Wallace Wylie

Realpop – An Introduction

Realpop – An Introduction
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By Wallace Wylie

What is Realpop? Realpop is an approach to music criticism which accepts as reality the corporate and capitalist mechanisms which control and manipulate pop music. It imposes limits in terms of what is acceptable and reasonable discussion, and delegitimises anything which falls outside the limits of acceptability. In order to be successful, Realpop has to be internalised to the point where those who adhere to the principles of Realpop do so without knowledge of their actions. They would swear under duress that no such philosophy exists and even if it did they are not one of its adherents. This is vital, as only those who deny its existence can vehemently defend its principles without fear of conforming to an ideology. The main aspects of Realpop which need to be understood are who its advocates are and what tools they will use to deligitimise their opponents. Both of these aspects will now be made clear.

Realpop – Its Advocates
Those who espouse the fundamental principles of Realpop will more often than not fit a very specific category. They will be young (as their careers begin), highly educated and left-wing. Youth speaks for itself, inasmuch as the young are typically eager to find a grounding through which their personalities can unfold. Those with a higher education will have internalised the principles of the “limits of acceptability”: the limits of acceptable speech, the limits of acceptable opinion. In higher education, success depends on internalising these limits. Left-wing thinkers are essential as the “boots on the ground” soldiers of Realpop (those of the right-wing persuasion will be the ones making money from the process). They must internalise the principles of Realpop to the point where right-wing dogmas become the cornerstone of left-wing thinking. This is done by adding an ideological tinge to the idea of pop.

Pop music represents the tastes of “the masses”. The general public must be thought of as the proles, the exploited masses struggling to make ends meet. As far as the general public and their tastes are concerned, the enemy is not some corporate CEO but the archetypal snobbish critic who dismisses the superficiality of pop and therefore the preoccupations of everyday working people. In this context the Realpop writer is a defender of the masses in the acceptable left-wing tradition. With a mere flick of the switch, the left-wing firebrand becomes a defender of market principles and does so without believing themselves to be compromised in any way. Quite the opposite. Realpop writers are Old Labour in thought but New Labour in deed.

Realpop – Its Application
Once the corporate reality of Realpop is internalised, then any criticism of pop which includes a critique of the corporate nature of pop music can be dismissed as an asinine act of naivety and obviousness. The corporate reality is so ubiquitous that to point it out is unnecessary. This presents an unarguable limit on the ability to critique the corporate structure of pop. Given that Realpop writers are left-wing, they are able to dismiss critiques of the structure of corporate pop with relish, and with more bite than any right-wing writer could summon up. This is because the left-wing writers view themselves as principled, educated individuals who have merely accepted the reality of our current situation. They are well read in Marx, in post-structuralism, in Žižek. Nobody need point out the capitalist nature of pop to them. Realpop writers alone will decide when it is acceptable to use political theories to attack the corporate agenda behind pop music. That time is never.

Even though pop music has scored countless cultural victories and has billions of dollars to market and defend it, the image of the snobbish critic must hang over proceedings and colour how people interpret attacks on pop music. The Realpop writer will employ terms such as ‘easy target’ when delegitimising critiques of pop music as pop must always be viewed as the underdog. The angry voice which questions the mechanics of pop will be metamorphosised into the disapproving cry of the out-of-touch, elitist professor who refuses to see value in pop music, or they will be accused of shooting fish in a barrel, taking obvious, uncontroversial stances against music that is enjoyed by “the masses”. Those who condemn pop become the objectionable voice of the establishment, a reactionary, an enemy of the people, safe in their ivory tower but cut off from the tastes and opinions of real working men and women.

