I thought that I would try to clarify what I’ve meant by popular music in my recent posts. I feel there are a good three accurate definitions. The one I’ve been using is the most general and that is: music in the style of a genre that has been popular and had its peak within the last hundred years or so. Essentially anything but classical, experimental/avante-garde and non-Western music. So even though kids these days might not be rockin’ to the free jazz of Ornette Coleman on their headphones, to me it falls under the umbrella of popular music.
Then there’s the much more specific definition of “pop,” which is short for popular music last time I checked. This popular music is Michael Jackson, Beyoncé, and perhaps The Shins (though they usually fall under the hilariously contradictory indie-pop label). This is the melody-friendly, radio-friendly, ear-friendly stuff, blah, blah, blah. You probably know what people mean when they say pop.
Then there is the most common definition of popular music: music that is currently popular. This is a pretty revolutionary post so far, you don’t have to tell me. But thinking about this made me realize how despite listening to tons and tons of music under my definition of popular music, I know very little about what the most people in the Western world listen to today.
There’s no way of measuring what music is most listened to these days, but I figured that iTunes would be a decent way to take a stab at it. It’s by and large the place most music listeners get their music these days, now up to over 6 billion songs sold. So without further transgression, here are the top ten songs on iTunes, as of April 8th, 2009.
1. “Boom Boom Pow” by Black Eyed Peas
2. “Poker Face” by Lady GaGa
3. “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus
4. “Day ‘n’ Nite” by Kid Cudi
5. “Right Round” by Flo Rida
6. “Kiss Me Thru the Phone (featuring Sammie)” by Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em.
7. “Blame It (featuring T-Pain)” by Jamie Foxx
8. “You Found Me” by The Fray
9. “Gives You Hell” by The All-American Rejects
10. “Love Sex Magic (featuring Justin Timberlake)” by Ciara
I listened to the 30-second samples of these songs. They are horrible. Horrible melodies (if you can call them that), horribly written lyrics, horrible messages, and horrible production. But to bash these songs is like preaching to the choir. If you are nerdy enough to read my blog (God bless you for it!), you probably don’t listen to Black Eyed Peas and company. So why am I writing about this music that is so popular today? Because I think it’s fascinating how contradictory the world of popular music is, that’s why.
I sometimes wonder if there is any correlation between what the media and general music critic population determines “high quality” and what people listen to. Case and point being Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em. His most recent album, iSouljaBoyTellem, which contains the song “Kiss Me Thru the Phone,” doesn’t appear to have a single good review from a reputable source. Wikipedia lists five major professional reviews ranging from 1/5 stars to 2.5/5 stars (Yeah, it’s Wikipedia but the music review websites are legit). Metacritic comes out at 40/100, with a user rating of 0.9/10. Nonetheless, the album has sold upwards of 200,000 copies with peaking at #2 on the U.S. rap charts and #43 overall.
I know this is only one example. I know there are critics’ darlings that have made it big, even in recent years. I know I put in a remarkably small amount of research into making a big point, and that’s partially because it hurts me to listen to or read about the success of these “artists.” Still, I am constantly seeing signs that our world is turning into an Idiocracy, aka the mainstream is getting less intelligent, probably because intelligence isn’t all that convenient. Oh well, I’m not too worried. Great music will always be produced no matter what and I’m willing to dig deep.
To quote a visionary of our time, the great Ciara (who writes her own music and lyrics!!!!):
“Your touch is so magic to me
The strangest things can happen
The way that you react to me
I wanna do something you can’t imagine
Imagine if there was a million me’s talking sexy to you like that
You think you can handle, boy
If I give you my squeeze and I need you to push it right back.”
Look out Bob Dylan…