Surface Vs Depth
is back online, which is I can tell you unreservedly a good thing.
He hasn't really updated, but if you haven't already you should definitely check out his article
on current chart music. Something of a fusion of Simon Reynolds
(funny how Tom's humble little blog is already in the process of defining a paradigm), it basically sums up my own opinions perfectly, so there's no need to repeat them here. Just read the thing.
Tom recently mentioned that he had actually been less inspired by pop (by which I assume he means "pure" pop) music this year than he was last year. I suppose I agree - sure, there's Billie Piper's "Day and Night", but that's about all, really. On the other hand, I'd say that 2000's conception of pop is very different to that of 1999. Pure pop (of the Britney/Backstreet variety) may be faltering this year, but the sonic wizardry of last year's output has forced a wedge into the Westlife-dominated popscape, allowing a steady stream of other great music in. "Day and Night" is pop in the Smash Hits sense, sure, but I don't think you could write about pop today without also mentioning Sisqo's "Thong Song", Wookie's "What's Going On" and Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady". And that's not just the intelligent alternative-based thinker's definition of pop, but also the apparently crucial thirteen-year-old kid's definition too.
I saw the video for Aaliyah's "Try Again" today, and apart from noticing that Aaliyah looks fucking stunning with black eyeshadow, it struck me again how absolutely bizarre the song is. I realised this when I first heard it of course, but now that it's a bona fide hit even here in relatively R&B-shy Australia, its subversiveness is even more striking. How did something so alien end up smack bang in the middle of the pop landscape? I think that as much as I'd like to say it's due to Timbaland's brilliance, the real cause is that kids have been primed for his uberfunk magic by the popcentric reappropriation of his tricks on songs like Christina Aguilera's "Genie In A Bottle".
In Melbourne (and indeed the rest of Australia), where the closest thing to a "street sound" is commercial house booming from car radios on Chapel St, it's clear that it's been up to pop music to "educate" my younger sister Joanna and others like her, slyly conning her into accepting things like the robotic severity of "Try Again" by throwing up enough vaguely similar songs that she also liked, taking her away from her original expectations of pop to someplace entirely different - from "Baby, One More Time" to "Genie In A Bottle" to "Bills Bills Bills" etc. I imagine Joanna wouldn't understand the importance I place on the rhythmic innovation present in the pop she likes, but where once it was a surprising eccentricity, increasingly she'll begin to see it as a natural, even expected component of the music she listens to.
If UK Garage ever explodes over here (and it might - "Rewind" is a radio hit at least) she might decide that it shares enough with what she already likes to warrant investigation. From there she could go anywhere. The crucial point though is that this is not solely her journey (indeed, Joanna's actually tasteless enough to miss the point entirely, and at thirteen is already so far gone down the path of adolescence as to buy the "authenticity" of Moby and Macy Gray). If a thirteen year old's vision of pop can encompass Eminem and Wookie, why can't our vision of "acceptable music" encompass Billie Piper? Those who define themselves against pop aren't doing so because they refuse to adopt the mindset of a thirteen year old girl (which is a preposterous concept and probably very difficult to achieve anyway), but because they're afraid of being confused for one. And if you're basing your taste in music on what others think of you, then the battle's already lost.
PS. Incidentally, the wedge driven into pop doesn't just cover "urban" music like R&B, hip hop and garage. Sonique's "Feel So Good" (or whatever it's called) is half-surprising in that it's a shameless pop song made by a dance DJ, and half-surprising in that it has been successful due to a passing resemblance to Cher's "Believe". I kinda like it, I think. More listens required.