoon, real, fictive. Debating the New Princess of Pop (now Britney is officially, definitely Queen- no arguments), Lady Gaga was put forward as Britney’s successor (and also superior. This opinion is foolish). She’s certainly modelled herself as such. But my issue with Lady Gaga- and at the same time the reason I like Lady Gaga- is how self-aware she is. Creating image, iconography, a legend for herself to dance into.I like it, because she’s so wonderfully arch-Pop. The costumes, the overblown weirdness, that silly voice- I think it puts a lot of people off, I’ve heard a lot of moaning about her Teacup. But, to my desperately Pop-addicted mind, that silliness is everything I’m looking for.It seems too early for it all, though- the beauty of Britney was that this all came with the reinvention (by my reckoning between In The Zone and Blackout, for those counting at home), working on a ready-made pop empire. She was already hugely popular and reasonably iconic (I’m thinking the videos to …Baby One More Time and Oops! …I Did It Again in particular) and has simply crystallised since then. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga is doing the Fame/Paparazzi thing (with, I admit, enough sense of irony/metaphor to save it from vanity) on the back of two big singles. She’s not proven- not yet. However, by far the most important thing I have learnt from watching all those videos is that Britney has a very lovely stomach. I would like to live on it. If not, opening a restaurant on it where I could eat would be acceptable. And, on the other hand, my mom points out, Take That have a giant silver elephant. (Confession: at time of polishing/going to (Word)press, the dates suggested in the opening are actually a good three or four days untrue. Sorry to break the illusion kids, but this one took a few days to hammer out. Confession II: I’m sorry this post features the B-word 14 times. Typing “her” just seems disrespectful, and frankly it’s a damn fun word to say and type. Britney Britney Britney. Perhaps that figures into why I love her so much… It’s Britney, Bitch III?)