Apr 09

Freaky Trigger and the Lollards of Pop – Series 3, Week 7

Lollards Podcast63 comments • 1,200 views

“The Trouble With Pop” – a conversation between Tom Ewing, Hazel Robinson, Alex Macpherson and Pete Baran. Featuring Bat for Lashes, Mastodon, Lady Sovereign, Blackout Crew, Gucci Mane and Girls Aloud.


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    Jessica on 18 Apr 2009 #

    Haha! Why didn’t Alex say hello at the beginning? It is very VERY weird hearing the voices of people I know but haven’t actually met.

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    Tom on 18 Apr 2009 #

    Alex was very hungover! Also we didn’t actually tell him he had to say hello so he missed it. :)

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    iainf on 19 Apr 2009 #

    Interesting listening. I think that the ‘lack of personality’ of Bst for Lashes’ voice is a large part of the reason she’s more successful than others like Emilie Autumn (who I was suprised/pleased to hear mentioned!). As per the Lady Gaga discussion people generally seem to be supportive of eccentric acts as a principle but necessarily a part of the music.

    Emilie Autumn pushes ‘I’m mad, me’ and extremes of emotion very clearly in her music and voice in songs like “I Know Where You Sleep”. Although lyrically Bat for Lashes has a lot of setting fire to hearts and similiar it’s reflected in the music in a much more subtle way. Or isn’t at all if you’re being less kind.

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    Lex on 19 Apr 2009 #

    Ha, I didn’t realise until I listened back that I was meant to say hello. I was concentrating far too hard on not dying…

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    Davies75 on 19 Apr 2009 #

    He hee, was wondering if you’d hold it together for the whole show and not wish Lady ga ga a terrible fate. I didn’t think you sounded too hungover either :)

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    jeff w on 20 Apr 2009 #

    What’s the Gucci Mane and Nicki Minaj track called? I liked that. They seem to have collaborated more than once. Um, if it’s the one with the very rude title, just say that.

    More generally, nice show if more a series of reviews and arguments than an overview. Maybe you set your stall out too high with the opening (hungover) statements. The “trouble with pop is it’s not popular” requires an awful lot of unpacking. I got the feeling you were really saying the trouble is:
    1. The ‘wrong’ pop is popular, or
    2. It’s not popular in ways we can reliably measure any more.

    I thought it was interesting however that Hazel and the Lex were essentially using rockist sticks to beat current ‘troublesome’ pop with, even if their canon is not the traditional Rockist’s one.

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    Tom on 20 Apr 2009 #

    I think more #2 – though Lex certainly feels #1.

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    Mark M on 20 Apr 2009 #

    ‘The wrong pop is popular’ is a entertainingly sulky position, and an absurd one. It was of course, prevalent in certain very un-Lexist quarters back in 1986: “prog dinosaurs like Phil Collins ain’t Pop,” we squealed, “Only an Ooh! Gary Davies-personified conspiracy prevents the wider public from grasping that The Shop Assistants are the new Blondie! Primal Scream should be as loved as the Byrds!” I now maintain this was idiocy, although there have certainly been chart moments since when it has seemed that the music-buying public wasn’t totally adverse to songs that sounded a lot like the ones that had ignored at that time…

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    lex on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Well, this is something I remember that we talked about a few years ago, but I think it goes back to how we define pop. When I first got into the conscious idea of liking “pop”, in the early 00s, what was popular (in the charts, on the radio) dovetailed neatly with my preferred aesthetic; and, prior to the growth of pop-specific critical communities, there wasn’t any widespread notion of pop as a particular sound. Since then, both those definitions of pop have grown away from the music I like, so maybe it’d just be easier for me to say that I don’t really like pop (as in what’s popular – because undeniably, what’s popular is utter shite right now), or pop (as in the sound and values of the aesthetic which self-proclaimed Pop Fans big up). I don’t think this is a rockist line to take! Though tbh I’m not sure what that term even means any more.

    That track was ‘Shopaholic’ by Gucci Mane ft. Nicki Minaj, Bobby Valentino & So Icey Boys – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tB8yiCJBwM

    It’s a terrific track but doesn’t really showcase what’s special about Gucci – try ‘Bird Flu’, ‘Hot Damn’, ‘White Girl’ or ‘Wrist Gliss’. And for more Nicki, ‘Beam Me Up Scotty’, ‘Brraaattt’, ‘Higher Than A Kite’ and her ‘Single Ladies’ remix are all recommended.

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    “prior to the growth of pop-specific critical communities” — when do you consider this growth to have begun? there’s a pretty good argument that dates it back to the 50s at least, but you mean much more recently presumably (ie in yr adult lifetime?)

