September 5th, 2002

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02:33 am - In defense of bubblegum pop music...
So I was watching Conan tonight with beststephi and  Janeane Garofalo was a guest. She spent her entire segment complaining about the MTV VMAs from the other day. Now a lot of what she said I agreed with, but there was one thing that she said that bothered me a lot. She complained about MTV breeding mediocrity by featuring singers as opposed to singer/songwriters. For her personal whipping boy, she picked Justin Timberlake. Now I'm not exactly a Justin or NSYNC fan, but I happen to know that he actually does have writing credits on a lot of NSYNCs stuff. Now if you want to hate him because he sucks, that's another matter altogether... but hating him because he doesn't write is wrong. So she was incorrect to state that in the first place, but that doesn't even matter. What bothered me was the complaint in the first place.

Now, beststephi and I have actually had this argument about a zillion times, but it bothers me even more when Garofalo says it. Why? Because I think it's absolutely and incredibly pretentious for an actor to make that statement. Now I always thought she was an OK comic, and I actually think she's a much better actress, but she doesn't write her own stuff when she acts. She's basically famous for saying stuff that Ben Stiller wrote. That's what she does for a living. She stands around and reads Ben Stiller material. Ok, that's not all she does. She's also been pretty successful at reading Gary Shandling material, and on occasion, reading Jerry Seinfeld material. But she doesn't write any of it. Is acting without being a screenwriter somehow more valid an artform than singing without being a songwriter? I don't think so.

Let's think about this. If singing without songwriting is mediocre (her words, not mine) then, logically acting without screenwriting is mediocre too. Ben Stiller, Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Damon and Affleck. Now those guys are artist. They wrote movies and starred in them. On the other hand, Sir Lawrence Olivier is listed in the IMDB as having 106 acting credits (actually, 10 of them are archive footage... so lets call it 96). And he's listed as having 3 writing credits. You know what they are? Henry V, Hamlet and Richard III. Now, I didn't go so far as to do any real research here, but I'm pretty sure that all three of those scripts were actually written by Francis Bacon or something (if you don't get this joke, never mind). Best case scenario, Olivier tweaked what was already there. Singers tweak what their writers write all the time. This means he had 96 roles and didn't write a single one. What a fucking hack!

You know who else sucks? The New York Philharmonic. The whole damn band never does anything new. They never break any new ground. All they do are covers. And they don't even do anything current. They're doing covers of hits from 200 years ago. How lame.

My point is: Singing is a cool talent. Acting is a cool talent. Writing is a cool talent. Every once in a while you come across a J-Lo, or a Ben Stiller, or a Tori Amos who has two of the talents. Every once in a great while, you run into a Janet Jackson who can do all three. But that doesn't mean that Britney Spears, Eric Roberts or David DeCoteau are lesser artists because they only work in one of those medias. Now you might say that all of those people suck. actually, you'd mostly only say that Spears and Roberts suck, because most of you reading this probably have no idea who DeCoteau is, but you get the point. You'd think those people suck, because they are bad. Not because they have an invalid talent, but because they lack talent at all. But that's up to the audience. Its subjective. To claim someone objectively sucks because they can't do two completely unrealted things is ludicrous.

All football players who aren't Deion Sanders or Bo Jackson suck too... Oh wait... R.J. Bowers is ok as well...

I finally figured out, while talking to brotherless_one tonight, why that argument has always been such a big pet peeve of mine. Because its the inker/tracer argument. Sure the details are changed but at its core its the same. Singing must be like tracing, exactly duplicating what someone else wrote. Except, its not... its like inking. the inker adds tone and depth and only then does the drawing actually take place (thankyou, Banky). If the singer didn't matter then musical purists would have no argument when they claim that Britney butchered the Stones' Satisfaction. If the singer didn't matter then there'd be no reason to prefer one over the other. But it does matter. That's why the two versions are so different. Just like the differences between Gloria Gaynor and Cake or between Prince and Tom Jones. Inking is an art, that's why you have people in this world like Terry Austin and Brian Bolland. Otherwise every comic in the world would be sketched out in pencil by some maniac who would later just darken it up with a Sharpie. Singing is the same way. Or is Charlotte Church untalented because all she does is rip off Mozart?

So like I said.... its not fair to hate the bubblegum pop generation for not writing their own music. I mean Elvis didn't even write his own stuff (at least not the hits). If you're gonna hate them, hate them because you think they suck. And then maybe I will write a long essay about how they don't suck... but that's subjective, and probably a little harder,

OK... I think I'm done now. Join me next time when I explain why Playboy is helpful to women's self esteem by making an analogy to pro-wrestling... Or maybe I will talk about how Free Agency ruined the goddamned game (all of them) by talking about pinball.

