“Do you remember the first time?” Jarvis Cocker squeals in the chorus of that eponymous song by Pulp. I certainly remember mine; I was nervous and naive, but it made me want to do it again… No, the smutty-minded among you, I’m not talking about that first time. I’m talking about the first time I posted an article on my website. It wasn’t the first article I ever wrote or published, but it was the first time I’d published it on an autonomous website; free from the censorship of press or a school’s censorship-crazy Senior Management, free to my whim, but totally open to the knives of my peers. The article in question bemoaned the state of contemporary music, sounding a death knell for Britain and America’s pop and indie scenes, and sounding like a million hipsters before me. It made a persuasive go of the argument, but in hindsight it has become apparent that I was mostly wrong. The music industry isn’t the most commercially viable at the moment, a fact which does spell doom and gloom, but a fair proportion of the songs and albums released recently have either been creatively fecund or incredibly frivolous, in a good way.
This doesn’t mean I’ve done a whole U-turn on the subject – a lot of the music in the charts is utter dross. Let us not forget that it is this environment that nurtured Cher Lloyd’s utterly abominable ‘Swagger Jagger’. But recently there have been some pop songs that even I, the serial chart-rejecter, have come to love. Aloe Blacc’s ‘I Need A Dollar’ is impossibly catchy, and incredibly relevant given America’s precarious financial state and rising levels of unemployment. ‘Born This Way’ may not have been Lady Gaga’s greatest moment – it’s far too derivative of Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’, to incline to popular opinion – but ‘Judas’, for all its contrived religious imagery, is a cracking tune for a mutual reason; catchiness. The bass-heavy beat may not have been to everyone’s tastes, but I’m increasingly beginning to side with the opinion of Felix McGlennon, a 19th century music hall composer, that “The main thing is catchiness. I would sacrifice everything – rhyme, reason, sense and sentiment – to catchiness”.
That, essentially, is the base element of good pop music. I can justify my aural enjoyment of Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)’, LMFAO’s ‘Party Rock Anthem’, Nicki Minaj’s ‘Super Bass’ and Rihanna’s ‘S&M’ by no other means – but then I don’t need to. I fear I missed the point of pop in my original article: it’s often best when it’s frivolous. That’s what makes The Beatles’ early songs so brilliant – there’s nothing to analyse! They’re just singing about love, plain and simple (‘She Loves You’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, ‘Love Me Do’, etc. etc. etc.). In the same way, there’s nothing shameful about singing about partying – arguably, ‘Twist and Shout’ is about the same thing – as long as there’s a “catchy chorus and beat so [I] can sing along”, to quote Weezer’s satire on chart music, ‘Pork and Beans’. Destroying one of the aforementioned songs on account of its lyrics puts the joke on you: you’re not meant to find a deeper meaning or a message in these songs, and if you’re trying to do that then you’ll inevitably end up puzzling it out and getting nowhere while the enlightened are dancing and not giving a flying turd whether this song has chauvinistic connotations or not. You can probably invent deeper meanings – I’ve always argued, in jest, that Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ is an indictment of the capitalist values enslaving America – but considering that the lyrics are the least important part of these songs, being merely a cog in the machine of catchiness, you’re really not achieving anything. That’s not to say that pop music can’t be intelligent; it just doesn’t have to be. So stop analysing, and start dancing.
I’ll be writing a second one of these tomorrow about how alternative music is even healthier at the moment. Stay tuned…