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    Pete Baran on 20 Apr 2009 #

    As ever that statement was from the often unwarned opening question of the show (oddly the rest is often overly warmed over, but there is often a tricky opening question). My knee jerk and somewhat glib reaction to it therefore should be a touch excused (and I certainly don’t believe it).

    Yes, I think the show lacked a through-line thesis, as perhaps did the individuals. But then the show was called “The Trouble With Pop” and whilst I think we maybe in a bit of a lull at the moment, I am not sure there is a trouble with pop! And we were all far too nice!

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    Kat but logged out innit on 20 Apr 2009 #

    How can you say the first Spice Girls album wasn’t good? It is ALL KILLER NO FILLER.

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    piratemoggy on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Nooo it is all pants all the time. (the Spice Girls, this is; not the show, that was jolly good fun)

    I do apologise for talking over people in this; I didn’t realise I was doing it. :/

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    Tom on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Everyone talks over everyone! This was a very restrained edition as they go. Even Pete was quiet sometimes.

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    xyzzzz__ on 20 Apr 2009 #

    I probably spent far too long trying to unpack that statement yesterday! when I listened to this show I thought this was in part referring to the point that pop doesn’t ‘unify the room’ (to borrow something I heard Robert Wyatt say) anymore, but then I thought you couldn’t be comparing it to the 50s or 70s but to the 80s and 90s. Then again the notion that everyone agreed on Elvis is probably garbage (as I’ve also seen talked about). All of this needs more PIE CHARTS.

    Surprised at the anti-haircut/bullshit interviews stance.

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    Mark M on 21 Apr 2009 #

    I think the claim that 1 Xtra has caused some kind of ghettoisation of black pop in this country needs backing with proper evidence, not just a ‘we all know this has happened’ stance. The time when the broader British public liked black American music more than the home country was in the 1960s – since then we’ve liked the big stars (Michael Jackson, Beyonce) and adopted the odd act as almost our own (Three Degrees in the 1970s). But regardless of what may seem right and just to certain commentators here, there is certainly never been an automatic right of US stars to make it here – Biggie’s only reached 34 in the UK charts before he became a hip-hop martyr; and even Jay-Z has only made the UK top ten exactly twice – with his novelty hit and with the duet with the missus.
    Also, the argument seems to lean hard on the careful exceptions tactic – “except for Timbaland and T.I. and Rihanna and Beyonce (etc), then there’s absolutely no black pop from the other side of the Atlantic getting any attention here…” Well, those are some socking exceptions.

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    piratemoggy on 21 Apr 2009 #

    I think me and Alex were talking specifically about rap, really. Before that, there’d been A LOT of rap getting into the Radio 1 playlist; 1Xtra appeared at the sort of pinnacle of garage, Eminem and Dr Dre were getting massive hits, 50 Cent (much as I dislike him) had just appeared and Kanye West was emerging. Kanye still gets play but other than that, as Alex said, you have to collaborate with Gallows to get on there. Cus Gallows are such a universally accessible noise…

    I think more than anything else, 1Xtra and BBC Asian etc. all just make me deeply uncomfortable because it makes it sound like bhangra or grime or soul is some kind of weird niche music only listened to by terribly DIFFERENT people, whereas normal people listen to what the uniquely white Radio 1 weekday DJs tell them. Or well, y’know, the playlist. :/

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    Mark M on 21 Apr 2009 #

    Re 17: OK, a couple of things.

    1) Since I haven’t listened to daytime R1 since the 1980s, I can’t comment on their playlist then and now. But I think your mention of “the pinnacle of garage” is interesting – we might be in the area of what populist stats heads would call “the so-called curse of the Sports Illustrated cover/manager of the month”*. Which is to say that Craig David/So Solid moment was unique in British pop history for the lack of distance between pirate radio and the mainstream, certainly in terms of actual identifiable acts rather than just one-off hits – it has happened before or since. I think the Poptimist fallacy is to expect that the conditions that prevailed in, say, 1998-2002 to be the norm rather than the exception.

    2) The racist subtext rather disappears when you consider this was also the time of the creation of R6Music and R7 (following the successful emergence of 5 Live) – and also BBC Three and Four, and More 4 etc… Regardless of whether you like the development, niche broadcasting is the path most of the big media organisations have been following. Again, I’d like to see evidence that the R1 playlist changed in the wake of the creation of 1 Xtra.

    *Briefly, sports fans traditionally puzzle over the strange fact that the moment a player or team’s great form is publicly recognised, they seem to go off the boil. There, is of course, no curse: all that has happened – say the stats folk – is reversion to the mean (ie, they stopped playing better than could be normally expected, this oddly hot run being what got them noticed).