The fact that Realpop writers are highly educated here becomes an extra benefit. They face pop music detractors with a feeling of knowledgeable pride. These people who dare to criticise pop don’t know that it is the Realpop writers who define the terms of the debate. Realpop writers will flaunt their higher education in the defence of pop, thereby showing enemies that they have one foot in the academy and the other on the street. They will shame the ignorance of those who slander pop, they will out-namedrop the snobbish critic, and they will paint all dissenters as orthodox and ordinary. Alternately, they will attack the obsequious and immature mind of the student, labelling ideological attacks on pop music to be “sixth form” in nature. This is not the time for your angry, half-thought-out political rhetoric. The privileged and classist nature of higher education can always be invoked to score ideological points and derail potential criticisms, but the corporate reality of pop must remain unmentionable. This is pop music, the music of the masses. The left-wing ideologue also becomes class enemy.

The Realpop writer knows when to employ the right kind of smear. By ignoring the content of all attacks on the pop establishment and instead carefully shuffling them into boxes marked “sexist”, “reactionary”, “sixth form”, “snob”, or “hipster” the Realpop critic retains the moral high ground and remains the reasonable voice of the people. All attacks become laughable and predictable. Endorsement of pop remains refreshing and unexpected. If too much anger is shown by a pop detractor they will be portrayed as wildly hysterical and unreasonable. It is, after all, only pop music. Even though the images of pop culture dominate our lives and fuel exploitative industries that reinforce stereotypes of race, class, gender, and sexuality, these are but the realities that the Realpop writer knows they must overlook. Compared to the calm, nuanced reasonableness of the Realpop writer, outbursts of anger, frustration, and disappointment seem furiously out of proportion. It’s only pop music, and nothing is at stake. A pop song isn’t going to change the world. The soothing voice of the educated, left-wing, concerned Realpop writer tells us to simply accept and endorse.

The Realpop writer must perform with limited interference or censorship. They must internalise the principles of Realpop so that their writing appears fresh and enthusiastic, without the strain of fabricated zeal that renders propaganda inept. The Realpop writer will endorse or they will not exist. On other topics and in other writings they may reveal their true political leanings but corporate pop must remain off-limits. Realpop writers will not be paid very well (they are the left-wing footsoldiers not the right-wing capitalists) but they will be given free drinks, they will mingle with the stars, they will wander the streets of London with the knowing look of the insider, the tastemaker, the cultural ambassador. They will live with the knowledge that an intern would gladly write their articles for free to get a foot in the door, so they must continuously reaffirm the Realpop agenda if they are to secure that book deal which they dream of. No censorship, no arm twisting, just a willingness to be accommodating and reasonable.

On the surface, it may seem like Realpop depoliticises the mechanics of pop, but this is patently untrue. Realpop has politicised the mechanics of pop so that they may be defended and endorsed from a left-wing perspective. Realpop as an approach was never invented, it emerged from the trauma of left-wing capitulation to market forces. It was birthed by the same type of people who now endorse it. In pop, as in politics, reality should be our guiding principle. Realpop defines reality by what it endorses, and by what it excludes, and one does not make the choice as to whether one is in or out. Choice implies cynical acceptance. The Realpop writer believes every word they write. This is the single most important aspect of Realpop. It succeeds because those who endorse it are enthusiastic and sincere. Opponents seem cynical, egotistical, and unreasonable by comparison. Censorship becomes obsolete under the guiding principles of Realpop. The Realpop writer remains ever loyal to the people, knowing that opponents of the capitalist mechanisms of pop are merely class enemies in disguise. The tastes of the masses must be elevated to the level of dogma. Realpop still has work to do.

Haim David Cameron

23 Responses to Realpop – An Introduction

  1. Damon Albarn October 15, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    There’s no way someone who isn’t a fucking hipster wrote this. It’s fucking wordy and it could have been summed up to “I want to criticize pop but people call me an elitist”. Who the fuck cares if someone calls you an elitist? Not eating my own shit makes me an elitist, and that’s more than can be said for most writers on this website.

    It’s also nice that you’re scapegoating young people and educated people onto this. As if most young people aren’t expected to go to college in order to even work at Wendy’s. As if being poor was a good thing and not a tragic thing. Fuck you, hipster.

