Like Girls Aloud with their appallingly self-conscious mainfesto, Annie strokes the egos of some nerds on the Internet by repeating their prejudices, instructing the object of this song that he needs to ditch the guitars and cop some sequencers and Giorgio Moroder sounds, as if a petulant renunciation of the common discourse on authenticity makes for music that is smart or interesting or even enjoyable. If the fella with the boring band follows Annie’s advice, by the sound of this, he’ll end up with a musical backdrop truly worthy of the “tinnitus-inducing” description Ed Okulicz gave to Britney Spears’s “3″, and a melody recycled from “Chewing Gum.” Annie thinks this song is chocolate, but oh no… 
Britney Spears and why it’s painful to be beautiful
But five-song lulls mean time for thinking, and I spent most of it thinking about just how much the success of Britney Spears - and even her mental health - is measured and predicated on the way she looks. As I’ve written before: Britney with fat on her body is read as ”off the rails”; skinny, toned Britney means “she’s baaaaack” - as much so as the quality of her albums or songs.
Could a non-lithe Britney have turned Blackout into a success, or would it now be one of the decade’s great underrated records. (Yeah, probably the latter.)
And that even if you naturally possess all the qualities that make a woman considered beautiful by the majority of people, it’s still something you can turn up and down, even on and off, at will - through clothing, hairstyle, make up, high heels, etc. So much of what we think of as beautiful is really about performing femininity, regardless of your body shape or bone structure.
a kinda decent list! GO MAXWELL and yay no black eyed peas
The answer to this is so mind-blowingly obvious that I dread when the Grammy will inevitably go to Beyoncé because then we won’t get Taylor Swift stunned that she won a Grammy and she never expected to even be nominated, and gosh-darn it she’s so cute.
Don’t worry Taylor, you’ll get your Grammy in six years time when you’ve released an album full of mature country pop you wrote yourself … made a song with John Mayer … recorded a boring folk album with Alison Krauss and Herbie Hancock.
I like Mike Barthel’s description of something “pandering to him badly” (Hi Zooey!), but, as good as it is, I just can’t agree with the fundamental premise of his Animal Collective post:
So, to apply this to the present case, Animal Collective is being presented (by who? ah, just in general) as an inventive and poppy indie band, and I like inventive and poppy indie bands. But they seem hippie and etc. to me, which conflicts with how I understand my taste in inventive and poppy indie bands to be, so I reject them.
Animal Collective is indie, sure, you can tell that by the subculture of people who listens to them and likes them and argues about them. But “poppy”? People do actually call Merriweather Post Pavillion a pop album, and though I’m not the type to police pop to the extent of insisting that anything that deviates from the Kelly Clarkson/Beyonce/Britney model isn’t pop, I can’t even slot Animal Collective into the indie pop realm of The Shins, of Big Star, or The Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man,” or whatever. Save for a handful of tracks with actual melody (“My Girls” — and its the thinnest of tunes, that one — “Grass,” “Who Could Win a Rabbit”), everything I’ve heard from that band has been long, droning, meandering and inchoate. Is “Peacebone” the song where they dribble noises for six minutes, before culminating with a dead-eyed cry of “bouncy!” that is probably actually “bonefish!”? I can understand people liking this for the texture, or the mood it builds (as I proposed here), but for the “pop”?
Music and American politics have become linked, with most of the genres in the “Hope and Change” category. During the 2008 presidential campaign, a country artist I am acquainted with talked about the stress of that election and how her vote was putting her at odds with her family, friends, fans, and industry (three guesses who she voted for). To change the very culture of that industry, you need to pave the way for the shrill Natalie Maines types with the seemingly harmless Miley types. Ms. Cyrus is presented to us a fully Disneyfied young lady with a Christian background and the values to boot. This is the sort of person that the Middle America country fans should love, right? As with many things in the entertainment world, her image is a well manufactured myth and the truth is that this young lady brings an entire suitcase of San Francisco values with her as baggage when she eventually breaks into the country music scene.
I have neither the time nor the inclination to debunk many of the basic errors in the post, and I don’t really care exactly what politics, if any, the girl behind Hannah Montana holds. Suffice to say that the only genuine evidence for Cherry’s argument is “Wake Up America,” a rather awful song from Cyrus’ patchy, occasionally marvellous, sophomore1 album, Breakout. “Everything I read is global warming, going green; I don’t know what all this means,” Cyrus sings. If she didn’t swear such allegiance to her Nashville roots in “Party in the USA” I might be tempted to believe Cherry’s charges of liberalism against her.
But more interesting than Miley Cyrus is the complicated relationship Country music has with American politics. In short, if Democrats are smart, they will be paying attention to the Grand Ole Opry.
Cherry’s post claims Country music as conservative without a second thought, and why wouldn’t he take his assertion for granted? For decades, conservatives and liberals have understood Country to be the domain of the right, and have been fairly happy with the arrangement. Liberals didn’t have to bother with the rubes, and conservatives had a sector of the troublingly left-wing entertainment industry to call their own. It was easy to point out Merle Haggard’s anti-drug, pro-draft Vietnam-era anthem “Okie From Muskogee,” or Toby Keith’s retributive, pro-ass-kicking anthem “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” as examples of ideological conformity, and even easier to ignore Willie Nelson decidedly liberal opinions on marijuana legalisation or the fact that Toby Keith calls himself a moderate Democrat.
To be sure, Country music is music made for the Red States, by the Red States, and both its themes and its performers are traditionalist and frequently conservative. When he proclaimed October 1990 to be Country Music Month, George H. W. Bush declared that the genre “springs from the heart of America and speaks eloquently of our history, our faith in God, our devotion to family, and our appreciation for the value of freedom and hard work.” George W. Bush used Brooks & Dunn’s “Only in America” in his 2004 campaign. And more recently, Miranda Lambert, who this weekend won the Country Music Awards’ Album of the Year prize, re-recorded an old Fred Eaglesmith song about getting a gun to keep away a government man. Topical, perhaps? Incidentally, Lambert’s parents are private investigators who investigated Bill Clinton on behalf of Paula Jones’ legal team.
But the Red States are more complex than either side will allow, and what Country music and the Republican party have most in common is a shared understanding of the salience of American identitypolitics. And though that means stars like Gretchen Wilson might have a bit in common with Sarah Palin, it doesn’t mean her audience will vote the same way. Both Democrats and Republicans can, and do, value faith, family, hard work, community, and generosity to strangers and the less fortunate. Both Democrats and Republicans, for that matter, have experience with drinking, partying, loving, losing, and cheating. As Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins sing, “everybody’s got a hillbilly bone down deep inside.”
And in the last year or two in particular, Country music has had its odd Democratic moments. Interestingly, one of the most prominent was a tune by John Rich released last year in the midst of the American recession, titled “Shutting Detroit Down.”
“Shutting Detroit Down” is a paean to a blue-state, blue-collar, union town, sung by John Rich2, the man who wrote John McCain’s 2008 campaign theme song “Raising McCain.” The words could be sung by a Democrat or a Republican: “I see all these whining big-shots on my evening news,” he sings. “About how they’re losing billions and it’s up to me and you/To come running to the rescue.” It’s the kind of lament that could as easily be authored by Glenn Beck as it could be by Matt Taibbi. And the chorus is as good an encapsulation of the American public’s non-partisan rage as any:
The boss man takes his bonus pay and jets on out of town D.C.’s bailing out them bankers as the farmers auction ground While they’re living it up on Wall Street in that New York City town In the real world they’re shutting Detroit down.
Less overtly political is a song that similarly shouts out Detroit’s embattled working class, Pat Green’s 2009 single “What I’m For.” Between singing platitudinous tributes to icons of Americana (the Gettsyburg address, past-their-prime boxers, the wisdom of the elderly) Green makes a pointedly contemporary show of support for the Motor City’s auto industry employees. The song also honours the decidedly non-rural “inner-city teachers” and takes an implicit stand against law-and-order types by sticking up for the “ex-con out of prison who just wants a second chance.” What starts off as a corny homily veers surprisingly close to being a liberal stump speech.
But the most significant example of Country music’s liberal sympathies comes in the form of one of its biggest current stars. Brad Paisley, a West Virginian guitarist with a deft playing style and a witty pen titled his latest album “American Saturday Night.” The title track is a love-letter to the cultural richness of America’s melting pot. “Everywhere has something that they’re known for, but usually it washes up on our shores,” he sings; it’s a small-town song with a global outlook. But more telling is “Welcome to the Future,” the tune Paisley performed for Barack Obama at the White House.
The song starts off light-heartedly, with Paisley, a good ol’ boy in a white hat, musing on how, as a kid, he spent hours at the video arcade, and marvelling at the way today he can play those same games on his mobile phone. But by the third verse, the song’s larger narrative coalesces:
I had a friend in school, running back on the football team They burned a cross in his front yard for asking out the homecoming queen I thought about him today, and everybody who’s seen what he’s seen From a woman on a bus, to a man with a dream.
Paisley’s touch is light; he makes no mention of the President, or Election Day 2008, or the historic nature of Obama’s victory, or even of explicit racial categories. But the song is as emotionally resonant a narrative as any that lays claim to describe the changing nature of America signified by this President’s victory.
And unlike the pilloried, anti-Bush Dixie Chicks, Paisley is more beloved by the Nashville industry than ever. Nashville speaks from a distinct perspective, but it is by no means necessarily a Republican one. If it ever was, the Country music listening, exurban public of the flyover states is no longer the exclusive domain of the Republican Party. If I were in charge of the Democratic Party’s future political fortunes, I’d be listening to a lot of Country music.
1 Not actually. Discussing the Cyrus discography is complicated by virtue of her predilection for releasing albums credited to her alter ego Hannah Montana.
2 As I revealed in 2008, John Rich campaigned for McCain, but only donated money to his primary opponent Fred Thompson. Meanwhile, his one time songwriting partner Big Kenny, the man with whom he wrote the words, “I see people gettin’ mad on CNN/Who’s right: Democrats or Republicans/I don’t care who’s right or wrong,” donated to the Obama campaign. The two no longer work together.
What I like best about Robyn is the fact that she seems very much like a DIY kind of pop star. There’s something oddly democratic about her whole persona; she gives the impression that anybody could do it, if they were determined enough.
and in fact robyn’s personality/delivery/engagement all seem to me to be so very flat and average and dull that i can’t help but think all those boring us-v-them thoughts: is this stuff regarded as Serious Music (over, say, ke$ha, who has worse songs delivered better; or the now-probably-a-cliche-to-even-mention ashlee, who has better songs delivered better) because of its flatness and averageness and dullness? like is the half-assed disconnection robyn has from all the ironies and contradictions and hiccups of emotion that even low-level pop stars learn early on to inhabit and play with somehow the very quality that clues people otherwise disinterested in pop music (which disinterest is, per se, totally fine) into the conviction that this stuff is deserving of their special attention?
Which is related to my beef with the majority of Robyn songs, being that I really don’t see how doing something badly to make your audience feel better about itself is worthy of applause.
Hey, why don’t I throw something really dumb out there that I probably don’t actually believe and hope there’s some sense in it: Democracy’s all very well for politics, but maybe pop music is better populated by Randian ubermenschen.
The fizziness of the song is squarely opposed to the Alicia Keys-supplied gravity of its East Coast rival, staking a claim in favor of the frothy just in time for summer vacation to kick in. If you put aside Perry’s bright blue mop and the song’s nods to hip-hop, Perry’s view of her fellow Golden State girls is absolutely in line with the ways that visually pleasing women from California have been appreciated since the Brian Wilson era—there’s a partying-for-its-own-sake innocence throughout the song, with little concern for the paparazzi (both pro and amateur) that litter so many of Los Angeles’ side streets and gatherings. Instead, the target audience is the roving eyes of California guys—and women, who just might be inspired to sing, and shimmy, along with the song.
Maura sort of gets at this without actually saying it, but: an L.A. response to a NY song has to be vapid, right?
Don’t know if you follow much of the critical conversation around pop music, but Ashley’s first album is widely recognized as one of the most important teenpop albums of the 00s, at least for those who take teenpop seriously. I still need to hear it.
i don’t, much? though i always mean to more than i do (like with EVERYTHING ELSE IN MY LIFE, ha). and now i really extra want to, if it is apparently a world where such truth can be recognized. because, seriously: IT IS SO GOOD.
Reblogging so Frank, Dave, Jonathan, and whoever else can point me to the relevant Ashlee (sorry for the earlier misspelling) essays/pieces/posts, which I’m always amazed that they seem to have at their fingertips.
I’d say the key stuff mostly happened on message board threads — Ashlee: Emo Or Oh No was a protoype of sorts for the eventual Rolling Teenpop 2006thread, which really exploded the conversation. There had been some positive reviews of Autobiography and “La La” before then, from Rob Sheffield and Stephen Thomas Erlewine over at All Music Guide and perhaps a few others.
The Critical Conversation (TM) didn’t really pick up steam until I Am Me came out and Frank, Chuck Eddy, and a few others started writing about that one — Chuck, Frank, and I put it on our 2005 album ballots for Pazz and Jop (somehow I thought more people would give it a mention…). Later I found Erika Villani — or she found me, via a post about Platinum Weird — and she’s probably contributed the most to the dialogue since the Rolling Teenpop thread started (with honorable mention to Tim Finney, maybe, though he mostly contributed on the teenpop thread). Not sure which essays to point to, exactly, though you can probably find some of it by searching through my Ashlee Simpson tag on Cure for Bedbugs — most of the discussion is in blog posts, comments, etc.
Reblogging because I don’t actually have much to contribute, but because I do indeed endorse critical discussion of Ashlee Simpson. I refer Autobiography to I Am Me, but both are excellent. I know Frank Kogan’s got some good stuff round the place, but I’ll just point to the comments of this Veronicas post, in which Dave and I discuss Simpson. (I would have linked to Dave’s blog, where he reproduced the Ashlee-centric portions of the conversation, but mine had a great illustration, so it won.)
Hopefully some folks will help out with the actually more extensive thinkpieces around. And also you should check out the Feministe post that inspired the whole thing, because even though it says nice things about Robyn, it quotes Kelefa Sanneh and recognizes the brilliance of Simpson’s “Undiscovered.”
One of the saddest quirks of rock criticism is that the hopes, dreams, and fears of teen girls are frequently considered frolicsome fluff while the rage and defiance of teen boys is miscast as the articulation of free thinkers.
I don’t know, Rachael. Not that there shouldn’t be more former teen girls writing music criticism, but the ones who self-select or get selected to do so are likely to be even more defensively dismissive of the supposed frolicsome fluff than the former teen boys are. It was the guys who did most of the heavy lifting on Rolling Teenpop until Erika came along in 2007 (there was input from Abby, Hillary, et al., but none of them stuck with it). As far as I know, it was only guys making the case in print for Mariah in the early ’90s, and most of that was relegated to the fanzines anyway. And it’s been mostly guys who’ve made the case for Britney, Marit, Avril, Hilary, JoJo, Ashlee, Lindsay, Aly & AJ, and Taylor. Of course Erika Villani and Kat Stevens and Hazel Robinson (among others) have been terrific when they’ve written - I’d go to Erika before anyone else for insight on Lily and Demi. Hazel’s been great when she occasionally blogs on the latter-day r&b girl groups, but it’s Alex Macpherson who’s been championing them where you actually get some readers.
I’ll ignore the ILXhegemony, and endorse what Frank’s saying as basically correct. I see too many ex-teen girl critics (as well as ex-teen boys) viciously endorsing masculinity as the primary trait women in rock should pursue, and lord forgive any woman who isn’t even interested in pursuing rock. The problem is though that the teen girls interested in Spears, Larsen, Lavigne, Duff, JoJo, Simpson, Lohan, Aly & AJ, and Swift have been told that they, and the music they’re interested in is not serious and should not be talked about in a serious context. I’ve talked to too many girls who tell me they have “bad taste,” and so will never even get to the stage of considering their own opinions as being something worth understanding. If they can’t believe their tastes are legitimate, they’ll never believe they should be talking to others authoritatively about what they think is good.
Top Ten Things About Katy Perry’s Video for “California Gurls”
01. I’ve already said I love “California Gurls” for the way it engages with popular mythological representations of California, so I’m disappointed the video ignores all that and does some weird shit in the Land of Chocolate.
02. Perry touches some snakes and then all of a sudden she’s naked. I wish I were thirteen so I’d have a chance to reveal to someone what this really means.
03. Having just a brother, I’d only received second hand information about where girls come from. I’d been told they were birthed from women, or possibly delivered by storks, but I’m thankful to ”California Gurls” for informing me that girls actually are produced fully formed in hermetically sealed packaging, waiting for a savior to release them into their proper state of vibrant innocent vitality.
04. Girl Scouts are sexy and will eat you alive.
05. Snoop “Murder Was the Case” Dogg is threatening because he leads an army of Gummi Bears characterized by a fondness for rude gestures.
06. Katy Perry’s breasts have a bizarre anatomical idiosyncrasy that allow them to be connected to whipped cream dispensers. This renders Perry’s breast milk, in whipped form, lethal to Gummi Bears and incapacitating to Snoop Doggs.
07. I’d never been attracted to Perry before this video, but um.
[Producer Dr.] Luke seems to be attracted to strong women who are also self-effacing goofballs … When she emerged, Perry seemed to embody the body-as-weapon ideology, acting pouty and dressing scandalously (if still goofily) while singing about kissing girls. But with Luke’s guidance, Perry’s sexiness began to play as mostly a ruse, as plastic as the inflatable fruit that checkered the stage during her live performances. Her biggest hits are post-sex. She’s since emerged as the goofiest of the bunch—the truest product of a svengali who prizes personality over provocation— a fact confirmed by her recent choice of beau, the self-involved British comedian Russell Brand.
Look at the way Perry lolls coquettishly across the cloud, a determined performer of poised female sexuality except, oh, oops, the cloud turned out to be made of cotton candy and she just had to eat some of it. Oops. How silly of her.
09. When Snoop’s incapacitated, his captors bury him up to his neck in sherbet or something and turn him into David Lee Roth. This is different to Snoop’s prior state because he’s now buried up to his neck in sherbet.
10. This is probably better than whatever wins the Best Picture Oscar next year.
Follow the brilliant career of Jonathan Bradley, noted iconoclast, libertine, and man of letters. When he's not blogging here, he blogs at The United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, Australia. Jonathan is the editor of American Review magazine's daily Blog Book section and a daily editor at the Singles Jukebox.