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    the niche broadcasting issue is a bit like the multicultural identity politics issue, isn’t it? it’s introduced to solve a problem of cultural representation (in the political sense: having a programme that “represents” such and such a community’s needs) but then functions as ghettoisation instead — the pressures on the mainstream to respond are reduced, so it narrows and hardens

    1982-200x is of course the era of the maximum development of niche broadcasting as a solution (in business and in politics) and the emergence of its problems…

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    Lex on 21 Apr 2009 #

    I don’t know British people are always so eager to deny that race is ever a factor in anything. It’s something I’ve repeatedly encountered, and from someone who admits he hasn’t actually listened to the radio station in question in two decades? Take it from someone who was: prior to the creation of 1Xtra, r&b and hip-hop and UK garage and, before them, even bits and bobs of trip-hop and drum’n’bass, were all over the radio, in sufficient quantities for a public schoolboy buried in Somerset in a pre-internet age to be aware of them. And since then, their equivalents have been hived off away from the mainstream. The exceptions are mostly down to a change in sound, usually a dilution, away from the original genre – which is what all the acts we mentioned have done (Lady Sovereign, Tinchy Stryder, T.I.).

    It’s true that whenever I look up the chart positions of 90s tracks I consider standards by acts I consider to pretty firmly entrenched in the pop pantheon – Snoop, Mary J, Biggie and so on – they’re often a lot lower than I expected. I’m not sure how well their albums did, though certainly hip-hop and r&b have tended to be a lot more album-orientated than they’ve been credited for. Really, though, a lot of this is down to their core audience not being one which has ever bought CD singles or been much bothered by where their favourite artist places in the chart (which has a lot to do with what the essence of that music is). This doesn’t mean that there isn’t an audience beyond that or that it should be ghettoised.

    Even if what you say is true, it begs the question of why the UK – gatekeepers, public, whoever is responsible – is so closed off to ‘black’ forms of music, whether originating at home or abroad. (Clue: I don’t think the public does have an inherent dislike of it!)

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    Steve Mannion on 21 Apr 2009 #

    number of tracks on current Radio 1 playlist: 50
    number of those also on 1Xtra playlist: 16 or so by my reckoning, just under a third

    that’s a reasonable extrapolated representation of “urban pop” given R1 also has to cover the alternatives – it just suggests that R1’s position is more to act as summariser for what 1Xtra, Radio 2 and Radio 6 are playing more often.

    that doesn’t excuse the rationale behind 1Xtra (or 6 Music) but still feel they were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.

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    cis on 21 Apr 2009 #

    Also, the argument seems to lean hard on the careful exceptions tactic – “except for Timbaland and T.I. and Rihanna and Beyonce (etc), then there’s absolutely no black pop from the other side of the Atlantic getting any attention here…” Well, those are some socking exceptions.

    I think the fact that these are socking exceptions is the point! Timbaland and Beyonce were both big names in mainstream pop already; Rihanna is a pop singer more than an rnb singer; T.I. is an interesting outlier who has managed to get pop airplay through alliance with established acts (his non-featuring tracks have never done well on uk pop radio). The people we’d be looking for, and not finding, are the generic acts, the bulk, the ones whose presence makes a genre feel pervasive. (just as the ‘pop princesses’ wave of 98/99 wouldn’t have existed if it were only britney and christina, it needed mandy moore and jessica simpson and jennifer paige).

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    but isn’t the fear of dilution part of the problem? niche-stations set up — and they self set-up also, this is what pirates are — because they’re worried that to get into the “mainstream” they have to not be themselves, and rub shoulders with stuff they sneer at?

    mark m’s point is that the niche-response is primarily a way of maximising listeners (viz you lex wd be more likely to listen to a station that was all grime than one which featured half grime and half indie, or even half metal, so yr tastes feed into the dark side here): by dividing the audience you maximise the totals (but build in social and cultural divisions); present-day racism needn’t be the root cause of the decision, even if back-in-the-day racism created the divisions in the first place… (in fact, i would argue that niche-broadasting is thought of as an anti-racist strategy; the problem is, it isn’t…)

    the utopian all-in-it-together model of pop broadcasting has actually NEVER sustainedly existed, as far as i know — back to the dawn of radio in the 20s, there was always a “light programme” and a “third programme”

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    cis on 21 Apr 2009 #

    Rihanna is a pop singer more than an rnb singer

    or at least – her singles are more “pop” than “rnb” in sound.