    (Protip: if anyone on collapseboard criticizes the bourgeois, they usually mean young people 🙁 )

    I think the thing is that the market still has to catch up. There’s going to be an exciting new wave of bluesy and edgy and relevant rock and roll and you’re going to miss it because anyone who posts on collapseboard only listens to the fucking pastels or bands that sound like the pastels. For fuck’s sake I thought this website was against the whole “proper music” thing but they only like bands that sound like the Fall or Crass or The Clean or any other band that old critics consider proper music. This is the only reason bands like Scott and Charlene’s Wedding or Parquet Courts have a fanbase. When will generation x fuck off already? Fuck old people and fuck nostalgia.

    Buh bye 🙂

  2. Everett True October 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Just an aside, but it’s kinda ironic to have a fake Damon Albarn commenting here (another dullard cowardly Internet troll, too scared to use their real name).

    He can join the real Graham Coxon.

  3. matt October 15, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    what could be more “proper music” than “an exciting new wave of bluesy and edgy and relevant rock and roll”?

  4. Dan October 15, 2013 at 5:20 pm


    Of course the very idea that a realpop critic will not self-identify leaves their denunication down to a coterie of very educated elite critics with access to the sacred archives of Rocksbackpages and the Wayback Machine to tease out the threads of systemic endorsement. These “realcrits”, the critics pure of motive who see through the ramifications of capitalist excess at all ends of the music industry so when they like Diddy Dirty Money or Perfume something it’s motivated by nothing but providence.

    Realcrits understand the complex topography of racial, gender and disablist theory and all its operations and as such simultaneously operate outside of them (because we get it so how could it be us?) and within it (because we are all bound by it, but not me, not right now, not while Watery, Domestic is on) and use it to quell the realpop vanguard when they bring beef to our doorstep; in that sense though the realpop critic is highly-educated, it is with a broad brush and within a liberal context – the realcrit is a hyperspecialist, able to frame and reframe the debate until a more suitable playing field is found. In contrast with the realpop critic for whom politics essentially retain a porousness of reason, politics for the realcrit are concretised so you’ll just have to assume that they mean well when they continually talk about things that have zero relevance to 99.99% of people; those moments when they magically align with the majority (ie. Lorde) ensures a semblance of sincerity, thus reinforcing their own magnanimity and sense of ‘I told you so.’

  5. Alex October 15, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    This seems to be a fascinating extension (to my mind) of earlier American writers such as Kelefa Sanneh (see poptimism).

    Has this attitude really begun to dominate music culture, or is it confined simply to certain styles of music within the rock genre? I have seen many think pieces regarding bands like Haim, yet hip hop remains woefully misrepresented and looked down upon in Australia. (I’ll make sure to say that I am speaking about modern American Hip Hop, not the 15 year old, eminem loving ‘aussie rap’ timewarp we call our hip hop scene).

    Really, I think that nothing has changed, and those who would be accused of rockism now are simply the new adopters of ‘realpop’. Sure, more pop influence may have forced its way into alternate music culture, but the same attitudes regarding these genres are as strong and palpable as ever before.

    I’m not here to troll because I lean towards agreeing with the piece, though I don’t feel that alternate music culture will ever shed the massive anti-pop or anti-mainstream culture attitudes it clings to so dearly; a few major sevenths are not changing this.

    Has this change in mentality really led to changes in music culture? Or simply aligned the bias with a more modern understanding of what ‘good’ music is?

  6. Tom Edwards October 15, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    Or maybe some people just find some joy in listening to pop music, not in an ironic way, and are really bored of getting trolled by endless ‘proper music’ fans whose average contribution is “x is just a talentless slag who doesn’t write her own songs” etc. God forbid someone might want to express another side of the argument.