(20 comments | Leave a comment)

In defense of bubblegum pop music... - graffiti.maverick

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[User Picture]From: wooble Date: September 5th, 2002 - 05:22 am (Link)
The problem is that just singing requires a certain minimal amount of talent (and this applies to acting too, your analogy is a bad one because exactly the same thing is wrong with the admiration of actors as is wrong with the admiration of singers), but there's no creativity involved. And the level of talent has very little to do with success; it's the physically attractive mediocre singers who get promoted, and who are therefore successful in our society, where the majority of people will just listen to MTV when they're told who to like. The same thing goes for actors.

The problem, as I see it, isn't that people like the singers and actors, it's that the people with real expressive talent, say the songwriters and screenwriters, get pretty much no credit. And how many movie viewers do you think there are who could name ONE cinematographer? Modern popular forms of "art" no longer acknowledge the actual artists, preferring to replace them with a limited set of recognizable celebrities. Pop takes no risks, it's all about guaranteed profits.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: September 5th, 2002 - 10:05 am (Link)
and this applies to acting too, your analogy is a bad one because exactly the same thing is wrong with the admiration of actors as is wrong with the admiration of singers

See... that's why I think my analogy is good. I'm not making a value statement. I'm saying the same thing is wrong and right with the admiration of both. It bothered me a lot that Garofalo caimed that somehow not writing your own music made you uncool, when she's basically famous for not writing her own material as well.

That said, I think that there is a lot of expressiveness in both singing and in acting. Or at least there can be. I've seen maybe 6 different productions of Hamlet and each one is different, even though the script is the same each time. Some I liked, some I did not. I've heard maybe a billion different renditions of the Star Spangled Banner. Some of them good... some of them bad... but the words are identical. I agree that the songwriter and the screenwriter/playwriter should get more recognition than they do... Hell, I think the Best Boy Grip should get more recognition than he does... but I acknowledge that the performer makes a huge contribution to the piece as well.
[User Picture]From: thwomp Date: September 5th, 2002 - 05:45 am (Link)
You know who else sucks? The New York Philharmonic. The whole damn band never does anything new. They never break any new ground. All they do are covers. And they don't even do anything current. They're doing covers of hits from 200 years ago. How lame.

I don't really know if the NY Philharmonic really plays all music that's 200 years old. I had a professor who was really into modern classical and jazz and he used to bitch about radio stations in Pittsburgh (and probably in many other cities) only playing boring, old classical. Everybody wants to play beethoven and bach (OK, OK, nobody really wants to play bach) because they're easy and convenient and old people like them, but there's not alot of Bartok or whatever going around on the radio.

This is maybe related to Geoff's comment. It's fine that Pittsburgh classical radio wants to play easy standby music. It's fine that Brittny Spears gets to be on the radio. But for every created music artist like Brittny Spears, there are a dozen Beth Orton's who are fantastic artists and who will never get off of National Public Radio because they don't run around wearing feather boas and glittery eyeshadow.

Also, it's true that Elvis didn't write much of his own music. But Elvis broke some new ground all the same. He played 'black music' on television. A white guy playing black guy music! and moving his hips in a lewd and lascivious manner! That doesn't sound so exciting now, but it was a huge whopping deal in the fifties. Plus, Elvis was hotter than Justin Timberlake. What has Justin Timberlake done that's so new and exciting? I dont' really know. I dont' really know who Justin Timberlake is, but if he did something exciting, I'd probably have heard about it.
[User Picture]From: wooble Date: September 5th, 2002 - 07:34 am (Link)
90% of the time i turn on WQED radio (which, since I got an iPod and car adaptor, never happens anymore, but it did more often say a year ago), they're playing Bartok.

As for Elvis, I think the fact that he got popular playing music derived, on some level, from the blues, illustrates the point against pop music even more; the actual artistic force behind early rock came from musicians who were completely unknown in their own time. Sure the early blue artists are well known now, but most of them died poor because it isn't artistic talent that makes you famous and rich, it's a presentable image that the record companies will push on the moronic public.