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    cis on 21 Apr 2009 #

    I’m in a funny position with the ‘ghettoisation’ question because I grew up in London and to me there were always niche stations on my radar – capital for pop, capital gold for old pop, kiss fm for rnb, and after a while xfm for indie. So when we had arguments in the common room at school over what to have on the radio the question was ‘kiss or xfm’, Radio1 wasn’t really considered an option (i guess uncool because a compromise). If I think of “the pinnacle of garage”, I think immediately of Kiss FM, not of whether or not it was played on Radio 1– though of course it was.

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    Mark M on 21 Apr 2009 #

    Lex, I never said that race wasn’t a factor or that Radio 1 didn’t change their playlist policy in the 00s – I would just like bit of evidence.
    I spent the ’90s writing about hip-hop – I reviewed the first Wu-Tang album and The Fugees’ The Score and dozens of other hip-hop and r’n’b albums for Select, and wrote one of the first things about Eminem in this country for The Face. And that time, talking to other journalists or record company PRs, we never expected these acts to be mainstream huge in this country. Take Doggystyle – for me, it’s the defining sound of that time, and lots of people would agree. But it peaked at 38 in the album charts (so no, they weren’t selling lots of albums), and Who Am I got to 20 in the singles, and Gin And Juice to 39 (yes, 39 for ever quotable Gin And Juice). At the same time, Mary J was nipping into the top twenty if she was lucky…
    All that seemed to change late in the ’90s, and that’s what I am talking in terms to it creating a false perception of what the norm. Certain things go and out of fashion – that’s the nature of pop. And it’s a false equivalence to say, well Fiddy was big for a while so that Lil’ Wayne should be huge now – they are different people with different appeals.
    If we look at the current top 20, we’ve got Ciara, Beyonce, Flo Rida, Akon and TI (leaving out the Noisettes and Eminem). That hardly suggests that black pop is marginalised in any real way – and also says that it is certainly closer to the mainstream than it was 15 years ago, though not six or seven years ago. There be no particularly reason to expect that the British charts should be full of black music, other than the fact that white British people have always liked and continue to like it. I can’t really see why you expect there to be even more of it in the charts…

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    lex on 21 Apr 2009 #

    Stevem – not going to stat-crunch but look at what sort of tracks cross over from 1xtra to R1. It’s the ones which make concessions and dilute themselves (which doesn’t necessarily make the music worse, but right now it mostly does): Tinchy Stryder going electro, T.I. sampling eurocheese and duetting with Rihanna, big names like Beyoncé, people tentatively playing it safe like Alesha Dixon.

    The more ‘black’ a song codes, the more steeped in R&B tradition or the more actual rapping it features or the more part of a ‘scary’ ‘underground’ UK scene it is – the less likely it is that it crosses over. Hence the total lack of mainstream presence of Anthony Hamilton and Jazmine Sullivan; the way last year’s undisputed pop anthem, ‘A Milli’, went unheard here; the failure of the biggest UK funky tracks to gain any traction at all; the reason why Ms Dynamite’s comeback single, despite being an incredible piece of work, is yet to find anyone willing to release it commercially.

    Cis is OTM about the bulk: back in 98-02, you had the biggest names like Destiny’s Child, Kelis and Aaliyah, but then you also had a Mya single here, a Brandy single there, Christina Milian and Pink’s first album and Truth Hurts…good times.

    There’s also the “cultural presence” thing – in the 90s, Snoop and Mary J and so on may not have been scoring No 1 hits out of the block every time, but they were there, you knew what they represented, you had access to them. An equivalent now would be Adele, who I think has only had one top 10 hit so far, but her cultural presence is massive, whereas Lil’ Wayne is basically unknown.

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    Mark M on 21 Apr 2009 #

    Also, on the subject of gatekeepers, in pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør’s time the NME was consistently* pro-black pop (past and present), until they eventually regretfully concluded that could keep telling their readers that T La Rock was more exciting than the House Of Love (which was true) for another thousand years with it having the slightest effect other than to deep depressing sales of the newspaper.

    *Not with much bloody internal debate.

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    Mark M on 21 Apr 2009 #

    And in the end (regardless of whether you get my name right), we all agree that the turn of the century was a good time to be listening to music.

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    Steve Mannion on 21 Apr 2009 #

    It doesn’t really seem like 1Xtra has altered Radio 1’s approach here tho – at least not when it comes to daytime playlist selection. Who was the Jazmine Sullivan of ’99 or ’89 and were they being playlisted by R1? I can’t think of an equivalent! The problem of including them now is that it undermines or negates 1Xtra’s mandate further (if R1 plays the ‘uncompromised’ stuff as well). It’s a bind.

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