Shiny Happy People

I was moved to think about pop music today. thegirlontheswing over at AutoTunes posted about her love of the REM song “Stand”–even though she admitted that hipsters probably thought it lame.

So what is pop? Pop is rock, albeit with hummable melodies and some sharp wordplay if you’re lucky. But why do so many of us music obsessives look down on songs that aren’t moody? Why the automatic dis of the peppy? Hipsters even went to the length of creating a new genre (power pop) so they could safely listen to pop without losing their street cred.

OK–I’m as enamored of shredding guitar and distortion as the next guy. I love punk, grunge and some metal (the speedier kind.) But I have a soft spot for R & B, pop and other music without any sharp edges. As I’m typing this, I’m listening to She & Him on my headphones–amongst the poppiest stuff on my iTunes.

Is screaming hard rock and tough sad lyrics considered cooler than pop due to some extension of the tough guy v. the sensitive guy stuff that we went through in high school? Because I’m one of the least sensitive guys around–unless you show me a video of cute puppies, then I’ll melt. I’m also happily married and not very tuned into any kind of angst in my life–unless you count the poor start by the Red Sox and the increasingly tall grass in my backyard that’s demanding to be mowed. Is this why I’m moved by the best of pop?

I have always maintained that I was a die hard Stones guy in the back and forth arguments between the legacies of the Stones and Beatles. These debates were mostly held in college amongst similarly deranged music fans. The ultimate music nerd book/movie is High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. He summed up the importance of a person’s musical taste in a quote by the lead character, a record store owner (vinyl, naturally!):

…I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like… Books, records, films — these things matter. Call me shallow but it’s the fuckin’ truth.

But a friend of mine recently burned the complete Beatles mono box for me (in order to justify its expense to his girlfriend he burned copies for a bunch of folks!) When he dropped it off, he said something that has stuck with me: “Why do we have to choose? Fans can listen and enjoy them both.” And this guy used to refer to HIS college friends as “the music police.”

One of my favorite new bands is the amazing pop band Fountains of Wayne–yeah, the guys that lusted after Stacey’s mom. But digging into their catalog is a revelation–funny, punchy, satirical, beautiful, wistful–the kind of music you wish you were cool enough to write. They included an audio clip of rock critic Ken Tucker from NPR’s “Fresh Air” on their b-sides album and it sums up this whole post:

Hip hop, country music and post-grunge squall can take a partial summer holiday. I’m applying some number 45 sunblock and putting up a sign saying: “gone fishing . . . for power pop.”


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