29
Aug 03

Jess has the new Basement Jaxx album

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…and thus needs not the minor pleasure that links can provide but I’m going to link him anyway because he’s saying some interesting stuff, about genres and lulls and scenes and Freaky Trigger’s particularly poptimistic stance. Which I think he (ever so slightly) mischaracterizes: I completely agree that genres swing from good to bad, even yes even my lovely bubblegum pop. Last year was a ‘lull’ in ‘manufactured’ pop taken as a genre — Girls Aloud and Justin and Lene Nystrom and TaTu and, yes, Busted have made ’03 a very satisfying year so far but there wasn’t anything very special coming along in 2002, or 2001 for that matter. The early and mid 90s weren’t great either. And only Justin feels momentous in the way that the Spice Girls or Britney or the Monkees were.

(It’s dead easy to spot momentous pop acts because they’re the ones that inspire pieces like the Alex Ross / Sasha Frere-Jones essays that kicked this whole thing off.)

(I think we can sadly conclude that TaTu have blown it, magnificent though the records were. Trevor Horn must have signed some devilish long ago pact whereby no hit band he produces can have more than 3 or 4 great singles before collapsing into acrimony or despond. The Buggles, ABC, Frankie, Propaganda, TaTu — one stunning LP and then the fallout. Watch out Belle And Sebastian! But that’s another story.)

What I do believe though is that the overall quality of the pop charts, with their bubbling mix of genres, remains much the same, and that the more music you get the opportunity to hear the more good music you will hear. Given these two factors each year seems better than the last to me. That’s what I’ve generally meant when I’ve suggested that ‘pop’ in the wider sense has no lulls. If you increase the scale of your scanner wide enough, even the biggest revolutions or genre-quakes seem less important.

It’s kind of a Gaian view of pop — a vast macro-organism of consumption whose surface fluctuations can be beautiful or devastating to people near the epicentre of a ‘pop event’ (UK garage, or 80s Amerindie, or even punk) but meaningless elsewhere. Sometimes there’s a Krakatoa which really does fuck up the pop biosphere, but it’s much rarer than genreologists might have you believe.

But to extend the metaphor, can’t there be serious shifts in this ‘biosphere’ which might lead to genuine, macro-scale decline, shifts that ‘popists’ might ignore, the pop equivalent of climate change. Yes, is the answer, but they’re gradual, to do with the ways music is distributed and disseminated before they’re to do with its content. The transformation of music to digital data is one big shift (cf K-Punk). The globalisation and centralisation of pop creation and broadcast is another.

What I don’t buy though is the idea (hinted at by Reynolds) that by boosting pop at the expense of ‘underground’ musics pro-pop writers are automatically bolstering the forces behind this latter shift. A Timberlake song is a Timberlake song, but it’s treated very differently by his record company, by Clear Channel, by Freaky Trigger and by an FT reader sharing it on Soulseek, though all of them are ‘promoting’ it in some way. What used to compromise some areas of pop music was that in order to consume it you pretty much had to give money to somebody who you might have felt didn’t deserve it: that is no longer a necessity.

I’ve got far away now from anything Jess was talking about. I will say though that I liked and was flattered by his assessment of what I (and NYLPM I hope) do well — the Alan Bennett of popcrit is a far from terrible thing to be. More tea, Vicar?

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