As Andre Agassi said, "Image is everything." Then again, he has talent
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: September 5th, 2002 - 10:29 am (Link)
Yeah, now see that's more of a valid point. I have no argument against that, except to say that it doesn't bother me so much. I will say that being popular doesn't mean that you can't be creative. despite what I said about Elvis, I do think he had some creativity, just not as much as Jerry Lee... and neither could hold a candle to Little Richard. "I'm the King of Rock'n'Roll! And the Queen!"

In Reinventing Comics (see, full circle) Scott McCloud makes a point of saying first you learn a craft, then you hone it, then you come to a fork in the road, and you can either develop reknown for becoming a master of the existing form (elvis, britney) or you can develop reknown for blazing new ground(wolf, amos). Both are valid and both are important, but its rare that you run into say a Micahel Jackson who does both.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: September 5th, 2002 - 10:19 am (Link)
That's just the thing... Elvis didn't really DO anything. Col. Parker did. Elvis was bubblegum pop. He was exactly Britney Spears. He wasn't innovative in the slightest. He was the cute face and swiveling hips that realized the genius of Col. Parker. And Col. Parker's only genius was in marketing. He realized that "hey, that blue suede shoes thing, and that hound dog... that's some good music... let me find a dumb souther white boy that I can stick in front of millions of people and make some money." In fact, most of what Parker did was spin. Sullivan banning Elvis's hips just made him more popular, because Parker knew how to spin the controversy... the same way Snoop and Eminem spun they're arrests into record sales. Comparitively, Jerry Lee Lewis was much more of an "artist" than Elvis, and he was a lot purer to the "black music" just like the Stones were more pure than the Beatles. But like George says below, being too different and too innovative can actually be a pretty bad thing. Now, granted... the Stones and Lewis each did ok, just not as well as Elvis and the Beatles. Just like Tori doesn't do as well as Britney. But for every Mick Jagger and Tori Amos out there, there's a Howlin' Wolf and a Frog Pond who get no play whatsoever.

As for Timberlake, no... I don't think he's innovative. But I don't think he has to be. I also thought his performance sucked.... and like I said, I had no problem with her saying that. I had a problem with her rationale. For the record, I like Guns'n'Roses too... but their performace at the VMAs sucked even worse than Timberlakes did. Axl sounded horrible. Like he was sick or something.
[User Picture]From: wooble Date: September 5th, 2002 - 10:31 am (Link)
Uh, the Beatles wrote their own music, were consistently innovative, and influenced pretty much everything that came after them.

They were successful, but they didn't sell out. Selling out is recording the same crap over and over because you know people will buy it. If they had the artistic integrity of "artists" today, they'd have recorded stuff like "I wanna hold your hand" forever and never would've created Sgt. Peppers or the White Album.

Then again, if you think that comics and wrestling are good entertainment, I wouldn't expect any sort of intelligent thought from you
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: September 5th, 2002 - 10:55 am (Link)
I don't think selling out has anything to do with writing your own music. I did like the Beatles actually. And maybe I shouldn't have said they weren't innovative. I didn't mean that. What I meant is that on a personal level, I found the Stones more innovative. That's all subjective though. That's exactly why I tried to leave value judgements out of my original post. Selling out, is doing something because you know the public will buy it. I wouldn't actually say the Beatles did that. I would say Elvis did. I wouldn't say Tori does it now, and I would say that NSYNC does. Only, I'm not any of those people, so I don't REALLY know what their motivations are. I can only guess.

That's the hard part of the whole sell-out argument, just like its the hard part of the whole who's better than who argument. Who you like is who you like... my entire point, as it was originallly, is that there is no validity to pointing to one artform as innately artistic than another. Perhaps easier to understand. Perhaps more accessible. Its easier for some people to appreciate the differences between different singers and some to appreciate the differences between different songwriters. But they are both an expressive artform. You bring up comics and wrestling and say how can they be entertaining? Well... the same way that sculpture and performance art can be as entertaining as painting and theater. Its all about being able to relate to the form. I can say that I liked the Watchmen, or I can say that I like Terry Funk. And I can say that I don't get Jackson Pollack or le Miserable, but that doesn't mean that any of them are less of an artform than any other.
[User Picture]From: max1975 Date: September 5th, 2002 - 11:32 am (Link)

