Dance Music - The Mountain Goats (mp3)
257 Weeks - Nine Days (mp3)
The schoolgirl outfit. The pigtails. That oddly childish voice emerging from that very grown-up lookin' body. Although Britney's become something of the Bearded Lady With Three Heads people pay money to see at the state fair, what we've forgotten is what we all knew the minute she exploded on the music scene: she was the world's first Cylon Pop Star.
Oh, we've had cyborg stars in the past, folks who needed a lot more than mere talent to hit the charts. But never before did we have someone whose sole talent was merely looking the part of a virginal teenager who desperately wanted to be a slut. (Or maybe it was the other way around.)
I mean, I can still remember the first time I ever saw the video for "Baby One More Time." My cheeks flushed and I looked nervously around me, as if I was holding one of my Dad's Playboys and I was afraid someone would catch me. Is this OK to watch? I thought to myself. This seems so wrong... but gosh she's kinda hot... How old IS she??
The only time I can ever recall feeling guiltier about watching a video was Fiona Apple's "Criminal." Fortunately, by the time I'd watched both videos 20+ times, most of the guilt was gone. We humans are nothing if not exceptionally gifted at numbing our consciences.
Lots of us who love music feared Britney's arrival signaled the end of the world as we knew it. Although "Flash Over Substance" had been "The End is Nigh" claim for decades, maybe since before the first rock 'n' roll song, Britney managed to somehow kick this equation up a notch. She managed to get me listening to songs I didn't even like just because they reminded me of the dirty thoughts I had watching her videos!
What we didn't realize but perhaps should have is that, while we were fixated on her as the Death of Music because she was the paragon of Flash Over Substance, she was actually the Hospice Nurse for another musical phenomenon of our culture: The Simultaneously Experienced Pop Song. Songs everyone knew.
Born in 1972, I can only speak for the musical times in which I was a living component, but I'm pretty sure the Simultaneously Experienced Pop Song (let's call it "SEx Pop"!) was an even more powerful creature in the Elvis and Beatles days. Although the '70s seemed to be a time when albums stole some of radio's thunder, radio and the universally-known pop song were doing just fine.
My elementary school years found radio continuing to ebb, but that crazy little thing called MTV emerged. MTV was a nation-wide radio station with visual aides, and it injected new life into the SEx Pop. But that merely provided a second wind to an aging notion. By the time Nirvana arrived in their flannel and bitterness, the SEx Pop was hitting retirement age but still able to drive around on its own, albeit very slowly and always in the right lane on the Interstate, its head barely visible behind the wheel. By the 21st Century, SEx Pop was in a nursing home.
Let's have a fun experiment. No matter your age, go take a look at the Top 100 Hits of 1984. Just keep track of the number of songs you know. Speaking personally, it's easier to keep track of the ones I don't know. It's not until #61 -- "State of Shock" by the Jacksons -- that I fail to recognize a single song. Hell, I could almost sing the choruses to at least 92 of them, and I'm not remotely exaggerating.
Now, take a gander at the Top 100 Hits of 2004. To quote Sheriff Buford T. Justice, ain't no way, nooooo way, that list stands the test of time, comparatively speaking. Even if you compared the lists with comparably-aged people -- say, comparing my knowledge of that 1984 list to someone born in 1992's knowledge of the 2004 list, I still bet the farm my generation has them beat by a mile.
For every "Crank That" by Soulja Boy in the present, there are at least half a dozen "Ghostbusters" by the Ray Parker Jr., and arguably more. Not because kids today listen to less music, which would be insane. It's because kids today don't have the musical Tower of Babel -- MTV, radio, etc. -- feeding them all the same food like we did.
If anything, the Guitar Hero and Rock Band phenomenon have done nothing but exacerbate the situation. Every recent hit they've managed to pound into our older generations' skulls is matched by at least one or two more from the '70s or '80s roping in those younger kids.
With all the talk about how today's generation of teens and young adults are somehow more interpersonally disconnected, in spite of all this communication-centered technology, I can't help but mourn the slow death of SEx Pop. Play "Bust a Move" or "Mickey" in the presence of 20 people and see if you don't get some smiles, some looks around to see if anyone else is enjoying the guilty pleasure of a fun flashback.
You think f#*king Hoobastank is gonna have Peter Frampton's legs? You think Switchfoot holds the same longevity as Dexy's Midnight f*#king Runners? No. Chance.
Sure, exceptions exist. SEx Pop ain't dead; it's just in an iron lung, fighting for every molecule of oxygen. Most mammals with ears know Eminem's "Lose Yourself" or Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy." But ever since Britney took over Hospice care, the most universally known pop songs come from one single location. Ironically, it's the very same location that began Britney's transformation two decades ago:
High School Musical. Hannah Montana. The Cheetah Girls. The Jonas Brothers. This is the closest that Modern Music has to a SEx Pop generator, music that adults like me play in their cars to keep their kids entertained, because at least the music approaches something akin to music we can stomach, and at least the songs maintain the slightest level of innocence.
The '80s had Grease. Now we have HSM. Even if HSM wins -- and I don't really think it does -- nobody from the younger generation is gonna be particularly proud to claim it. Hell, even my daughters are already starting to diss HSM.
Breaking Free - Troy and Gabrielle (High School Musical) (mp3)
"Dance Music" is off The Mountain Goats' The Sunset Tree. "257 Weeks" is a great, great pop song by the 1-album wonder Nine Days. "Breaking Free" is one of the many halfway decent pop songs churned out by the Cylons created at Disney Channel. All are available on iTunes or Amazon.com's MP3 site.