The early rounds of American Idol feature inappropriate contestants with little or no talent who are intentionally let through the cattle call weeding process. This represents an ugly and compelling entertainment spectacle that allows viewers to enjoy the drama of a few elite upper class celebrities verbally torturing some unfortunate neurotic caught in their web. These early scenes are job interviews designed to go horribly wrong. The hopeless contestants seem to deserve this fate because their grotesquely delusional overestimation of their talents and complete lack of understanding of what is expected of them by their prospective employers violates some primal sentiment of self-preservation in us. What they are really being punished for is not a lack of talent. They are being punished for being socially maladapted. Sadistic spectators at a ritual enforcement of conformity, we enjoy watching these sickly deer being culled from the herd. In the later rounds, when we root for the talented underdogs who have made it through the culling process, our sentiment shifts: now we’re thrilled at someone else’s success. But we’re also connecting with our own desire to sell out. Can this person hold on to a vestige of their humanity and individuality while achieving the extreme-sports version of selling out? American Idol openly and engagingly celebrates the triumph of commercialism over art. As viewers, we are rooting for the corporate machine that manufactures these celebrities as much as for the contestants themselves.
Impeccably tasteful, impeccably bored, impeccably attired, [The Strokes’] Is This It shirks meaning and responsibility (“Oh dear can’t you see? It’s them it’s not me”), wants nothing more than to get into your apartment and drink your booze and take off your clothes and fuck you, half-heartedly, and leave before morning. It’s the moment when I started to feel old, started to feel that the generation coming up weren’t going to take advantage of what had gone before and use it as a springboard to achieve greater things, but were just going to repeat the easiest, most shot-term, short-sighted bits of instant gratification that everyone else had been guilty of. … Sometimes I listen to this record and I enjoy the fact that it’s just 11 great scuzzy pop songs. And sometimes I listen to this record and think it’s an ideological black hole, a vacuum, a vortex, an evil, dark, empty, hollow, selfish, greedy, solipsistic thing, the death of culture, and that it shouldn’t be allowed.
The Strokes – Is This It (2001) | Sick Mouthy
Nick Southall has some really interesting things to say about The Strokes. I don’t 100% share this point of view on this band in particular, but….I see some of this in other things I observe in culture now, particularly this bit: “repeat the easiest, most shot-term, short-sighted bits of instant gratification.”
[Midnite Vultures is] an album about sex — sex in the kitchen, sex in the champagne room, sex like the sex in that Mark Leyner novel where the protagonist huffs from a vial of Abe Lincoln’s morning breath and ejaculates apricot gel. But it’s also about passion, and how our experience of pleasure and desire is inevitably bigger and stranger than the language we have to describe it with, most of which is clinical or childish or silly, and about slow jams and lube-dribble synthesizers and songs about money written for cars that go boom. Mixing business with leather, cold lamping with Man-Thing, and turning “Do you wanna ride on the Baltic Sea?” (on the “Good Ship Ménage-à-Trois,” probably) into a pickup line, Beck manages to celebrate funk and R&B as founts of authentic idiosyncrasy, satirizing their excesses while coveting their capacity for carnal expression. Beck squealing “You look good in that sweater / And that aluminum crutch” in a surprisingly supple falsetto felt revolutionary in 1999, when most white rock singers who bothered to address sexuality at all tended to work within parameters laid down by “Closer” and “Nookie”; today it sounds prophetic, anticipating not just the Lonely Island’s R&B parodies but Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, too.
The 20th Anniversary of Beck’s “Loser” - Grantland
I’ve been meaning to share this amazing article by Alex Pappademas about Beck’s career to date, in which he writes very accurately about his masterpiece, Midnite Vultures, and addresses his most overrated work, Sea Change, with an appropriate level of skepticism. “Overwhelmingly, [Sea Change is] the favorite Beck record of people who distrust sampling, jokes, disruptive bursts of noise, the postmodern impulse, etc.; I distrust these people.”
The great temptation, the fatal temptation, of adult fans of fantastic fiction is the temptation of Law. We want the contents of our imagination taxonomied and classified, ordered and indexed, subject to rules and regulations. Gaps exist to be filled. Mysteries exist to be solved. Legends are just timelines that haven’t been formalized yet. Fantastic fiction becomes a code to crack. … A rigorous and road-tested encyclopedia-salesman approach to creating new worlds and new images to fill them is viewed as inherently superior to one in which the power of images and ideas comes first. It’s like people really want to write a wiki, and have to come up with the pesky “moving, powerful, imaginative literature” stuff out of obligation.
rawcuriosity asked: Do you really think the pop landscape is really all that different than when JT released his last LP? Sure, as you say in the piece, almost "every big name on the charts today wasn't around back then," but what's the difference in the landscape other than the names of the popstars? Top 40 radio is generally just as vapid and teen-geared as it was in 2006.
The key differences are that folkish/indiesh rock, quasi-showtune pop, and dance/EDM has been far more dominant in pop music in the past few years, whereas rap and R&B was far more central to pop in the late 90s on through the mid-00s, but has been slowly losing traction on the charts. Emo and neo-grunge has all but disappeared from mainstream pop, and there are now a lot of left-field hits that get pushed into radio et al because they got hot on the internet. But the turnover in stars is a big deal, and it’s part of how pop works - it favors the tastes of whoever is a teen/early twentysomething at the time, and this is not a bad thing. It’s always been this way, it sometimes seems to be otherwise because we age out of the target demographic of pop culture and begin to resent that the world isn’t bending over backwards to appeal to our interests anymore.