Wallace Wylie

Why Pop Music Matters (No Matter What Age You Are)

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Pop took the artistic inclination to experiment and pumped it full of business-think steroids so as to keep the music in a constant state of revolution. It put those opposed to pop’s agenda in the unenviable position of either championing artistic conservatism or endorsing deliberately unmarketable product as a means to sneer at the novelty-driven desires of the pop music aficionado. In other words, pop outflanked all of its critics by making them extreme traditionalists or anti-populist cranks. The deep, dark secret at the heart of the pop experience is this: pop music doesn’t need an intellectual framework, it doesn’t need postmodernism, and it certainly doesn’t need this essay. It lives, breathes, and devours all in its path regardless of whether you approve or not. It doesn’t care whether you give your endorsement with an ironic smirk or with a heartfelt scream. Pop music is smarter than you are. So why bother paying it any attention?

The way I see it, enjoying pop music really has nothing to do with trying to keep up with what the kids are doing. It’s more a way of allowing yourself to develop in new directions. Pop is not a genre, considering rock’n’roll, rock, soul, funk, reggae, disco, new wave, r&b and hip-hop have all at some point been thought of as pop music. Pop is a way of thinking. Genuine enjoyment of pop music shows that the paint hasn’t dried yet on the portrait that is you. The slow descent into senility, when your musical tastes shrink in ever decreasing circles as you only endorse artists who remind you in some way of the music you enjoyed in your mid 20s (without reminding you too much, otherwise you’ll accuse them of being rip-off artists), has not yet begun. Which isn’t to say that a person must turn off their brain and give approval to every new development that pop takes. On the contrary, picking and choosing is at heart what the pop experience is all about.

We may not like every new development, but to imagine that we can undo all of pop’s revolutions, that we can go back to some older time when ‘real artistry‘ had more cultural value, is to place yourself with Meissonier as opposed to Manet. It would involve some kind of fascistic artistic aristocracy closed to all except those who followed the strictest of rules. The vulgarity of the market is the perfect antidote to such ugly thoughts.

The cruelty at the heart of pop, its tendency to discard the obsolete, can feel cold when you are on the receiving end but exhilarating when you are in the vanguard of a new movement. Loving pop doesn’t mean loving only pop, or indeed loving the majority of the Top 40, but the moment you stop loving pop altogether, it’s a sure sign that your brain is settling into a holding pattern. Granted there are those who have never liked pop and spend their time exploring the weird outer-reaches of experimental and challenging music that revels in its non-commercial nature but this is merely the more serious-minded flipside of the same philosophy that drives pop. If you’ve ever felt the thrill that only a great pop song can provide, but find yourself forgetting when you last felt that thrill, then I think it’s time to throw on the local pop radio station, ignore the fact that ‘Moves Like Jagger’ is still being played six times a day, and try to find something to love. That’s my plan. I feel like something important is at stake.

For those with an ear for such musical endeavors, pop has the power to not only move you (in every sense); it can also stop you from becoming boring and predictable, set in your ways, complete. If you’re feeling distant from pop music, throw yourself back into the maelstrom. The minute you begin to wonder if a song is actually good or not, and you have no critical consensus to guide your thoughts, is the moment when your brain will be alive again. Only pop provides this shock. I know you’re on the internet, so quit messing around and find those pop hits before it’s too late.

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31 Responses to Why Pop Music Matters (No Matter What Age You Are)

  1. Pingback: My love for music and why I still listen to pop | Jessica's Music Blog

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