    For every one pro-Miley Cyrus article online there are about fifty anti- ones, so I don’t see how this rather sweeping undermining of pro-pop writing helps anything. Apart from perhaps making people feel guilty about enjoying it at all and I thought you folk were against the concept of ‘guilty pleasures’.

  7. andy October 15, 2013 at 9:48 pm


  8. Derek Robertson October 15, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    This is a very curious and interesting read, and something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. What seems particularly baffling to me is the whole music snob/taste of the masses/so many people can’t be wrong rhetoric seems to only apply to music.

    Nobody seriously goes to bat to argue that Transformers, or Dude, Where’s My Car?, or 50 Shades of Grey, or the Sun, or The Fast & Furious movies represent anything more than a cynical attempt to rake in the cash while providing a few fleeting moments of brain dead “entertainment” – despite the fact that millions of people see/read/buy these things. If you write a scathing dissection of why any one of these are insidious and awful (a la some of Mark Kermode’s rants) nobody really protests, but the minute anything appears dissing Katy Perry/Rhianna/Justin Bieber there are huge swathes of people ready to wade in and defend “pop” and call you a “snob”/”out of touch”/”elitist” ect and so on. And I wonder why that is.

  9. Debbie Harry October 15, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    “too scared to use their real name”

    Is that right, Jerry?

  10. Everett True October 15, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    “too scared to use their real name” Is that right, Jerry?

    Wow. Never seen this comeback before. ffs, it’s even on Wikipedia.

    Now piss off, before I ban you for being totally unfunny.

  11. Everett True October 15, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Nobody seriously goes to bat to argue that Transformers, or Dude, Where’s My Car?, or 50 Shades of Grey, or the Sun, or The Fast & Furious movies represent anything more than a cynical attempt to rake in the cash while providing a few fleeting moments of brain dead “entertainment”

    You’re looking in the wrong places then, Derek. Actually, they do. Yes, they do.

    Perhaps they’re less eloquent or convincing – to you – than Mr Lynskey or Mr Kermode (who I personally can’t abide), but they do.

  12. Scott Creney October 16, 2013 at 11:03 am

    I find all this really interesting. People should always keep in mind that it’s easier to sell crap if there’s a dominant aesthetic that says there’s no difference between good/bad, even a subjective one. But honestly, I think a lot of it is shrinking journalism $$$ and folks wanting that feature/interview to get reads. No publicist is going to grant an exclusive (or even an ‘exclusive’) to a paper/magazine/site that just said mean things about one of their artists. And if you don’t like it you can go the fuck home. It should really be called ‘the business of music’. Music business implies the music is actually important.

  13. Jesse Steinchen October 16, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    I found myself reevaluating mainstream pop when I started to feel that underground pop had started to repeat itself. I got tired of the post punk bands, the C86 twee bands, the garage rock bands, the goth beat bands, the cold wave bands, the freak folk bands…this really coelesced with the reading of Reynold’s Retromania…in a way, the pure, naked ambition of current mainstream pop, with its greedy desire to synthesize everything and regurgitate it into mega success seemed, comparatively, more forward thinking then endless revisionism. That doesn’t mean I just heedlessly accept whatever Billboard tells me as gospel, but it does mean I pay way more attention to, lets say, the last Rihanna album, than Foxygen. However, as a result, it’s been tougher for me to evaluate. That’s why I appreciate critics who tackle mainstream pop with some discernment. I don’t know if Haim properly constitutes mainstream pop, but my dislike for them and my need to find affirmation and/or an explanation brought me here, and was also affirmed by a good review of Lorde, whom I do like. I’m guessing that, in order for intelligent, discerning comments and criticism of mainstream pop to be maintained, they have to be from critics disconnected with the business of music, which, funnily enough, means they will land most likely in the lap of unpaid underground music journalism. I hope they prove up to the task.

  14. Everett True October 16, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    Contributors are always welcome at Collapse Board Inc

  15. Wallace Wylie October 17, 2013 at 1:36 am

    No, no, no… we only like proper music here on Collapse Board. Everett made us memorise the phrase “If it doesn’t sound like The Pastels, it sounds like SHIT”.

