Pop will eat itself? It won’t stop there,
The pop monster is hungry, and it’s gobbling up genres, the rulebook and everything else in its path –
HAT I’VE discovered is that in art, as in music, there’s a lot of truth – and then there’s a lie. The artist is essentially creating his work to make this lie a truth, but he slides among all the others. The tiny little lie is the moment I live for – my moment. It’s the moment that the audience falls in love.”
That is Lady Gaga talking about her art and her music. The quote is especially important because it doesn’t really mean anything. And what better way to discuss where pop music is right now than to dissect the meaningless?
The idea that pop is eating itself is regularly proposed, that pop has somehow entered its Francis Fukuyama phase and, with nowhere else to go, coils around itself and gorges on the recent past, spewing out tribute acts and collages of influences bordering on parody. But pop is not a human centipede. Pop is not eating itself – it’s eating everything else.
In many ways we are living in a post-genre world. Genres have not so much fragmented as shattered. What genre is Animal Collective? What genre is The xx? What genre is Kanye West or Austra? How can we categorise into genre when musicians become magpies, taking bits of everything? Right now, pop music is in everything-andthe-kitchen-sink mode. Britney has a dubstep breakdown in her current single, Hold It Against Me. Chris Brown’s Yeah 3x sounds like cheesy late-1990s techno.
Pop artists used to montage genres so they would evolve and diversify, changing from sound to sound with each album – for instance, Madonna’s pop phase, followed by her house phase, disco phase, country phase and so on. But now it happens all at once. Pop doesn’t montage, it collages. A modern pop song is like having three word docs, 20 browser tabs, Tweetdeck and iTunes open all at once. There’s so much going on, ensuring that there’s something for everyone, and a song can enter three or four different phases in a few minutes, which appeals to jumpy and addled attention spans.
Arctic Monkeys sang that “there’s only music so that there’s new ringtones” on 2006’s A Certain Romance, predicting that music would be simplified to a point that a hit tune could be easily transferred to a Nokia handset. In fact, the opposite happened: pop has become busier, with much more going on than a tinny melody.
At the forefront of this shift are Black Eyed Peas and Will.I.Am, who have created hit after hit by making what’s actually happening in their songs more complex. When Black Eyed Peas released the ridiculous ( and monstrously successful) The Time (Dirty Bit), LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy tweeted, “Do they hate ears?” But Will.I.Am doesn’t hate ears: he knows ears, which is why he recruited 43-year-old French house DJ David Guetta to work with him on one of the biggest songs of the decade, I Got a Feeling. When David Guetta was told to conform to an American sound while working with the rapper Akon, he refused. The result was Sexy Bitch, a track with a four-to-the-floor beat that has become the template for most American chart music. In turn, pop, or at least Guetta’s brand of it, has completely devoured commercial American hip-hop. It was recently the case that hip-hop infiltrated pop music. Now the reverse is true.
Not only does everyone want to work with Guetta, but everything sounds like Guetta even if he’s not part of the track. Guetta’s brand of US pop has become a vacuum for other genres, sucking in everything around it and processing it until the manchego is transformed into cheese strings.
It could be said that the reason for this constant Dysoning of other genres is to do with diluting something cool for the masses, but it’s more to do with pop’s endless thirst for newness. In the indie blog world, people talk about “churnover” – the constant lust for new acts to be blogged about (and indeed to be the first to blog about them), creating what The Bravery were labelled with as a “firework career” – goes up quickly, looks pretty, disappears. The churnover in indie land is about individual new bands, but the churnover in pop music is about new genres: what sound can be gorged upon next. Pop is hungry, and its appetite for new sounds seems to be never-ending. But Guetta is a house DJ first and foremost. So what happened to dance music?
The Kitchen nightclub reopened in the basement of the Clarence Hotel in Dublin recently. It should have been the biggest event in the capital’s nightlife in years, but very few people actually care about dance music in Ireland any more. In London, the hipster kids and the influencers are always looking for the most forwardthinking places. For them, the idea of going out to a club and listening to Katy Perry is face-meltingly alien. But in Dublin, that’s what Irish teenagers and students want to hear. Dance music – once the dominant sound of nightlife – is a niche activity. Pop