In defense of pop: There’s more art to it

There was a time, in my late teens and early twenties, when I would have claimed that I was an Indie/Alternative-fan, thereby limiting myself (and other’s perception of me) to maybe not the smallest portion of music but to a lot less music than I was actually listening to.

Since then, I realized that I like a lot of music – tons of music in fact. I love Motown and basically everything sung by black artists from the 40s, 50s and 60s. I love Britrock ca. 60s/70s, I love prog, I love some choice Hip Hop artists, I have a few metal bands in my playlist each year, I am quite fond of certain musicals, I do love classic when I have to read long texts at work and I am genuinely, continuously in awe with Kate Bush, David Bowie and Peter Gabriel – the three artists no one can ever touch (or should cover) in my humble opinion.

But I also love pop in all its variety. I love Indiepop, I love Artpop, I love Folkpop and boy, do I love „Oldies“ as we like to address old pop songs from the 80s, 90s, 70s and so on. Personally, nothing in the 80s is too cheesy for me, with the exception of some German artists who were beyond cheesy and simply stunk.

But I also love pop in its Billboard-glory. I always did but I didn’t always love that I did.

But why wouldn’t I love pop music?

I have a boyfriend (much as my mom has a boyfriend like that) who loves everything that is niche. His ambition is to give lesser known artists an audience (of one, sometimes). He thinks that Sophie Hunger is a mainstream artist and thinks that Regina Spektor is way too popular to really get into her music. He wouldn’t even touch Katy Perry or Miley Cyrus with a ten foot pole and boy, the look in his eyes when I declared that Bruno Mars is one hell of an artist…Once he and his mom (both not very much into music but if, more into the „high“ art of it) somehow fascinated listened to me explain why Pink is a superior artist to Celine Dion (it lies in the believability, btw).

He liked, though, how I explained the concept of deconstructed pop with Jenny Hval’s new album as an example. But here’s the problem with disliking pop: if you don’t get pop, every music that is not pop is only half the fun because sure, you can admire it but you don’t know how much different (or alike) it is from the mainstream, the charts and the mobile ringtones. Furthermore, listening to pop is all the more fun if you notice streams of art pop in current chart toppers. No high-brow music fan could ever be as happy as a pop fan who just heard Lorde for the first time or who celebrated that some nerd like Gotye could ever be the culprit of the annual Summerhit hype.

Furthermore, pop like nothing else is a great mirror of society. It’s frustrating sometimes but can also be incredibly hopeful. The fact that female popstars with sass, strength and a serious attitude can own the market right now, shows that despite all the misogyny people want strength and diversity. How long did we suffer through the self-same tame female songwriters or RnB-artists? And suddenly we have Janelle and Lianne and Lorde and FKA Twigs who is nearly anti-pop. Amy Winehouse opened the gate to a yearning we had for quite a while – intimate songwriting by the singer herself. And suddenly, there’s thankfully a whole load of it roaming our radios. 

Bruno Mars – much more than Justin Timberlake – fulfilled the need for a surprisingly self-reflective superstar who actually seemed to have fun on stage (and with his band).

And whether you like Taylor Swift and/or Miley Cyrus (no need to pick a team), they both show that there’s no need to fill a certain role as was done for years (and still is done, let’s not be naive) with tween-stars. Heck, even Carly Rae Jepsen can do tween-pop without feeling like an adult lost in puberty.

And again, how much of a miracle is it that all of this is such a female-centric music business? Sure, the executives, the producers and moneymakers are still mainly male and the sexism in this industry as much as everywhere is nothing to ignore nor to underestimate.

But pop is like a weird, absurd reflection of society and it does seep into the background, the CEO-chairs and the fanbase that there’s more desire by the musicians themselves and that feminist pop is not a genre anymore (think of Alanis or Tori) but rather a state of fact and whoever can’t deal with it, will still make money but probably won’t be able to grow and to evolve with the music scene (or create something new, even though I hardly believe that many head honchos have that ambition).

How much of that do you learn via niche artists? Sure, they can spin some cynical and highly conceptual albums about serious topics. But in the end, pop touches them (and influences them) because it is always the bigger, the overwhelming part of our culture. And as long as it is, the niche can be as daring and exciting as it is and slowly tug at pop’s elbows to give a little back, so pop doesn’t get stale. So don’t hate on it and take it for what it is (with a grain of sexist and racist grain of salt). 

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