I’m about to make a bold statement. You may want to sit down for this. Right, here it goes: “Pop music is better now than it has been for a long time.”Before you leap up from your seat and scream “WHAT ABOUT JUSTIN BIEBER?!” at the screen, allow me to explain myself.
The inspiration for this article came about when I read the interesting news (on MTTM, where else?) that Lady Gaga has revealed the name of her forthcoming third album via a tattoo on her arm, the photo of which she shared on her site littlemonsters.com. The tattoo says “Artpop”. This news made me think two things. The first thing was, oh god I hope she’s not going all pretentious with this (nice eh?) The second, more generous thought was, this is how pop music is now. It is, or can be, art, and not just about the Simon Cowell’s of the world making money.
Pop music is, by its very definition, popular. Huge stars like Gaga can reach millions of ears around the world with their songs. This article is not intended as some sort of propaganda for Gaga, though I find her intriguing, mainly because she is one of the group of (sit down again) exclusively female artists that are driving things forward in mainstream music. Yes, it’s the girls that are changing things. There seems to be an absolute slew of female artists at the moment, diverse in their sounds and personal styles. It is very exciting.
Let’s wind back about a decade. I’m a moody, depressed fourteen year old (not much has changed, except the age). I scorn pop music. It is far too lowbrow for me (though it’s kind of an open secret that I listen to Dirrty by Christina Aguilera again and again). Rock is my thing. Yes, rock, with the Chili Peppers, Muse, Linkin Park and all that jazz. Proper bands, that play instruments and write their own songs. I never, ever, EVER buy anything by a boy band on principle. Pop is far too commercial for me, like buying into a brand.
Think of the pop stars back then, the boy bands, the ‘manufactured’ groups. The female solo artists: Britney, Christina, Pink, Madonna, J-Lo. All different in their sound and image yes, all very radio friendly, but things have moved on a thousand fold.
Forget Steps. The quality of what’s coming into your ears now is considerably better. Adele? Not a shred of auto-tune anywhere. That woman can sing dammit. Gaga? She’s nuts, she’s breaking the mould every single day with her music and her fashion sense, enabling others to do the same (there’s no doubt that Lady Gaga has been a massive influence, not just to her many and devoted fans, but for other pop stars too. I too remember Christina Aguilera sporting zany Gaga-like outfits, with her platinum blonde locks cropped into a blunt fringe just like Gaga’s. Florence? Her lyrics are like poetry; both powerful and personal. Her voice is huge. Try to listen to Cosmic Love and not well up with the enormity of its sound; its savage beauty. Ladyhawke? Now there’s a woman who knows how to rock. Lana De Ray? Her debut album was one of the hottest things to hit the music world for some time, her image creating a stir, opting (Bowie-style) for an alter ego to carry her sound. Her record sounds like a million dollars. Again, no auto-tune, beautiful string arrangements, and powerful, evocative (and provocative) song writing. Then there are more: Marina Diamandis, Lily Allen, the late Amy Winehouse, the list goes on…
I know there have always been influential women in music. So many of them: Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Madonna, Courtney Love, Annie Lennox, to name just a few. Maybe it’s my hindsight though, but they have seemed to be sparsely distributed amongst the men. Now, there are so many women. All producing quality music. And all commercially successful, people are hearing them, being influenced by them and so are having to up their game.
It’s interesting that male solo artists do not seem to have the same power. Sure, there’s the (in my ears) overrated Ed Sheeran. Who else? Newton Faulkner? Isn’t he just Ed Sheeran with dreads? There isn’t the same variety and interest amongst male solo artists. What the boys excel at is forming gangs; playing with the band. Do men have more of a gang mentality than women? Why aren’t there more mainstream all-female bands? But maybe that’s another article for another time…
So, pop is better than it has been for some time. We’ve moved on from the barrage of manufactured bands and have quality artists producing art. Listen to Florence’s words, see Gaga’s videos, hear Adele’s voice. These women care about what they are doing, they are creating music with integrity and intent. It’s not all about making money and launching their own branded perfume. The content of their songs goes beyond the average chart-lite range of “go out, get smashed, have casual sex, next Friday night do it all again”.
Things are changing. Pop can be art. And it’s all for the best.