Why I dislike pop music

While I’m not a hipster (unless they’re also scruffy, and wear pajamas most of the time), I definitely listen to hipster music, aka “Pitchfork mandates”.

2 years ago I was a normal middle-aged geek, listening mostly to pop (e.g. Rihanna), and adult alternative rock (e.g. The Killers). Amidst the copyright wars I decided to search online for legal free indie music, in addition to my iTunes purchases. What I found instead was a whole new world of sound. A different way of thinking and appreciating music. I resisted at first, discarding such music as unmelodious and not fun, but I came around, and “got it.”

Then, I started to think about what it is that makes pop hits feel so cheesy, old style, and kits. Formulaic, easily anticipated music constructs was one point, but there was something else too that I couldn’t pinpoint at first. A few days ago I finally realized what was it: it’s the forceful nature of pop singing.

Take any country or pop song (Katy Perry’s crap is a great example), and notice how the singer’s voice is the main attraction of the piece. The music is often just a background accompaniment, often poorly composed, or too formulaic. But the voice is mixed so high, and its melody feels a lot like someone is shouting at you, that makes the whole experience essentially feel militaristic. Feels like the singer is trying to impose something!

Watch Katy Perry shouting at us some bullshit out of her lungs (breasts?)

Basically, pop is like Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly: they tell you (shout at you?) their side of their story, and that’s how it’s going to be, you like it or not. It’s one man’s or woman’s opinion/story. A very self-centric, enroaching, one-way approach to audibility, that leaves nothing to imagination. Everything is laid out clearly on the audience to digest easily, but what they’re digesting is read-only entertainment.

On the indie side of the “new” music I’m listening lately, the voice often blends with the music. It becomes another instrument that adds to the melody. The melodies themselves are often non-anticipatory, while still melodic, and this leaves something for the imagination to try to guess what’s next. Some of the songs I listen to these days don’t have the usual “Intro Verse 1 Pre-chorus Chorus Verse 2 Pre-chorus Chorus Bridge Chorus Outro” construction either. They’re often turned around, or are blended all together. Sometimes you have to work harder to find the actual melody, but usually it’s there, and it’s very rewarding when you do find it. This kind of music is all about discovery, it’s about the music itself, and where that’s transporting you. It’s not about some dumbass wannabe singer overpowering the arrangement by belching out high notes to impose on us his view.

Blended voice, music and singing is in harmony, taking you away

And even for indie songs where the voice still stands out clearly, the tone of the voice and the singing does not dominate, but rather is neutral. Even in some indie punk-rock, the tone remains smooth and respecting in the chorus. This is the difference between having a friend bitching at you all day about how all men suck and won’t let you take a turn to speak, compared to a friend who just discusses her boyfriend problems with you and seeks advice. This is exactly how the difference feels.

Another blended voice-music example

The artwork and videos of that music is also indicative of what to expect. On pop albums, you get close up shots of the face of the singer. Take Rihanna’s or Ke$ha’s or Gaga’s or Perry’s albums for example: all show the singer’s face, a crystal clear indication as to who’s going to be on top. With “new” indie albums you generally get artistic artwork and videos, images that leave everything to your imagination, trying to make and shape the art to fit your world view. The artist is giving you an impression, and you act on it. It’s read-write entertainment.

Non-blended voice singing, but without becoming assertive

I wish people who listen to pop would open their horizons more. They listen to pop because pop and country describes how they live — and it’s not a pretty picture. One should always try to be more open minded about new things and ideas, not just music. When education comes into play, and hopefully more progressive views are acquired, music tastes just change. So it’s not a matter of forcing radio stations to play hipster music, but rather change the way people think. Cheap pop music just mirrors the majority of the society, so it will never go away as long as society remains closed minded about various social and political views, or when education is lacking. Change the people, and pop music will change as of magic.

Of course, there is also the case of educated progressive people who just don’t have the time to discover “new” music. They just listen to whatever is on the radio and TV, because that’s information easy to acquire. I don’t think bad of these people, because it’s indeed a major pain trying to discover new stuff. A daily round on 4-5 music blogs and a taste of their free daily mp3s can take up to 2 hours a day! Working people just don’t have this kind of time on their hands just for music!

A great balance of music and vocals without one overpowering the other


Brent wrote on November 17th, 2010 at 10:09 PM PST:

Your tastes have grown quite a bit in the last few years. It’s good to follow. Another way I see for the same phenomenon you are writing about is that “popular” music tends to be catchy immediately on the first listen. Richer music offers more to discover with repeated listening.

Von Riesling wrote on November 18th, 2010 at 11:36 AM PST:

Sparks fly out of her breasty things! How can indie music compete against that kind of tour de special efx? Lyrically her tune seems to be aimed at teen sensibilities. Maybe that’s the popular music emotional resonate frequency.

Glenn wrote on November 19th, 2010 at 7:06 AM PST:

Ouch, that Katy Perry girl (never heard of her before) is definitely difficult to listen to! I think it’s the chords and chord changes they use a lot of pop music that make it suck also.

Phil wrote on November 22nd, 2010 at 3:11 PM PST:

I’m going to say something you’ll probably find sacrilegious. If I never heard another pop/indie/etc band in my life I wouldn’t care at all. I’m sick of drums/electric guitars/synths, it’s all been done before.

Listen to John Cage’s 4’33”, now that’s what I call music. 😉

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