Thursday, April 9, 2009

Popular Music...Today!

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…


  1. Hold the phone now. Criticizing production is a whole 'nother matter in terms of the Black Eyed Peas. Questionable in morals though many of their lyrics may be, to classify the group as "horrible" seems to be a sweeping generalization. Granted, it's exhausting trying to come up with musical "merit" for groups with names like "Anal Cunt" and "T-Pain", both of which are ludicrous in name and subject.

    The correlation between critical views and popular opinion seem to be distancing, with more people willing to shell out money for essentially re-worked tribal drum beats, a vocorder with Auto-Tune and a synthesizer. Throw in some lyrics either about "Gettin' Ya Party On", "Slappn' Dem Hoes", or "Rockin' Out Wid Mah Cock Out" and you got an album nowadays.

    But (the main guy behind Black Eyed Peas, producer/writer/performer, etc) has shown time and again that in a palate of poor "indy" (read: All American Rejects) /emo knock offs and poor attempts to reconstruct 90's rap, he can actually create and interesting groove and do things most people wouldn't even bother with on most records today.

    No one expects you to LIKE "pop" music (you know that), and hell, there's really no need to anyway. But dismissing an entire group as just part of that mass of boring garbage is like me saying "Man, Matisyahu is just like Sisco...". I'm not criticizing your views on most of our mainstream culture (love Idiocracy by the way), I just think that before you dismiss all of the "big hits" as shit you should give some of it a listen. Most of Black Eyed Peas first album is bearable, and even at parts enjoyable. Again, not everyone's cup of tea, I just think that before a group or artist with a hint of validity gets swept under the proverbial rug of shitty pop songs, they deserve a fair listen.

    "A million Me's talking sexy to you like that"?

    Good lord, we have the next Thunder Road on our hands!

    Granted, the new Black Eyed Peas tune seems to be heading in the same "My Humps" direction of the last album (an underwhelming mess that lost all the originality and good vibed funk of their first album), so if that's all you were mentioning then go ahead and disregard the above.

    Give "That Handsome Devil" a try. A very weird band I just found out about a little while ago. There stuff takes a bit of time to sink in, but it's really an intresting blend of Swing, Punk, Whiteboy Funk, and a little touch of hip hop.

    PS "Right Round" is more of a shitty cover of this tune by Dead or Alive from the 80's. It's kind of depressing the amount of forgettable crap from the 80's is coming back in full force, when the good stuff like Television, Talking Heads, Devo, The Cure, The Cars and some other actually interesting acts are shoved into "best of" collections and forgotten...
    Oh well, thank God for digital back ups!

    Thanks for the incredibly interesting post! I had a blast reading it.

  2. You know, I had once heard that the Black Eyed Peas used to be decent but I decided to ignore that for the sake of my argument. Thank you Charlie for calling me out on it. Just admitting that I am making generalizations doesn't always make it all right.

    But I'm glad you enjoyed it. One of these days, I'd like to buy each of the iTunes top 10 and spend some time analyzing them. Maybe in the summer...

  3. Yeah, I certainly don't have the luxury to try and sift through today's generally shit list of music in order to find the few gems out there (Final Fantasy comes to mind, and That Handsome Devil come to mind).

    Keep up the excellent work!