Monday, November 14, 2011

Tales from Pop Radio

I only listen to the radio in the car.  Since I never drove in London, I lost touch with pop music.  I did stream KGSR sometimes (the best music radio station in the world and it has live streaming), but otherwise I was cut off from new music.  You might think that a blessing, but I like doing pop culture analysis.  Therefore, a few random observations from a few months in the car.  
Lady GaGa has a better voice than Madonna, though her fans, or a small number of her fans, lack qualities to be desired.  Regardless of their insults to Adele, however, voice-wise she can mop the floor with Lady GaGa.  The attacks make me like her more frankly.  I first found Adele on my KGSR stream about a year ago.  I had no idea she was so popular over here.  She’s beautiful, confident, and pure talent.  What is not to like?
Katy Perry’s Friday might be the most morally vacant song I have ever heard.  It is a hard call with the also popular Pumped Up Kicks (see comment 'I used to think this was a song about shoes!'), but I think she inches it out because Friday speaks to ordinary people, not sick psychopaths.  
The first time I heard it, Rebecca Black’s Friday popped into my head.  From the video it seems that she intended the comparison.  Rebecca Black is the friend that does the makeover: 

Perry’s Friday is just as vapid, complete with the “TGIF’ chant to match the days of the week recital. Only Perry’s Friday is not at all innocent. It aspires to the traditional party girl, Girl Power, ‘do it because it feels good’ meme.   Alanis Morissette’s You Learn is my favorite of this meme because it recognizes that ‘to learn’ is why mistakes are valuable.  ("Why do we fall, Master Wayne?”  Whoops.  Crossing the pop culture streams.) P!nk’s Bad Influence looses the value of learning from mistakes but at least sees some value in occasionally cutting loose.  That is, in both of those songs, and most others in the meme, the mistakes have some sort of purpose towards good.  
But in Perry’s Friday, an “epic fail” is just what you do on Friday.  Next Friday you will “do it all over again.”   There is no sense of consequence.  There is no sense of redemption. It is supposed to be an upbeat party song, but it is stunningly depressing, the mundane consequences of Nietzsche’s philosophy reduced to a peppy beat.   
UPDATE: I first saw the video when writing this post.  I've had a day to digest the video and now wonder if Perry intends to endorse the moral vacancy or damn it.  My guess is the former, but I don't know enough about Perry to be sure.  
There is a country song for everything, and I do mean everything.  There’s home grown tomatoes (one of only two things that money can’t buy) and crime and punishment (I thought of linking to that song over the summer, but that is the sort of humor conservatives aren’t permitted to do.  Willie himself is liberal, and Toby Keith has only donated to a Republican recently).  Recently we have everything from breast cancer to red Solo cups (the plastic disposable cups?  Yep.  Those are the ones.)  Now, I am proud to present to my British audience and Texpat, who is homesick, with Camouflage: 
You can blend in in the country/you can stand out in the fashion world/be invisible to a white tail/and irresistible to a redneck girl

It's right up there with Ra Ra Rasputin.  You need the lyrics for full effect:
Kevin wasn't really all that popular in school
But I remember well when I thought that guy is pretty cool
He pulled into the parking lot and everybody cheered
Because he had gone and painted his Chevy Cavalier 
Camouflage it disappears when it pulls out of his garage
I asked Penny to the prom and her mom knew how to sew
so she made a matching tux and gown from Duckline Mossy Oak
We took pictures in the backyard before we went to the dance
And the only thing you can see is our faces and our hands 
Camouflage, Camouflage
Camouflage you seen have seen the way it popped with her corsage
Camouflage, Camouflage, ain't nothing that doesn't go with Camouflage 
You can blend in in the country
you can stand out in the fashion world
being invisible to a white tail and irresistible to redneck girl 
Camouflage, Camouflage
Oh you're my favorite color Camouflage 
You can blend in in the country
you can stand out in the fashion world
being invisible to a white tail and irresistible to redneck girl 
Well the stars and bars offends some folks and I guess I see why
nowadays theres still a way to show your southern pride
the only thing is patriotic as the old red white and blue
is green and gray and black and brown and tan all over too 
Camouflage, Camouflage
designed by mother nature and by God
Camouflage, Camouflage
Oh you're my favorite color Camouflage


Kacie said...

