Pop has always had a negative connotation, especially if you consider yourself a consumer or creator of ~serious~ music. Though “pop” has always been abbreviation of “popular music,” which could be anywhere from rock and roll to R&B to reggae, it’s usually associated with the Britney Spearses and Ariana Grandes of the music world aka anything lacking real “depth” according an indie music blog that tries to take itself too seriously.
It’s actually kind of unfortunate that “pop” has become such a dirty word because when you think about it, most music is pop.
Most pop music is a blend of influences, combining elements from dance, urban, and what-have-you to create the earwarm infectious sound that oozes through radio (or Spotify, whatever). The top artists or the “popular” ones are usually self aware and know that they’re not creating deep, meaning songs because…hey, not everything needs to be.
On the flip side, there is a richness in pop music if you take the time to deconstruct it and maybe build it back up again. This week, Ryan Adams announced that he would be covering Taylor Swift’s mega-omg-wtf-hit album 1989 IN ITS ENTIRETY. Teasing clips on Twitter, the singer-songwriter made it a point to express how much was “going on in these songs” and how much fun he was having.
— Ryan Adams (@TheRyanAdams) August 7, 2015
Which bring us to the one thing that will get all pretentious music listeners to give pop a chance: THE COVER. Covers have always been my “final exam” for an artist. The ability to take someone else’s work and reshape it is a true testament to someone’s creativity, at least for me. While it’s cool to cover Frank Ocean or Drake or whatever hip artist you want to throw a dart at, the thing for artists to strut their stuff is usually pop.
The reason the cover, specifically the “pop” cover, is so enticing to indie artists is because of its flexibility. Usually the foundation or the original execution might seem bland but it is because of the simplicity of those melodies or rather, the predictability of them, that allow for experimentation and let the actual complexities of the track to come through. The funny thing is, messing with a pop song and reconstructing it to fit a particular band’s identity tends to not strip away the song’s original intent if it’s strong enough.
My go-to example of this is always Bastille (surprise!). It’s no secret that a big part of me enjoys their covers more than their original tracks and it’s due in part because of Dan Smith’s ability to bring forth that seriousness in pop music that is often missing. Their cover of Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” is the absolute holy grail of pop covers. Taking what was already a rich and meaningful pop song, the Bastille spin was still able to relay Miley’s message…minus the twerking. That message being, no matter what anyone else says or thinks, she’s going to do whatever the hell she wants. And bless her for that.
In a recent interview, Smith said this about the cover: “The most important thing is not to take it too seriously and in doing that, take it completely serious. There are some songs that you think are disposable pop songs and then you sing them in a really sad way and they turn tragic.”
Which is something that I’ve expressed recently, particularly with Years & Years. To paraphrase my thoughts on their debut album Communion, their entire identity appears to be the art of hiding behind their tragedy with upbeat pop formulas. Like Smith dissected in the interview, something on the surface might feel hollow but dig a little deeper and you’ll find gold.
And that’s why we shouldn’t ever really count pop music out. While you might think you’re cool for not listening to the latest release from Carly Rae Jepsen (lol, you’re not btw because she’s honestly knocking it out of the park), there’s more to it than that. Pop music has always been around and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Maybe you need someone like Ryan Adams to make you see the true artistry in building the perfect pop song. Then hopefully you can reach a point where you can take it for its face value and hear that there is more to “I Really Like You” than Tom Hanks lip syncing in a cab.
Photo Credit: Ryan Adams Instagram