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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Wednesday, April 24, 2024

'Pet Sounds,' 'NSync and other perfect pop

I found out last weekend that you can't get WSUM on the east side of the Capitol, an area where I just happened to need to be. So I was driving around with my editor listening to the supposedly progressive 105.5, and a really lame song by Five For Fighting or someone came on. 

 

 

 

\This is a terrible song,"" said my editor. 

 

 

 

""No, you just don't get it,"" I said. ""It's a perfect pop song.""  

 

 

 

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And we laughed about that in our snide, guys-who-talk-about-music-too-much way for a little while, but there was truth behind that jibe: Pop is arguably the most maligned, misunderstood and abused category of music these days. It seems like every week a new band is passing off their lack of ingenuity as a tribute to popular music.  

 

 

 

Like any other musical category, pop is vague and nearly indefinable (Lord knows I've tried), and the dividing line between pop and other kinds of music is as hazy as Ja Rule's talent. Still, there's some sort of constant, be it instant accessibility, an efficient use of chords, or a love-affirming three-chord chorus; like hard-core pornography, you know it when you see it. Ryan Schreiber, editor in chief of the illustrious Pitchforkmedia.com, e-mailed me some criteria that works as well as any I've heard: ""concise, visceral, anthemic.""  

 

 

 

For my money, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys wrote the book on what pop music should be when he released in 1966. As clich??d of a choice as this is, there's good reason why this album spawned countless imitators and detractors in the years since. Even so, those 13 tracks sound like nothing else: haunting and melancholy and hopeful and joyful at every turn, as amazing of a teenage symphony as I've ever heard. Writing the album, Brian Wilson said he ""experimented with sounds that would make the listener feel loved,"" and I have no doubt that Wilson put as much love in as any songwriter ever has. And to top it all off, it's pure pop music: straight-ahead and direct, and all the more beautiful for it.  

 

 

 

That was 36 years ago, and ""pop"" now means one of two things: the output of good-lookin' dancing crews or, if you put a ""2"" after your MTV, it's something paying tribute to or lifting Beach Boys chords, and there's the good and bad of both. I think most of Britney Spears' output is pretty worthless but, turning on MTV right now, I'm treated the remix of 'NSync's ""Girlfriend"" with Nelly, and I challenge the most bed-headed hipster to prove that song is not great pop: Over a tense guitar riff, it's so thick with youthful sexuality that it makes me wish some Madison East chicks would take me to their prom. On the indie-rock side, you can take The Shins'so affable and clever that even my engineer roommate loves 'em'or Jimmy Eat World'so absolutely inane, they're just barely going through the motions of making music. 

 

 

 

But I guess what irks me is that making pop music has become a craft instead of an art, and no one feels the need to challenge the foundations anymore, so, as good as it gets, it all sort of sounds the same. There are plenty of great pop songs out there, and I always turn them up in the car'""Radiation Vibe"" by Fountains of Wayne, for example'but there's nothing revolutionary about it, and that's not the way it used to be. Pop is a glorious convention, but until there's a great leap forward, I'm just not going to be excited, because I've heard 90 percent of it done better before. The perfect pop song may be out there, and the sad thing is you'll only get to fall in love with it once.  

 

 

 

For an instant, albeit derivative, pop primer, check out The New Pornographers , Elvis Costello's and Big Star's .

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