N’SYNC – “Pop”

Pop’s not dead. “Pop”, though, is barely twitching, a patchwork of modish elecro tics (yea even unto the bitchin’ treated guitar) sewn together by N’Sync’s hamster-tough singing. They keep calling their pop “dirty” when really they mean “untidy” – their song never coheres as an idea or a tune, unless of course the idea is to send up the self-justifications of ‘proper’ musicians, perpetually moaning about people classifying their music and how they just make the music they like. (Presumably “if anyone else likes it, it’s a bonus” didn’t scan well enough to make it into the song.) But sadly I doubt it – N’Sync mean it, or we’re meant to think they do.

So “Pop” makes for uncomfortable listening, and not just because it’s a song celebrating body-shaking pop impact which tells but doesn’t show (wasn’t this meant to be a garage track? Good grief.). To work as the fuck-you comeback it half-wants to be it would need to get much more personal – name a few names, call out the past-it pop-haters and mealy-mouthed rockers. But it pussyfoots around making excuses for itself, and it never dramatises its pop pout to give you-the-listener a way to get inside the song, either – there’s no “living in a disco / forget about the rat race” epiphany here, for sure.

Still, better to send N’Sync down these referential rabbit holes (the album is called Celebrity!) than to let them write their own songs. Defensiveness is written into every chartpop career, and it’s generally the midwife of decline. But pop stars singing about being pop stars (N’Sync; Survivor; Lopez’ deliciously bratty “Play”) is at least a fresh way to dodge those whispers that they’re not for real. The damage, though, is done the second the stars start listening in the first place.