axl was sick...laryngitis
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: September 5th, 2002 - 11:39 am (Link)
ah... that explains it.
[User Picture]From: brotherless_one Date: September 5th, 2002 - 09:12 am (Link)
Ofcourse pop music is often looked down upon without any consideration whatsoever to its artistic value simply because it is pop. Just as singer/songwriters often recieve limited airplay because their work is too artistic. In both instances, its a question of taste among the target audience and timing among the artist. Not everyone likes things that are fact, NO ONE likes anything that's different.
The best one could hope for, as an artist and/or entertainer, is that their work reminds their audience of something without being obviously derivative. And heaven forbid you actually do something that EVERYONE likes, because all fans are fickle and want to believe you made the music just for them and people like them. If everyone likes it then they could just as well be any schlub off the street. The artist inevitably denies herself success for the sake of artistic integrity and ensures that she will die marginally known --if that-- so that she may live on listed as an influence to someone else's 15 minutes.
There's nothing wrong with selling out. Men and women have been whoring themselves out for wealth, power and luxury since Ug learned to make the light that burns in his cave and decided not to share without offerings of meats, skins, and berries. In fact, the whoring of one's self -- if done correctly -- is an art form in and of itself. Pop culture is society's Scarlet Woman.
...I went off on a tangent a while ago and still haven't remembered what the original idea was, so I'm pretty much done now.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: September 5th, 2002 - 10:42 am (Link)
Agreed... its cool to hate pop music. But I don't think its fair to say that it requires no talent. Pop muisc gets that way for a reason, and it ain't just tight pants, cut-off shirts and big tits. For every Britney Spears in the world, there are a million Billie Pipers who's name I mention and everyone reading this says "who the hell is Billie Piper?" The media is a strong force. But it isn't the only force. Can you sale an image? Yes. But images tend to burn out pretty fast without talent of some kind to back them up. That's where the one-hit wonders come from.

People like to say that music is cookie cutter today, and point to the beatles and the elvises of the world sa proof that it was better in the old days. But it wasn't. Elvis and the Beatles were bubblegum pop. Ed Sullivan made a gazillion dollars by putting a different clone on stage every week for years. Its just that 50 years later, we only remember a couple of them. Just like 15 years later, we only remember the New Kids on the Block, and everyone is like "who was the Party?" In they year 2017. I'm gonna say "remember Britney Spears?" and people are either going to say "what do you mean remember, she's still recording" or they're going to say "oh yeah, I remember her." But then I'm gonna say "remember Jessica Simpson?" and people are going to say "who?"
[User Picture]From: sui66iy Date: September 5th, 2002 - 11:12 am (Link)

my theory of art

Okay, maybe I'll write a big long essay like chrismaverick's. I agree with him, but I don't think he takes the point far enough. Here's a skeleton.

Art is communication. Simplistically, you would therefore think there is a source (the artist) and a sink (the audience member). But, there's also an artifact that mediates between them (the painting, the sculpture, the performance). So what's the art? It's not the painting, or the book. It's the experience that occurs when a particular person understands a communication mediated through the book from another particular person. Therefore, when I look at the Mona Lisa while standing next to you looking at the Mona Lisa, two experiences of art occur, even though there is just one artwork and one artist. This is because I put work into understanding the art and so do you, and that work is part of the art.

So why is this relevant to Mav's essay? Because you can make the chain longer. Beethoven writes a symphony. Mariss Janson interprets the symphony, by way of the written artifact, and performs as a conductor (causing an art experience because he is acting as audience, but enabling another artistic experience because he is acting as artist). The PSO interprets Mariss's conducting, by way of his live performance, again acting as both an audience and an artist. And finally I act as an audience, by way of either a live performance or an artifact like a CD, making one more artistic experience. And everyone else in the audience also creates an artistic experience.

So yes, being "just a singer" is an artistic endeavor, and a strong one, since you are both audience (to the original song) and artist (creating your interpretation). Even a critic can serve in this sort of capacity, by creating a critical essay or review.

And of course there are better artists and worse artists, and maybe you can characterize that precisely and maybe you can't, but it has nothing to do with Mav's point, which is about the structure of art, not about its quality.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: September 5th, 2002 - 11:33 am (Link)

Re: my theory of art

And of course there are better artists and worse artists, and maybe you can characterize that precisely and maybe you can't, but it has nothing to do with Mav's point, which is about the structure of art, not about its quality.

