Adrian Cooper has been unwell

Old reviews that are no longer available online, or from sites that no longer exist. The pen is dead, long live the camera.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The War On Pop, Volume 1: Girls Against Boys

Ladies and gentlemen, we live in a time of inequality and nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of music. But this isn’t the time for a discourse on the absurdly small number of women in bands or how Karen O has somehow been raised to the status of role model. This is the time to look at an altogether different dichotomy between the sexes; one that seems to inform all of pop, and one that is essentially a self-fulfilling tool of segregation – why is male pop so shit?

Before we go any further let’s get a basic premise out the way. Pop is the ultimate product of a manufacturing industry. The concept of pop group is alien and should any of you claim to hold a preference for any particular pop group over any other, then you are failing to grasp the most basic rule of pop. That rule is that the song is king; the performer, once you look past vocal style, is an irrelevance and the sooner you learn to cut your ties to group or artist the more enjoyment you will derive from pop music.

I’ll return to this premise at a later date but, for now, it suffices to say that the methods employed by pop’s manufacturing base is currently out of sync with reality and the record companies in control of the means of production have forgotten the rule.

Motown got it right. Stock, Aitken and Waterman got the method right but choose the wrong artists. In brief, to create successful, and good, pop, the producer should maintain a stable of artists and writers. The songs should be distributed amongst the artists and be released as singles. The producer should then, at regular intervals, release an album compiling those singles. The artist themselves should not be afforded an album of their own. If the artist proves to be a lasting success, then they can be granted a singles compilation of their own at a later date. I’ll expand on this at another time but, in essence, this means that the pop artist’s greatest hits should be able to be viewed as the ultimate pinnacle of pop, a sure-fire success rammed full of wondrous three minute nuggets of joy and abandon.

But if recent pop best of compilations are anything to go by, all they do is highlight the gender disparity. There’s an underlying mantra at play here – girl pop good, boy pop bad.

Just look at the best pop songs of the last few years: Jamelia’s ‘Superstar’, Destiny’s Child’s ‘Bootylicious’, Beyonce’s ‘Crazy In Love’, Danni Minogue’s ‘Put The Needle On It’, Britney’s ‘Baby, One More Time’, tATu’s ‘All The Things She Said’, Sugababes’ ‘Freak Like Me’ and ‘Round Round’ and all the singles lifted from Kylie’s ‘Fever’ album. Notice anything there? They’re all sung by women, there isn’t a single man amongst them. Is the state of male pop really so bad? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, it really is.

In a society that claims to want to throw off the shackles of gender roles and attain equality, then why are men and women expected to play such different roles on record? Women in pop are encouraged to be strong, to be independent, to be angry, to be outraged, to want sex, to want to not have sex, to be anything they want to be. Men have to settle to be overwhelmed with love, distraught at not having their love reciprocated, or to brag about how good they are at stuff in an attempt to get women to fall in love with them. In short, pop men portray themselves as weak, pathetic, arrogant (but only if the group are being marketed as bad boys), narrow-minded or just plain desperate.

Perhaps the most obvious example of the pop gender gap can be seen with even the most cursory glance at Pop Stars: The Rivals. Who was better, Girls Aloud or One True Voice? Which could you dance to, and which made you want to vomit, ‘Sound Of The Underground’ or ‘Sacred Trust’? Which of those two groups still exists?

The same distinctions can be drawn between Britney and Blue. The Britney compilation, ‘My Prerogative… Greatest Hits’, comes close to what a pop best of should be. Admittedly not every song is earth shattering but it is at least consistently listenable throughout. It’s an album that won’t put extra strain on the skip button on your remote. ‘The Best of Blue’, on the other hand, is an abomination.

Firstly, Blue should never have been allowed to continue for long enough to amass enough singles for this collection to exist. I find it physically hard to listen to this album. It’s like I have some specific and rather acute form of Gilles de la Tourette’s Syndrome. Other than ‘All Rise’, every song has my finger twitching until it hits skip while my mouth utter profanities that would make your mother blush and would stun your English Literature tutor with their complexity and originality. These songs are embarrassing.

I’m embarrassed to be listening to them (and at least I have the excuse that I’m only doing so for your benefit, dear reader); god knows how Blue weren’t too embarrassed to record them. You imagine the rehearsals taking for every, as various the group have to continually stifle that particular type of nervous laughter that tends to accompany the intense discomfort that you experience when you’re in a situation where you don’t know how you should best react.

Even the music is an extension of these roles. The girls get squelchy bass lines, clipped Krautrock rhythms, dirty synths and pounding beats. The boys get mincing melodies, melancholic strings and lame piano ballads. Shit, at least when the girls get lumbered with the ballad, they’re still usually singing about how they’re strong enough to get over whatever it is that might have happened while the men just sound like they’re either stalkers or walkovers.

Where Blue contribute nothing but bilge and piffle to the pop cannon, Britney gives us ‘Baby, One More Time’, ‘Toxic’, ‘Oops!… I Did It Again’, wall to wall floor-fillers every one of them. And this is the perfect illustration of the gender divide. We’re supposed to dance with the girls, yet cry with the boys. Every possible action has been taken to stop the men form seeming in anyway threatening to young girls.

Back in the 70s, the Osmonds were supposedly made to regularly shave their chests to hide the signs of puberty and sexual awakening as this would scare off their pre-pubescent fanbase. Nowadays, with the use of sex as a tool of saturation marketing, it has become necessary to emasculate the men in other ways. This has led to the reduction of men in pop either to show-offs whose actions could never hope to match their words (as with Robbie Williams) or weeping pussies so lacking in balls that it’s impossible to ever imagine them being able to maintain an erection.

This is best illustrated by the cover versions on the Blue and Britney compilations. On ‘The Best of Blue’, you’ll find versions of ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’ and ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours’, while Britney gives us ‘I Love Rock’n’Roll’ and ‘My Prerogative’. What are these songs tell us about the performers? Just look at the lyrics.

First, ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’: “what have I got to do to make you love me…, what do I do when lightning strikes me and I wake to find that you’re not there…, I’m sad, so sad, it always seem to me that sorry seems to be the hardest word”. Not only have they fucked everything up, they’re not even man enough to apologise and sort things out because they’re too lacking in courage. Jesus, this stuff is every bit as bad as Dashboard Confessional, and at least Chris Carrabba scores some cool points with the girls by virtue of being able to play guitar and by having tattoos. Even Dashboard make Blue look like a bunch of panty-wearing no-dick pussy-boys.

To add a bit of perspective here, compare those lyrics with ‘My Prerogative’. “They say I’m crazy, I really don’t care, that’s my prerogative, they say I’m nasty, but I don’t give a damn, getting boys is how I live. Everybody’s talking all this stuff about me, why don’t they just let me live, I don’t need permission, make my own decision, that’s my prerogative”. Britney politely requests that you allow her to live her life as she sees fit, and it you don’t like it, you can fuck off and die. You go, girl.

The battle-lines have been drawn, and at the moment the women are trouncing the men in the pop stakes. Unless the men find some way to break free of their assigned roles and stop acting such a bunch of effete no-hopers, then there’s no chance that they will ever catch up again. Maybe, just maybe, this will happen and the men will attain some semblance of equality. Until then, if you’re looking for me, I’ll be over there, dancing with the girls.