In the 1950s and ’60s, ‘Pop’ art upended the staid world of fine art by incorporating elements from advertising, television, and consumer product packaging. It fundamentally shifted the public perception of visual art, redefined the acceptable subjects for the medium, and subtly exposed the supercilious pretension and meaningless market forces that governed the art world with shadowy power.
In 2013, Lady Gaga released ARTPOP. It has a track called “Sexxx Dreams,” and includes lyrics like, “Cuz that bitch, she’s so thin (oh la la la) / She’s so rich, and so blonde / She’s so fab, it’s beyond.”
This is not to discount her new album totally out of hand, (because, actually, her R. Kelly collaboration is pretty damn catchy) “ it’s just to say that Gaga’s self-proclaimed revolutionary pairing of high-brow art culture and pop music is actually very far from progressive, especially if you take her at her word about the motivation behind the project.
Gaga has stated that “the intention of the album was to put art culture into pop music, a reverse of Warhol.” So immediately it’s pretty obvious that she considers art and pop music to still exist in completely separate and non-overlapping spheres. This may be true, at least for the majority of serious artists who take on some projects for the sake of pure creativity, because they can’t not make art, and because even in a modern society that has devalued the role of the creators by overvaluing the distributors (ahem “ the Spotify model), they still see value in the process of making stuff for its own sake.
But Lady Gaga’s understanding of art culture seems a bit different. Her obsession and collaborations with huge art world names like Marina AbramoviÄ‡ and Jeff Koons feel a lot like her own admitted obsession with fame, a major, ongoing theme in her music and life. Coincidentally (or not), the artists that Gaga admires most are those that have been prominently in the public eye for years. They are the giants on the world stage. Koons, who designed the ARTPOP album cover, recently sold one of his statues for $58.4 million. It was a gigantic orange balloon dog.
Let me start off by saying that M.I.A.’s new album Matangi is generally pretty enjoyable, and that “Bad Girls” was used to excellent effect in the trailer for “The Heat.”
M.I.A.’s sometimes frustratingly reductionist views on world politics can easily get in the way of simply enjoying her music; music that is often pretty good, and at its best, manages to pull off a tricky blend of catchy memorability, adventurous experimentation, and irreverent fun. Still, it’s hard to ignore her consistent need to obliquely detail the struggles of the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, and the oppressed. Which of course she does only as long as it all takes place over a hot beat featuring indigenous drummers recorded in various exotic locales around the world, ’cause that’s how she rolls.
Which highlights one of the more frustrating inconsistencies of M.I.A.’s music. It’s not about the annoying but forgivable contradictions between her lavish lifestyle and her political views “ because really, what successful musician making a living from an anti-authoritarian image can really sustain that point of view once the checks start rolling in? For M.I.A., what’s more questionable is the way in which she portrays herself as the musical mouthpiece of the world’s poor and forgotten third-world citizens, while really using their plight to further her own self-aggrandizement with musical tropes that come straight out of the mainstream pop playbook.
M.I.A. is obviously pretty eager to place herself in contradistinction to meaningless, uncontested pop cliches in favor of more spiritual and alternative leanings, especially on Matangi. “Y.A.L.A.” is a song-length Eastern repudiation of Drake‘s unbearably ubiquitous exhortation to live life to the fullest, and “Come Walk With Me” turns the tables on generic pop calls to action, with lyrics like:
Everybody has heard Lorde’s ubiquitous tune “Royals” somewhere at this point. It was on heavy rotation throughout the summer and has ruled the Billboard Hot 100 for the last two weeks, beating out pop record-destroyer Katy Perry’s new song “Roar” (which, honestly, is a pretty weak effort in itself “ I’m talking to you, Dr. Luke). This is, at the same time, both totally predictable and incredibly interesting.
Lorde has a great voice, a solid stage presence, and she doesn’t write bad songs to boot (and yes, she does write at least part of her songs, though her strong co-writing team consists of a few seasoned vets from the pop-punk scene back in New Zealand, and we all know those dudes know how to write a hit). All of these factors notwithstanding, the song that’s getting the most play from her EP and album is objectively nowhere near the best tune on either of those releases, which arguably contain way better songs than the finger snappy harmony-laden hypnotism of “Royals.” And, weirdly, from a surface-level lyrical scan “Royals” reads like a straight-up denunciation of pop materialism, making it the complete opposite of what people have been clamoring to hear for the last decade or so. Check out this stanza:
But every song’s like:
Tripping in the bathroom
Trashing the hotel room
We don’t care
We’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams
Even though Lorde makes a laundry list of the trappings of crass materialism as if she’s a giddy rapper who just got his first advance from UMG, she is quick to tell you: ‘We don’t care! This isn’t us! We don’t need to own these material things to be happy!’ Not only that, but Lorde insinuates that she and her intended audience are even better off without those things.
In a Set It Off song, you’re as likely to find strings and woodwinds as crunching guitars and sugary pop harmonies. The band’s members have been perfecting their unique blend of orchestral pop-punk since 2008 and are about to embark on their biggest adventure yet: a European tour with Yellowcard this spring. We chatted with vocalist Cody Carson about his classical background, love of ’90s R&B, and what advice he would give to up-and-coming acts looking to make their mark.
OS: You guys recently donated over $5000 to the VH1 Save The Music Foundation and you mention the influence of music programs on the band when you were young. What music programs were you involved in when you were in school?
Cody Carson: I went to Tarpon Springs High School in Tarpon Springs, Florida. In second grade, I picked up a clarinet, and I kept playing and I got very heavily involved in classical music. The only reason I went to Tarpon Springs High School was because of their music program; it was incredible. It taught you a great deal of work ethic, and there was also a leadership program that was called Tarpon Springs High School Music and Leadership Conservatory. I learned a lot of valuable life lessons there. I played clarinet and was involved in marching band and wind ensemble and jazz band. Because of the leadership program there, at the end of every year there was always a political campaign and I would run for clarinet section leader and woodwind captain, and those were two positions I held. I met Dan Clermont, our guitarist, there. He was the trumpet player there and he was also trumpet section leader and field commander and stuff like that. The program was incredible to us. (more…)
February is surely the shortest month of the year for a reason. Lucky for you, there’s a whole new slew of great albums to help you through the winter doldrums. Check out this week’s new releases.
The Bronx “ The Bronx (IV)
It’s business as usual for these LA punks on their fourth album. Though The Bronx have spent time in their mariachi alter-ego Mariachi El Bronx, the band is back to full rock form on this release with brash, abrasive vocals that ride on jagged waves of distorted guitar. Read a full review here. (more…)