Perhaps it’s down to the ubiquity of it, perhaps it’s down to the varying quality of it, but there is one thing for certain about pop music in the 2000s: despite Justin Timberlake’s Herculean efforts, pop music is not cool for this generation’s kids. Rock, yes. Indie, hell yes. Dance, yes. Emo, yes (well, at least for those privileged few who understand the term). But being a pop starlet these days – even if you’re capable of drinking Oasis under the table a la Girls Aloud’s Sarah Harding – means you will never truly find acceptance from either the dinner party-goers or the shoe-gazing indie kids. If you work in pop music, as far as fans of pretty much every other genre are concerned, there will always be a fat question mark over your head.
It’s not that people have ceased to love good pop music, of course. It’s just that they’re far less likely to admit it. Post-Elvis and the Beatles, what is popular seems to have become irredeemably equated with what is rubbish. These days, pop music is like America: we’re so irritated by its sheer dominance – on radio and television stations – that plenty of us find it difficult to admit that there could ever be anything good about it. In certain respects, our cleaving towards other genres almost feels tribal. For your average indie kid, admitting that Rihanna‘s Umbrella was actually pretty funky is the equivalent of giving a one-fingered salute to one’s family before taking up with the Mormons. You just don’t do it.
Why this should be the case is hard to decipher. What is certain,
however, is that people are feeling the strain of the deception. A
survey was recently released which revealed that one-in-three
motorists hit the road not because they needed to go somewhere, but
because they had some music that they would only listen to in the
privacy of their own cars. One in five motorists admitted that they
specifically used their cars to hear music that they would define as
‘guilty pleasures’ from artists like Lionel Richie and Celine Dion.
“Not even we anticipated the emerging trend of cars being the place to
secretly stash your guilty pleasure songs,” said a bemused Vauxhall
Motors spokesman. “Vauxhall will have to look into creating hidden
compartments to hide those forbidden tracks to keep your image
While Vauxhall get busy creating hidden compartments, artists
themselves appear to have found a Trojan horse method of getting
around our contradictory stance on pop music. Increasingly, musicians
are disguising their pop leanings by creating for themselves images
scary enough to frighten the horses. You hardly notice that Irish
musician Duke Special is playing pure pop music because you’re so busy
taking in his eyeliner, dreadlocks and charity shop gear. Ozzy
Osbourne, meanwhile, might be famous for biting a bat and wearing
constant black. But shut your eyes and listen to his most recent
album, and you’ll find it’s poppier than Britney’s. As for 30 Seconds
to Mars? Frankly, my teddy bear rocks harder than that. At the
Kerrang! awards recently, the place was heaving with sheep in wolves’
clothing. There were hip haircuts, leather, spikes and music that – a
few Goth stylings aside – sounded interestingly poptastic.
Considering that they’re putting in such an effort on our behalf, I
suppose we should feel grateful. After all, it’s eminently possible
that the likes of Robert Smith of The Cure would, given half a chance,
much prefer to wear something nice and sensible from Dunnes Stores.
Still, you wish we could all be a little more honest with ourselves
from time to time. As with any genre, pop music is capable of
brilliance. Cheesy, cliché-packed brilliance, it may be. But it’s
brilliance all the same. We shouldn’t have to sneak out to our cars
before we can remind ourselves of that fact.