The State of Pop in 2009


The Observer Music Monthly, that barometer of all things almost-mainstream, last week charted the emergence of the New Girl Order (or whatever genre name gains currency for the wave of one-woman-bands carving up 2009’s press like a map in Risk). Peter Robinson quite rightly blames the new trend that allows Lady GaGa to go to number one and have alternative press rejoice on the recent ‘landfill indie’ phenomenon, a thought on which I’d mused for a while. The Guardian, and several other middlebrow press outlets have praised this new trend as a rejection of the former oversaturated one is always praised. When nu-metal graced the NME’s front covers week-in, week-out the Strokes emergence was welcomed like Jesus in Gethsemane, when garage rock became ubiquitous the post-punk revival plugged out its distorted amplifiers. Each new fashion is replacing the former more rapidly each time, as a result of the continual ballooning of file-sharing and hype-spreading- Don’t be surprised if the New Girl Order backlash rings its funeral bells by June and ushers in the next and the second Florence and the Machine album receives the same muffled reception Limp Bizkit, The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand (and inevitable Klaxons upon their return) sophomore efforts were treated- These are bands that headline festivals on the grounds of nostalgia. That the bands that provided my gateway to what was once safe to call indie music are already in the same canon of dated ‘legends’ as, say, the Cure makes me feel 39 rather than 19. Just yesterday I discovered the Russian Constructivist cover of the Franz Ferdinand debut album, the first album I truly fell in love with, down the back of my bed and felt a chasm of Grand Canyon proportions between when I first slid that CD case on to a Tesco conveyor belt and when I slid it out from that dusty gap behind my mattress.

But I’m too young to complain about the rapid passage of time with any real conviction. What is a greater concern to me, and the reason I began typing this tract when I have a ream of less tiring things I’m supposed to be writing about, is why this New Girl Order is being championed in the same way New Pop was back when Frankie Goes To Hollywood bukkaked the singles charts. While I’m partial to the songs of some of its earlier models- Lily Allen, Ladyhawke and the Ting Tings are surely precipitators of the movement, and Crystal Castles Alice shooting to number one on the NME Cool List seems a more astute choice in the light of the current climate- I can’t say the same for Lady GaGa, Florence and the Machine, or La Roux. The latter, La Roux, is possibly the most baffling recipient of hyperbole. Where it a year ago she’d surely languish on the B-Side of a Kitsuné release (and this only if she received the remix treatment from one of the label’s more painfully hip proponents), and her i-D-friendly image is all too vacuous even for the post-MGMT landscape, surely? Florence, admittedly has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 6 months, a testament to steering a steady course when the waves of hype are lapping at your prow. The positivity of Dog Days is infectious, and hit the Obama optimism current at just the right moment. I fear though, it’s leaning a little too closely to that 1980’s cheesy-smiley mood that propelled most synth-pop bands to the upper reaches of the charts with, of course, a late-noughties aesthetic applied (the reverbed vocals, piano and handclappable percussion can be found from Animal Collective to Kate Nash, as synth waves could be found from Pere Ubu to Heaven 17).

If Florence offers some hope though, Lady GaGa is in the most worrying position as first lady of this movement, having reaped the most rewards from it already. Again, the Guardian is my source, with Laura Barton’s interview this week putting one foot in GaGa’s disturbingly shallow waters. She’s of that Madonna school of “Shock! A girl flaunting her sex drive” pop. The music prides itself on its similarity to acts like Britney, the videos offering either eye candy or a diluted sexual provocation (she’s wearing PVC- risqué). The shameful result of her posturing, however, is praise at how “brave” she is for “subverting” the world of alternative pop by assimilating herself with mainstream touchstones- This, like the post-punk revival, is a petty regurgitation of the past, and deserves as much praise as a Darkness reunion tour.

Once again alternative pop has come up short in looking for a way to rebel against its mainstream counterpart, while still gatecrashing the charts. Rebellion is almost getting your tits out, rebellion is I Kissed A Girl And I Liked It (a song that, at least, pinpointed the vacuousness of lipstick lesbians whether it was its intent or not), rebellion is assimilation.

