Preview 2009 - Pop Music
Whether its R&B über stars, 90s classics or indie craftsmen, pop music is set to delight this year. Camilla Pia reports
‘Pop is back!’, Same Difference exclaim in typically camp fashion on the advert for their not-so-innovatively-titled debut, erm, Pop. Simon Cowell’s karaoke factory might not be the best example of it, but their statement is bang on. Strictly speaking, pop never really left us, but it’s fair to say it lost its sheen – not to mention its credibility – for a while. In the dirge-filled days of the late 90s, when forgettable Take That-alikes were spewed out by bloated, cocky record labels, simply striding onstage with a guitar and doing a Beatles/T-Rex/Stone Roses (insert legend here) impersonation was enough to make people sit up and take notice. But not today. ‘Serious’ bands: sorry, but we’re bored. Most music industry major players are dads now (see Oasis, U2 and Radiohead) and a second generation is impatiently waiting to fill their stadiums (say hello to Bloc Party, Snow Patrol and Razorlight). The prevalence of guitar driven ‘landfill indie’ has peaked and acts like Kaiser Chiefs and The Kooks just aren’t selling like they were three years ago. The reason? Maybe because they’re trying to be ‘proper’ artists now, while people liked them in the first place for the pop they produced. Pop music has always come in all shapes, sizes and colours but 2009 looks like a year where the face of pop shall be painted with a big smile and embraced in its myriad of forms.
First, the big league. Beyoncé, Britney and Rihanna, aka the holy trinity, all working tirelessly recently to keep the mainstream thrilling. Following the success of ‘Womanizer’, more smash singles can be expected in 2009 from Britney’s chart-bothering Circus and Beyoncé’s I am… Sasha Fierce, while Rihanna is back in the studio working on the sequel to Good Girl Gone Bad.
They are the tip of the US pop iceberg; there’s a wealth of other tunes to be squealed out and pogo-ed to: Katy Perry’s ‘Hot ‘N’ Cold’ and Pussycat Dolls’ ‘When I Grow Up’, both prime pop confections from last year, will be performed here live in 2009. Anyone doubting the burlesque popsters’ appeal (beyond the bedrooms of teen boys) can check PD’s live show this fortnight at the SECC; a prelude to a US tour with Britney in the Spring. And let’s not forget Girls Aloud who, six albums in, still shove together the best of six decades of music in a way that really shouldn’t work, adding irony, edgy production and eccentric lyrics. Sometimes all in one song. As for the boys, Take That’s success (currently the UK’s biggest touring band) has spawned a flurry of boyband comebacks. Although East 17 had a botched revival attempt last year, the recently reformed New Kids on the Block and Boyzone are certain to have more luck, with Scottish dates, this fortnight and June respectively. These shows remind of the magnetic affect of something familiar and comforting in rough times, but also that the thirst for a singalong chorus rarely leaves us.
Girlbands, boybands, divas, indie-rockers; pop doesn’t confine itself to narrow parameters either. Pop is the essence of any good song written with these purest of intentions. A notion not wasted on two big Scottish comebacks this year: The View and Franz Ferdinand. Both sticking firmly by their polished pop songcrafting guns, the Dundonian dirty jean wearers return with Which Bitch? (Feb), featuring pride o’ Paisley, Paolo Nutini, while FF’s much anticipated third album Tonight: Franz Ferdinand will be followed by a UK tour.
While Katy Perry or Lilly Allen may have few lyrical insights on global finance, pop’s cache currently is as high as ever. But don’t just take my word for it. ‘Serious’ songwriter Chris Martin is trying to write a song for Girls Aloud, and, rather bravely (or is that foolish?), has booked them to support Coldplay’s Wembley show this summer. Good luck following them, Chris.
Franz Ferdinand and Late Of The Pier are essentially Xenomania with guitars and synths, and don’t tell me MGMT, Friendly Fires, Black Kids and Hercules and Love Affair – all behind some of 2008’s most critically acclaimed albums – have not pillaged from great past pop acts.
Jack Savidge, Friendly Fires drummer, and a key player in the current 80s electropop revival agrees: ‘Sugababes are pop, just as Snoop Dogg or Limp Bizkit are pop, just as anything in the top ten is pop. Pop relies on other genres to provide the base metals it then turns into popular gold, which is why it will outlast us and everyone we know. I’m always being emotionally ambushed by pop,’ he adds. ‘A tune you dismissed as total dross sneaks up and leaves you in tears. I can remember it with Wheatus’ ‘Teenage Dirtbag’. I’d previously hated it but it caught me at a vulnerable moment – I was streaming tears. Same thing happened with ‘Always’ by Bon Jovi last week, actually.’
So what about the future? Most up and coming indie acts I have interviewed recently don’t want to be Radiohead or Red Hot Chili Peppers, they idolise Michael Jackson or Prince. Paul Usher, Magistrates frontman, is one.
‘Anyone learning an instrument will always try to be clever and do the most difficult thing possible, like play in a really awkward time signature, but as you progress you realise it’s actually much harder to write a good pop song. That was our challenge, all the music that inspired us was really great pop.’
I used to be a snob, I’ll admit. I spent my teenage years pooh-poohing the Spice Girls and listening to Sonic Youth, obscure Japanese noise, French chansons, post-rock and alt.country. Rather obnoxiously, I thought listening to ‘real music’ made me a more enlightened person. Yes, it’s important to get a broad musical grounding, but it took years of inner wrangling to admit a pop song could be as cleverly constructed as anything Will Oldham or PJ Harvey came up with, let alone listen to one. Destiny’s Child’s ‘Survivor’ saved me – oh, that bassline – but records like that were still rarities in those days. Today’s pop-picker kids have no such excuse. Modern pop has really never been better, and if anything’s going to haul us out of cold, dark and poverty-stricken days of depression it’s this. Get stuck in.