    I love Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, The Weeknd, Kanye West, Janelle Monáe, James Blake… but in order to be attacked we must be viewed as proper music loving small-minded indie hipsters who, every time we attack the bourgeois, we mean the young!!!! (Strangest criticism ever aimed at Collapse Board). Jesse’s statement is perfect; we should be able to apply the same critical thinking to pop as any other musical genre, but whenever somebody attacks pop music they become… well, all the stuff I wrote about.

  16. Derek Robertson October 17, 2013 at 1:46 am

    “You’re looking in the wrong places then, Derek. Actually, they do. Yes, they do.”

    It’s quite possible that I am Everett. But then I’d ask, where are they? Do you know? I just don’t see it; not in the mainstream, not in the periphery, not even chatting to friends/associates/colleagues. Where is the equivalent of the passionate defence & intelligent think pieces of the type that Popjustice/Peter Robinson writes for bad film/literature? Where are the pieces arguing that Michael Bay is a visionary? Or that Dwayne Johnson is every bit as good an action hero as Bruce Willis? Or that Dan Brown in this generation’s Le Carre?

    It just seems that having a go at lowbrow film & literature entertainment is dismissed with a shrug and a: “Well, I like it”, whereas with music, you get vitriol & abuse just like Scott did (and we’re all still talking about it). I can’t recall any negative review of any other kind of art prompting such debate and discussion (again, could be me being ignorant/looking in the wrong place etc). But it’s my experience.

  17. Scott Creney October 17, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Yeah, I’m with Derek on this one. There’s definitely less of a direct relation between hype and criticism in film v. music.

    Compare these two metacritic lists, one of recent music releases and the next of recent movies releases:


    The music reviews are almost universally in the green–that is critically acclaimed. But for the movies, the majority are in yellow or red (unacclaimed). At the very least, film critics are freer to criticize w/o fears of reprisal.

    Another thing to chew on: the most critically acclaimed film of the year? Gravity. Most critically-acclaimed album? A live album by The Band recorded in 1971 (runner up is the recent Clash boxset).

    And people wonder why some folks think music criticism is irrelevant.

    By the way, Derek, Dwayne Jonnson was great in Southland Tales. Come to think of it, everyone was great in Southland Tales.

  18. Dan October 17, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    I wonder what reprisals major publications are scared of. No ‘phoner with White Denim? Do they not know you can just listen to pretty much anything these days, it’s not like some PR house can lock you out completely. I’ve had the gamut of threats and they never stick. Once I was asked to include a paragraph of advertorial at the end of a Pixie Lott interview, something like “Pixie Lott spoke to [publication] as part of her promotion of [product]”. I told them to fuck off. We still got her next three or four singles and, mysteriously, tickets to that dreadful film she was in with the bloke on YouTube who screams. Fred? I forget.

  19. grandmother-client October 18, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this phenomenon arrived at the same time as the normalization of horserace politics, the randian celebration of “maverick” ceo’s, and the invasion of market values into every sphere of life.
    Veneration of pop stars entails cheerleading for multi-millionaires in competition with other multi-millionaires, an activity latterly considered shameful, toadying,
    pandering, idolatry etc. The memory of twentieth century disdain for commercial values disseminated by scampaigners for the powerful is still fresh enough to constitute a danger to the self-image of today’s neo-liberal bootlicker.
    Thus the rush to shutdown any critique that might persuade young people they’ve been sold a bill of gods.

  20. Ado Grez October 20, 2013 at 2:54 am

    think Derek makes good point about movie critics and music critics.

  21. Dan October 20, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    At least music criticism isn’t as redundant as video games criticism.

  22. Everett True October 20, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    From my observations, video games critics are treated with way more respect by their industry than most music critics.

  23. Pingback: Introduzione al Poprealismo | La Rassegna Della Domenica

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