The Not-Metal Corner: Pop Is Awesome… Sometimes
Everyone likes pop music. To be sure, we don’t all like the same kinds of pop music, but that does not negate my initial (albeit loaded) statement. Pop satisfies a desire for escapism that I think we all have, and to an extent we all have pop that we love somewhere in our record collections.
Many metalheads who grew up in the same era as myself got into heavy music by way of that most loathsome of genres: nu-metal — a genre just as pop as any Katy Perry tune. There are all kinds of obvious differences between (for example) Limp Bizkit‘s “Break Stuff” and Perry’s “E.T.”, but the basic radio-friendly marketability, the appeal to the lowest common denominator, and the addictive quality of the musical hooks peg both artists neatly side-by-side in the pop genre. Older folks may have grown up in the hair-metal era and won’t be able to relate to the nu-metal kids, but you’d still need a damn good argument to convince me that nearly all hair-metal isn’t pop.
Metal has a strange relationship with pop and the mainstream in general. There will always be the purists who exponentially reject music directly proportionate to its accessibility. Is the production clean and easy on the ears? Do they utilize clean vocals? Are they incorporating melodic, tonal passages? Well then it’s not metal! And yet mainstream culture views most of these “sell-outs” as extreme music, hard on the ears and entirely unenjoyable. Try showing a friend who doesn’t like metal Soundtrack to Your Escape-era In Flames and see how poppy they find it.
Pop music is an inherently difficult genre to define. Pop walks hand-in-hand with the desires of the largest group of people in a society. Korn ushered in nu-metal by providing an outlet for the anger of angst-ridden teens. Of course, once people began realizing that nu-metal was something that teenagers connected with, the market exploded with Korn/Limp Bizkit/Insert-Popular-Nu-Metal-Group-Here knockoffs. Clearly the nu-metal bubble had to burst — and burst it did, leaving behind now-adults who crave heavy music but are ashamed to admit the catalyst that sparked the desire.
Why would we ever be embarrassed by the music we used to love? I believe it ties into metal’s aforementioned relationship with pop. Metal is, and always will be, an underground form of music. Every time metal flirts with the mainstream and becomes popular, it will be adamantly rejected by the folks who previously loved metal as sell-out material (see: djent) and quickly forgotten about by the mainstream who has moved onto the next wave of popular music. When those of us who were introduced to (and stuck with) metal through pop music start getting into heavier, more underground forms of the genre, we also start hearing all kinds of pop-bashing, especially pop-metal-bashing. Nu-metal is essentially a curse word, and talking about a Korn tune in a trve metal setting is tantamount to walking into a nursing home and yelling “CUNTING LIFELOVER” at the first old lady you see. Small wonder we don’t often admit our childhood affinity for P.O.D.‘s Satellite (okay, maybe that’s just me).
My discourse here is not to say nu-metal is undeserving of a flush, but to point out the hypocrisy of most (I say most because there’s always one guy who heard Mayhem when he was a child and never looked back, and he’s insufferably proud of it) metalheads when it comes to pop music. Almost nobody starts their journey into metal by throwing on a grindcore album and loving it. Most people start by dabbling in the most generic, pop versions of a genre, and from there gradually explore more underground and challenging versions. Some folks start with power metal, some with nu-metal, some with hair-metal — the list goes on. But it’s not arbitrary that we start out with pop. Pop music is designed to sound good, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t enjoy it simply for itself. Listening to challenging music is like reading an in-depth literary work. It’s amazing, but after a while you just want to throw it away and look at pr0n. And oh, how satisfying it is!
The pr0n I offer you today is the pop-funk-jazz-fusion band, Dirty Loops. This trio of insanely talented Swedes got their break on the internet, doing mind-blowing covers of pop songs and giving no fucks about street cred. Some of their covers are better than others, but the one must-hear tune is their version of Justin Beiber’s “Baby”.
DAT BASS PLAYER. Amirite?
Anyway, YouTube culture is, in my opinion, a bit shit. Everybody and their dog’s dogs are doing cover versions of other people’s material, and it gets old. It’s been old for several years now. For this reason, I was nervous when I first heard Dirty Loops: I liked them, but was terrified they would fall flat on their faces when it came time to produce original music. However, when they finally released their debut album they seriously upped the ante, proving that their talent was genuine and not just a piggyback ride on other successful pop performers. Loopified is a pop album through and through, and is never ashamed. The album is chock-full of their signature style, never forgets the 80’s funk in which they are so firmly rooted, yet incorporates enough modern elements to keep the listener from dismissing it as a throwback novelty. Loopified has quickly become one of the most-played albums in my collection, and it’s a deeply satisfying listen on multiple levels. This is like high-class porn, the stuff that gets yanked off free websites immediately. It’s not going to challenge you to be a better person, or bombard you with metaphor (except for “Sexy Girls”; that tune is clearly calling for violent political upheaval), but it will please you in ways that “out” music just can’t.
So let’s all let our guards down and enjoy pop music for what it is: escapist. I don’t always want to have to listen to an album ten times before it starts sounding good. Sometimes I want to be gratified as quickly as possible, and if it happens that the performers are excellent musicians, all the better. Let’s take a break from our challenging music and masturbate to our musical pr0n, Dirty Loops (metaphorically speaking, though I won’t tell you it can’t be taken literally). And here I leave you with my two favourite Loopified cuts: