Thursday, July 26, 2007

Beautiful music matters --
beautiful singers don't

POP MUSIC, POPTIMISM, and finding a way to enjoy and champion good music without getting wrapped up in overwrought politics and class warfare -- those things have been on my mind a lot lately. (There could even be a book in there somewhere?) Thus, my recent comment to this blog post in which Las Vegas Weekly columnist Frank Kogan sticks up for vapid pop music by pretty people.
I agree with you that the Backstreet Boys shouldn’t be ruled out because they’re good-looking or mainstream. But they’ve “got a better beat”? Than who? Than Axwell? J Dilla? Kennedy even?

Musically, I’m about as as poptimistic a populist as there can be, but by that I don't mean jettisoning standards; I mean the standard should be "is the music well-crafted, creative and enjoyable?" rather than getting all sidetracked in image and social signifying. So I dislike the Backstreet Boys and the like, not because of their image but because the quality of their music is closer to recycled plastic than platinum.

I’m the most passionate defender of “beautiful” music there is – whether it’s Debussy, or Bacharach/David and their contemporary disciples, show tunes, phenomenal R & B and disco and soulful pop by white boys, whatever. Body-moving polyrhythmic beats -- certainly beautiful. But the plink-plunk Backstreet Boys crap, and most of the other product of the Swedish assembly line that could be produced by any five-year-old in possession of a Casio keyboard, or the hot “minimalist” (i.e. lazy) producers of the moment -- the Timbalands, the crunkists -- I just find irritatingly vapid.

Pretty does not automatically mean dumb. Jewel is a pretty girl, I think we’ll all agree, but also possesses astronomical talent and integrity and writes her own stuff. Feist is another pretty girl who makes beautiful music, including covering the Bee Gees. Miho Hatori, okay, she's a bit more of an acquired taste, but she's pretty but also fun and – how often do we hear this quality in mainstream pop? -- unpredictable.

Britney, in contrast, makes crap and thus has to give us a million dancers and pyro and fog and peekaboos of her junk in order to make up for her lack of – perhaps not talent, but judgment as to how to use it.

As for Kelly Clarkson, she's not only hot (though I liked her better when she was a little chubby), but vocalwise she can blow away most female pop singers. If she keeps on honing her writing chops she'll have my respect 100%.

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