In the search for alternatives to this endless cycle to repetition I have been struck by the strangest of inspirations- The Priests. Now, we all know the major label padres made it to the apex of the Christmas charts by the money of grannies, grandads, and Pope Benedict’s private coffers, but are they not the polar opposite of all the attitudes that gain currency in mainstream pop? I believe the true alternative lies in the do-gooders. As with the Skins phenomenon, the shock factor of the apparent rebellion and hedonism, blinkered feminism and borderline nihilism is what gains the vast majority of edgy pop its, well, edge. But in truth, how many people’s attitudes are being truly reflected by it? Charlie Brooker (if I mention one more Guardian columnist you can call me Alan Rusbridger and post Daily Mail headlines in my comments box) ran a test on Screenwipe not so long ago where he sat a group of teens in front of an episode of Skins, and while some were entertained by it, none said it reflected their lives at all. Because, in reality, the majority of The Yoof Of Today don’t thrive on the hedonism of a night out- Not even New Rave could reinstate the level of drug culture of the early 90s. We live in a culture that is more and more concerned with its physical well-being, whether on the level of sexual diseases from promiscuity, the negative connotations of being a smoker, healthy-eating and the hip factor tied in with it. We know some girls go to nightclubs and act like strippers, we know some boys will stick their dick in anything with an appropriately sized hole but the majority of their peers do not see it as positive behaviour.

And so I suggest the next alternative pop trend, if you’re reading NME, if you’re reading Guardian, if you’re reading hype-bloggers, should be a semi-revival of straight-edge. Probably the most positive of morally-minded movements were C86 and Twee Pop, but their sickening sweetness and removal from reality combined them to the scrapheap of alternative culture. In fact, let’s push reality even further into the distance with a lengthy pole and a pair of rubber gloves. If we want pure provaction in our pop music we need the Anti-Frankie. We need a band that, instead of decrying the wonders of golden showers will forward the cause of pre-marital chastity. Instead of PVC-clad GaGas we’ll have ankle-length dressed ladies and gentlemen in tailcoats. Where ‘indie’ nights are now an open market for free handjobs we’ll have ballrooms and courtship.

Perhaps after the overexposure of Anti-Frankie we can then move towards a mainstream more reflective of the youth it markets itself to.

Or perhaps I really am a bitter 39 year old and need to stop listening to Just Dance.

Minor Threat- Straight Edge


8 Responses to “The State of Pop in 2009”

  1. 1 Karl January 23, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Excellent post. The Guardian/Observer focus on the whole electro/indie/being a woman nexus was something I always thought was artificial, in the same way that the NME leapt on The Horrors but higher brow. Like, they jumped on these artists and it only became a thing or a movement afterwards. But maybe not. Either way I’m ignoring it for now.

    Second Arctic Monkeys album was no worse than the first.

    If Straight Edge comes back, things will no doubt be a lot easier for you in the indie pubs and clubs of Dublin.

  2. 2 niamh January 24, 2009 at 6:32 am

    I agree with you. More importantly I agree with you as a tireless and slightly paranoid post-feminist.

    Female-driven anything in the mainstream media is usually a conflicted and problematic celebration of ‘female sexuality’, which is apparently as uncomplex as wearing very little and talking about what you want. Sorry everyone, but it’s not an earth-shattering concept that women like to have sex. The mainstream media acknowledgement of this is only a very small part of what female liberation actually is.

    Tori Amos speaks very eloqently about it here:

  3. 3 adam January 28, 2009 at 11:36 am

    What about straight-edge girl groups dressed sluttily?
    That would mean a revival of Ian Mackaye’s ethos for the young ‘uns of 2009 and scantily clad girls faffing about with guitars. Ticks all my boxes, I tells you. Maybe i just miss Bikini Kill alot though…(sigh)

  4. 4 undergroundwires January 29, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    I think you’ve hit on the solution there, Adam. Here’s what needs to happen- On the next series of Pussycat Dolls Present: Search For The Next Doll we persuade Kathleen Hanna to enter (shouldn’t be too difficult, who’d actually want to follow up the last Le Tigre album?), vote for her/rig the contest all the way so that she ends up on stage with Nicole Scherzinger asking us to loosen up her buttons, babe.

    Anyone got her phone number?

  5. 5 Karl January 30, 2009 at 3:58 am

    I would pay the single dollar and 5 Czech koruny I have in my pocket right now to see Kathleen Hanna and Nicole Scherzinger at the same dinner party.

    I got a Bikini Kill album out of Blanchardstown library once. Makes you wonder…

  6. 6 adam January 30, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Let’s do it. It serves all purposes, musical and carnal.
    Blanch library had a BK album? Mad fucking buzz.
    We have 3 onboard for this, let’s put it to the global cognoscenti with a Sean Penn-esque full page ad in the SF Chronicle.
    The band could be Pussycat Kill, which gives a doff of the cap to the cinematically inclined AND is a cool fucking name.
    Unbutton those buttons, riot grrrls.

  7. 7 niamh January 31, 2009 at 2:19 am

    I have to confess, I fuckin LOVE that ‘Whatever You Like’ single Scherzinger did with T.I. It’s just brilliant. No irony whatsoever.

  8. 8 An t-Ecuadór a trí May 5, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    I’ve bought both Lady Ga-Ga and The Priests and I know which one made me feel more like a rebel when I marched up the the record shop counter.

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