Exactly... whether you like a piece or not is a much more subjective and nebulous thing. Anyway, that was just a short ranty kind of thing. If anyone cares to read my thoughts on what makes art good or not, or at least how I felt about that on March 10, 2001, and its probably still somewhat valid, I wrote about it here.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 5th, 2002 - 11:25 am (Link)

Excellent essay! I agree wholeheartedly. Let's face it, have you ever seen an interview of a songwriter that can't carry a tune? We NEED singers that don't necessarily write. Many songs would never have been hits had it been left up to the writer to perform them.
Oh and another thing...have you ever just sat and read some lyrics to hit songs? Sometimes read alone they are just crappy, don't make alot of sense. Definitely NOT poetry. But give them to a good singer coupled with a good arrangement. Hey don't forget that all lyrisists are not composers too.
Good point about her being an actor and not understanding. does that mean that Oscars & Emmys should only go to writers?
--- Mav's Mom
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: September 5th, 2002 - 11:43 am (Link)
does that mean that Oscars & Emmys should only go to writers?

Yes it does... where's mine?
[User Picture]From: sui66iy Date: September 5th, 2002 - 12:09 pm (Link)
An interesting relationship to look at is Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Baez had the voice, Dylan had the songs. Baez already had a following when Dylan was a nobody. She discovered his song-writing talent, and turned him into a star by singing his songs. Later on he got famous singing his own stuff, just as later on she started to write her own stuff. And you could argue that both of them should have stuck with what they were good at, but you know, Dylan's raspy voice and Baez's naive lyrics both have their charm.

Nothing is static.
[User Picture]From: thwomp Date: September 5th, 2002 - 11:42 am (Link)

Elvis Versus Brittny

I want to point out that I personally feel that Elvis Presley was a very good singer, as well as being a pretty face. Whereas, I personally feel that Brittny Spears is mostly just good highlights and outfits and I haven't found her vocal skills terribly compelling. Not that Elvis didn't have a good dye job and outfits, because he totally did. I mean, he was freakin' blond, ferchrissakes.

But stripping away talent because that's subjective, did Elvis have better management than Brittney because he had more interesting songs? Does having better management make you a better artist? Does having better song writers make you a better artist?

There's more, though. Being a singer can be largely about personality and presence. Elvis had it. Brittny really doesn't. Elvis had guns, people, and collected badges and flew to see the President on a whim. Brittny has cute tights and a choreographer and accidentally shits herself on stage for over exlaxing.

Josh brought up an interesting point on zephyr. Pavoratti may be a better singer than both of them, and I don't think he writes his own music. And you know what? I think Pavoratti is boring as shit. I agree with mav's basic point: it's too easy to hate singers for not writing their own music in a way that makes you hypocritical. But I disagree that bubblegum pop is good or worthy.

Also, so the Beatles, they sort of started out being chick music, but then they dropped a lot of acid and become ubercool. I think that the same thing happened with Elvis, only he was on prescription meds.

I'm not saying that bubblegum pop doesn't need to exist. Thirteen year old girls need to listen to something. And maybe five years from now, Justin Timberlake and Brittny Spears will have a lapse and comebake as the new Sonny and Cher. Or maybe NSync will break up and one of the members will go on to be a fantastic actor. Markie Mark happened. John Cusack happened. Artists, like all people, grow up and change.

But I still think they blow goats.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: September 5th, 2002 - 12:20 pm (Link)

Re: Elvis Versus Brittny

But stripping away talent because that's subjective, did Elvis have better management than Brittney because he had more interesting songs? Does having better management make you a better artist? Does having better song writers make you a better artist?

I think it has something to do with what Mike said. an artifact may very well be composed of the work of several individuals. You put Denzell Washington and Halle Berry (picked because they are the most recent Oscar winners for Best Actor/Actress) in a sucky late night cinemax film, and you're going to have a slightly better sucky late night cinemax film. What happens if you have Regina Russell and Bobby Johnston star in A Beautiful Mind?

I actually think that Brittney does have quite a good deal of stage pressence. But I think that's subjective too. Do think she's the worlds greatest singer? Nope. Hottest? Nope. Ser certainly doesn't have the best material in the world. But I have watched her concert on TV, and I thought she put on a hell of a show. A lot of attitude. Granted there are people I like even better. Meatloaf comes to mind as someone who I don't think is all that attractive, nor the best singer in the world, but that I think has a ton of persona on stage.

I probably shouldn't pick on Elvis as much as I do. He was cute, he did have a nice voice, and he did have an okay act, but I only thought it was okay. Never thought it was as good as Jerry Lee Lewis's. But I do acknowledge his contribution.

The Pavoratti comment is a good one, and I think that's where I was going.
[User Picture]From: anisodragnfly Date: September 6th, 2002 - 10:28 am (Link)
I'm not saying that bubblegum pop doesn't need to exist. Thirteen year old girls need to listen to something.

i listened to the Beatles when i was thirteen. ;-)

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