23 Aug 2010

Some heartening notions...

I try more and more to view art and culture, as a whole, with as much optimism as I can muster. It isn't hard at the moment, because I genuinely think that pop music has never been better (and the same could be said for cinema and television). There are various lines of cynicism that it can seem easy to subscribe to, but when I start to become more cynical about contemporary culture, then I will know that I am old. Meanwhile, here are some nice (alphabetised) quotations from Pitchfork's column, Poptimist (by Tom Ewing), which present a more upbeat take on some familiar moans:

'B is for Bloghouse: And Bleep, Broken Beat, Bassline... the proliferation of electronic microgenres seems to truly rile some people, who assume any differences are barely detectable. In fact these taxonomies are vital for tracking shifts in the bigger pictures: ways of telling stories about scenes which are often still doggedly star-free. Besides which, they're so much fun-- each one the light-trail of an idea being tested and refined in public.'

'G is for Guilt: The notion of the "guilty pleasure"-- an enjoyable but embarrassing track-- is intuitive to most listeners, but has several awkward side effects. Public admission of guilty pleasures plays as a departure from consensus-- you all think I like good music but I also like this Katy Perry track-- while really working to reinforce it, by giving the aberration its own special category. No surprise that a lot of critics bristled, and the backlash led to a new line of argument: all pleasures are pleasures and guilt has no part in music ... The "no such thing as a guilty pleasure" line ends up at a kind of naturism of pop, where the happiest state of being is to display one's tastes unaltered to the world. But the barriers to naturism aren't just shame and poor body image, it's also that clothes are awesome and look great. Performing taste-- played-up guilt and all-- is as delightful and meaningful as dressing well and makes the world a more colorful place.'

'N is for Novelty: Novelty records-- gimmick dances, comedy songs, et al.-- regularly turn up in "worst song ever"-type polls. Their decline should have been a canary in the record industry coalmine, though: A track like "Macarena" got big by appealing to people who didn't usually buy records, which made them an index of the extent to which buying a record was seen as a normal thing to do. The market for novelties hasn't gone away, of course-- it simply relocated to YouTube.'

'R is for Retro: Almost all music which seems pointlessly revivalist at the time ends up having more to do with its present than the past it harks back to-- electroclash, for instance, is hugely evocative of the 00s and tells us nothing at all about the 80s. Which isn't to say that revivalism is always healthy-- even the most glorious and imaginative of moments can feel like something to resent if they're being used as a stick to beat the present with.'

'T is for Trolling: There's a thin line between "I can't believe you like that" and literally not believing they like it. At their worst such doubts manifest themselves as an argument from telepathy: "they're just saying that to be contrary/cool/shocking." Taste is a performance and an act of curation, and if such accusations were never true they'd have no force, but without an assumption of good faith conversation breaks down far quicker. Better to have trusted and been trolled than never to trust at all.'

'X is for "X Factor": Simon Cowell's reality pop vehicle is the apex predator of phone-in talent shows in the UK, and he'll be hoping for similar results as he transfers it to America. The feeling that reality TV is destroying music should be receding somewhat though: "X Factor" and "Idol" winners go on to release records which owe very little to the stylized and technical cover versions they win the contests with. The longer any given reality show progresses, the less it needs to actually reflect reality: after a decade of competitions, the formalities and strategies of talent contests make them as dangerous to the rest of pop as ballroom dancing is to a nightclub.'

The whole of the article can be read here. In the spirit of all this, then, here's a video that I can't believe I've only just seen today, and surely has one of the most explicitly queer (in a good way) aesthetics of any video made by a mainstream pop artist. I hope Lady Gaga sticks around, she might end up being better than Madonna.