Monday, November 26, 2007

"Popular" Music

Over at Beyond Academia, Sammee has a post up in response to our theme of "the music we study/the music we love." Check it out!

Sammee brings up the spectre of Britney Spears, rightfully pointing out that popular music studies often neglects popular music that is, you know, popular. I myself always complain about the scholarly neglect of pop singers like Patti Page. One statistic I've seen says that Patti's "Tennessee Waltz," released in 1949, was the best-selling single by a solo female artist until Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" came along in 1992. And yet, Patti is always just a footnote in pop music textbooks, or even worse, is used as an example of how boring music was before rock and roll came along.

Britney Spears is special though. I'm a huge fun myself, have been since a college roommate introduced me to her. I was a bit old to have been on the "Hit Me Baby One More Time" bandwagon; for me the song that sold me was "I'm a Slave 4 U." I bought Britney the day it came out, and likewise saw Crossroads on opening day and now force my friends to watch it on DVD. I try hard to not let my love of Britney become some sort of hipster ironic thing. Luckily I'm not very hip, but it can be hard some time, especially with the recent drek she's been releasing. I also try not to turn her into a campy diva, because I find that soooo old, but again, when she goes and performs like she did at the MTV awards, it's hard not to imagine her backstage in a sequined pantsuit downing bourbon and barbiturates. No, I want my love of Britney to be pure. Not hip, not campy, not guilty, but pure and unashamed.

4 comments:

Caroline said...

When I TA'd History of Rock and Roll, in the 500 person hall, another TA did a lecture that included Ms Spears. The kids got ROWDY and I went down into the aisles to glare. At some point I ended up in a "shouting match" with the classroom, defending Britney. I do like her, and the new song kinda, but I was not expecting to ever be in that position in front of 500 students.

There has also been a shift in this direction (towards studying the popular) lately, I think.

Also: I thought you were talking about the OTHER Patti you love for a second.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like the real problem is that you want there to BE a Britney who can be loved without hipness/camp/guilt. This Britney may not in fact exist, and if it ("she"?) does, the degree of its overlap with the actual person Britney Spears is open for debate.

But, re: Britney/Patti - and when, for example, has music studies of any sort ever bothered to deal with the all-time top-selling US female recording artist: Streisand - the bias isn't just agaist "the actually popular", it's against performers who don't "create" their own music in the traditional sense of composing it. I suspect "popularity" is actually a real red herring here. With exceptions, obviously, pop music studies have gravitated, no less than musicology, to "author" figures in the conventional vein, while "mere" performers and interpreters, as always, are likely to be overlooked. A (strongly gendered) romantic-modernist bias that we're still dealing with.

If you don't like that, please change it!

Sammee said...

Thanks for referencing my blog! I like putting "popular' into italics. As we all know, many intelligent listeners of "popular" music are very pretentious. For example, punk rockers are extremely pretentious about the music they select, and very rarely is it popular to many others. Obviously, for most "real" punks this is for political reasons, and not just purely aesthetic ones. It is similar to the "Indie" fetish in the NYC area and in many college campuses. These listeners have very little musical training, but they wouldn't touch Britney Spears with a 1,000 foot pole. What I don't understand is their label of "Indie": Elliott Smith was still labelled as "Indie" years after his music had been picked up by Wes Anderson for the Royal Tennenbaums film. I'm sure the diehard Spears fans who are basically uneducated listeners have their own ideas about "bad" music.

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