Brad Paisley is my fav, a lyrical genius (hilarious) and also amazing at guitar. I can tell about Katy Perry. She's a pastor's daughter who once toured on the Christian music circuit. Now she's gone another direction and is far more successful, and her parents and publicly rebuked her, while she publicly pushes back against Christianity. Her most popular song last year was "I Kissed a Girl and I Liked it".

AHLondon said...

It took me about two verses to accept that Paisley had a song about camo. I instantly thought of a friend in London who worked for British Vogue. She had the fab camo pants with pink flowers. I called them English garden camo. Anyway, interesting about Perry. I didn't know. So is she mocking the TGIF culture or embracing it? Crap, now I've got to keep an eye on Katy Perry interviews because I'm curious.

Sarah B said...

I really really miss country music...and honestly I don't love it all that much. But I miss it. Life of an expat!

AHLondon said...

How can you not miss it? Such lyrical stylings!

Megs said...

Katy Perry is so huge that she had a single in the top 10 all 52 weeks last year - it broke the previous record which was 40 weeks set by *gasp* Ace of Base. She was recently divorced from Russel Brand and I'd say that affiliation probably says enough about her personal outlook on life.

As for the "is she endorsing or rebuking" question - I think she's doing neither. I think she just sees it as something "everyone does" and something "everyone enjoys." If I described the fact that lilies come up in the Spring, I'm just describing it - not endorsing or rebuking. I couldn't tell you if she lacks gravitas or if she just doesn't care. I'd guess that she just doesn't care enough to make any statement beyond, "Make your own good time."

This is the second time I've seen you knock "Pumped up Kicks." I have a different view of that song. I don't think that the band is endorsing the behavior (in fact they actively say that they do not) and I don't think the song was made only to appeal to psychopaths. I think that in the wake of tragedies like school shootings that everyone sits around posing the question, "How could this happen? What were they thinking?" and that these questions are being asked rhetorically. But Mark Foster actually tries to imagine how such a tragedy does occur and he writes a character song to describe how a person gets put into a position where they start enjoying thoughts of violence. I don't feel glorification of violence in the song. I feel isolation and years of neglect for the character in the song. One thing that rings true to me is the idea that "A normal person has all the same kinds of thoughts that a psychopath has. The difference is that a normal person has the additional thought that says, 'No because that would be terrible.'"

AHLondon said...

Megs, re: Katy Perry, I have been watching since Kacie pointed the facts out to me. I think you're right, though acceptance is closer to endorsement than it is to damning. It is what it is, and that's just fine with her.
As for the Pumped up Kicks--for my tweet complaint about the song playing at the elementary fun fair, the intent of the band has no bearing. I agree that they don't intend to glorify mass shooting fantasies. And I certainly don't think the song was made to or only appeals to psychopaths. Same can be said of the huge volume of Christian themed pop music. Few bands intend the Christianity and they certainly don't want to appeal only to Christians. Unless I'm judging the culpability of the band, their intent is of no moment. The intent, or more likely recklessness, of the DJ, however, is another matter. This is a song with a fun beat, a catchy hook, being played on a sunny day at an outdoor fun fair for chidden. I object to the juxtaposition of the lyrics and setting. True, the kids don't understand the lyrics (though that defense of the DJ weakened when he played I'm Sexy and I Know It as well). But they will one day. How callous will they think us if that song reminds them of childhood fun?
I too feel isolation and neglect in the song, but I am older and wiser than my children. You and I can sift through the context of lyrics, setting, and beat and see between reality and dystopia. I'm just not too keen to get kindergarteners in on the game.
Related reading you might like, and article on Dangerous Ideas, specifically about moral relativism and Shows About Nothing, a study of nilhism in pop culture by Prof. Thomas Hibbs.

Megs said...

Agreed about the introduction of adult-themed lyrics to children. My SIL went through a huge fight with her then 12 year old over the song "Milkshake" which I hope you missed because it's horrible in every way and no one wants to hear their daughter singing those lyrics.
To your example, Creed is an example of a band with appealing Christian lyrics and amazing rock guitar that sold on the Pop charts. Evanesence is an example of a group that had no intent toward Christian appeal that was mistaken for a Christian group from their first song - Bring Me to Life. The band actually laughed at the thought of the Christian book stores who sold thousands of their albums.
As to moral relativism - I believe their is no such thing. If it's wrong for me to do, it's wrong for anyone to do. I don't think morality can be legislated, but I do think that parents can and must teach it.