I’m Not Even Going to Mention Fireworkon May 3, 2011 at 2:55 am
So, today, I have decided to rant about something on which I am completely unqualified to speak – pop music.
I know nothing about music. I couldn’t tell you a thing about rhythm or vocal cadence. I couldn’t tell you if a singer is original or if they had good range or whom their influences might be. All in all, I am completely out of my depth when it comes to this world.
However, I do know story. So I can at least analyze lyrics for narrative talent or thematic meaning. I also know the Internet – at least marginally. I may not be the most savvy user, but I know my way around, and I usually hear about the latest digital sensation – whether it is a prairie dog with a dramatic stare or Rebecca Black’s Friday – I’m sorry I can’t bring myself to link to this one, so you’ll just have to google it if you need to see it.
That being said, maybe, in point of fact, I don’t know about the latest trends, but these were still sensations at one time or another and I eventually heard of them, and saw them, whether I wanted to or not.
When I first saw Friday, I was mortified. Sure there was the abuse of autotune (is that what it’s called?), and perhaps of music in general, but I was hit more by the abuse of the English language – “We So Excited?” Really? I remember these things called verbs from when I was in school. Then again, maybe they get in the way of good music – who am I to say? Still, I want my proper sentence structure.
Yet more than the bad grammar, I was hurt by the storytelling. Your dilemma is whether to sit in the front seat or the back seat? That is what qualifies as dramatic conflict these days?
Well, before I go much further with this, because there is so much more pain in this song, I have to stop and reflect for a moment. Shortly after this video went viral, there was a backlash, probably hitting on many of the factors I’m bringing up or would bring up. There is no need for me to rehash the many complaints that have already been voiced. But then shortly after that backlash, there came the counter argument– the accusation that these criticisms equated to nothing more than cyber-bullying.
I must refute that claim. Cyber-bullying is vicious, cruel and should not be tolerated. Yet neither should criticism be mistaken for cyber-bullying. Once you release a creative product to the world, once you let it go for all to see, if you want to be taken seriously, you have to be open for criticism. Every artist has faced their fair share of it, and honestly it is for the best. Without criticism there is no impetus to improve, and no inclination to reexamine your works for possible flaws. Without it, art grows stagnant, and bad artists continue making bad product completely clueless to their own ineptitude. Criticize me, please, and let me know I’m making an ass of myself before I do it on a global stage. I appreciate the forewarning.
Rebecca Black opened herself up to criticism with the release of her video on YouTube. Now, unfortunately, she has to bear those consequences. That being said, she is only 13, so I have to wonder why she was allowed to reach this viral “popularity.” Sure, creatively she is now stuck with the consequences, but as a minor someone had to allow this to happen. A guiding figure, a parent or guardian, should have been there to prevent this and therefore protect their daughter from criticism for which she may not be ready. Yes, I blame her parents for this monstrosity of a song, at least for allowing it to go viral, or for helping their daughter reach for stardom and all the pains that it may entail. However, there is more blame to go around.
Recently I’ve been swamped with graphic projects at work. In order to help me focus I’ve been listening to a safe for work alternative rock station off iTunes. It has been years since I regularly listened to any sort of radio outside of news radio, so this has made for an interesting few weeks. I essentially hear the same songs over and over and over again, with very few actually standing out for anything resembling quality – with the exception of perhaps Pink, who I am unashamed to say, has been the one standout for me. Yes the songs might be poppy and catchy, but there seems to be real emotion there, and dare I say it, even something inspired to her songs. What’s more, I could see myself owning the album, and not regretting it in the slightest.
That one exception aside, I have come to realize that despite the vast Internet consensus, Rebecca Black is not (and perhaps her parents are not) entirely responsible for releasing the monstrosity Friday upon us. She is not responsible for the creation of perhaps the worst song ever. No, she is just a product of the culture at large. Lyrics of “Fun, fun, fun” and dramatic conflicts raised as high as seat choices and weekend parties are actually not all that uncommon. Such riveting songs have been around since long before Black took center stage. In fact, she has probably grown up surrounded and influenced by such music, and thus how is she to know any better?
Before you accuse me of being a grumpy curmudgeon (which on some level I am), perhaps re-examine what counts for popular music right now. Rebecca Black may want to have her fun and enjoy a weekend party, but apparently so does Ke$sha. She wants to party til the cops shut her down, which admittedly might have some higher stakes than a bunch of high school students enjoying the weekend, but the parallels are there. She even begins her song “Tick Tock” with her morning routine, waking up, putting on her glasses, heading out the door to “hit this city” and then brushes her “teeth with a bottle of Jack.” Is this not just not an older and slightly less healthy version of Rebecca Black’s “7 am, waking up in the morning / gotta be fresh, gotta go downstairs/ gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal?” Hell, they are both just heading out for a party.
Now sure, Black’s party is a little less risqué and therefore perhaps a little less entertaining, but she is thirteen. What do you want her to sing about? Don’t answer that question.
Even if her parents, let her perform and post this song, which I’m convinced is very reminiscent to a watered down version of the party songs already out there, they at least had the common sense to keep the lyrics at an appropriate rating.
But I digress. There are further parallels to draw, as the model to which I’m referring (“Tick Tock”) continues on with its own riveting dramatic conflicts, from “pedicures on our toes, toes / trying on all our clothes, clothes” to “boys blowing up our phones, phones” and a lot of getting tipsy and drunk.
What I’m trying to say is this: there is plenty of criticism out there about Rebecca Black, but is there not already precedent for music of similar narrative failings (or style if perhaps you like this music)?
Need further examples? What about Bruno Mars? All you want is for her to give you all her love? That seems like a large request. What’s more, you’d “catch a grenade for ya…/ Take a bullet straight through my brain… ?” Really? And you’re mad because she won’t do the same for you? I’m thinking his expectations may be a little high. And has he even put his resolve to the test? The fact that he’s singing this song tells me he likely hasn’t caught a grenade for anyone. The lyrics reek of a melodramatic definition of love. Yet this is popular music. I can only guess that a nice beat or rhythm somehow outweighs the necessity of lyrics with any substance.
Yes, sadly, I have come to one simple and inevitable conclusion. I owe Rebecca Black an apology. Rebecca Black, I’m sorry. Friday does come after Thursday, then Saturday, and Sunday comes afterward. She is telling us the truth, and based on what I’m hearing on the radio, her song’s lack of dramatic arc is, well, derivative of much of what is already out there. So why not let her go out and have some fun, fun, fun?
Me, I’m going to go say hello to my wife, and, although she won’t be asking me to jump on any grenades for her, I may just get her a beer from the fridge. That says love to me a lot more than overblown platitudes. Maybe I’m just simple.
Go enjoy the week everyone! Thanks for reading!