Samuel Webster

March 3, 2015 Thoughts: On Pop (and other types of) Music Posted In: Blog

The pop music industry is like deciding that the most popular form of poetry should be hallmark cards, and then asking the world’s best poets to write them – then publicly saying it’s pretentious to read actual poetry, forgetting that it was that stuff that made the hallmark guys so good. It’s the distillation of talent into its simplest form. It’s such a weird concept, artistically, but not the only one (minimalism is arguably similar, just more abstract).

The problem with the model, however, is that the simplicity of the form is deceptive and even deceptive to those who pay for its production, and who purchase it for consumption, that the quality standards slip until people notice the difference. So you get pop songs with lyrics that make no sense, and rock bands who can literally only play those four chords… Their mediocrity in simplicity is a safe bet (as long as no-one notices) – the genius in simplicity (Beck, Bjork, Jeff Buckley… many more) is risky, because genius hates the banal, and everything is banal once you’ve done it too many times.

The problem with classical and independent music writers is that they think Pop music sucks, because it’s prone to suck. But they harden and can’t recognise a good pop song when it finally comes along. Privileging the independent and the classical also means that independent artists who are boring, but fit the genre, get heralded in a way that is as equally empty as the way pop stars are, but with artful misdirection around it. Ditto for classical artists. I recently saw a pianist heralded as a virtuoso after he played many wrong notes, because the genre is so open to grand expression that even the slightest attempt at it seems grandiose. Pop music is so limited in expression that even the slightest attempt at it reaches the minimum bar. The division of music for the purposes of consumption creates value judgements that never needed to exist and do harm to the enjoyment and appreciation of music.


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