The Zero Hour

Reviews, rants and oddities on video game and film culture.

Pop is back!

I was talking to one of my friends the other day, who’s a big fan of Japanese music and classic rock and we had a big music discussion that at some point involved me praising the current pop movement. After a quick iTunes browsal and considering what albums I wanted to buy, I realised I’m really into current pop music at the moment and after a few moments thought, it hit me. Pop is suddenly cool and popular again.

Remember the late 90’s and early oo’s. Millenium fever, the early internet and when we bought CD’s in shops and the single format ruled the roost. Electronic music was paving the future with Radiohead’s Kid A. guitars were left to bands like Coldplay and Travis and Pop just consisted of boy and girl bands and Disney Mouseketeers, formed simply to capture the hearts and minds of the tweenage market or because they’d won a talent competition. Every pop song realised would sell well, then be forgotten, only remembered for nostalgia sakes, cheesy school discos and as guilty pleasures.

Around last year, pop acts began to turn around. Indie was on it’s last legs, so many bands decided to re-invent themselves or make unique choices in order to win over music industry big wigs and earn fans. They went 2 ways, they went electronic or they went pop. Unfortunately, the latter resulted in bands like Scouting For Girls and The Script. However, those that went electronic went back to their childhood, they went back  the 80’s and Joy Division, The Human League, New Order and other electronic bands. The result? Franz Ferdinand went more pop than ever. The Horrors went for a more sweeping Joy Divison sound and artsits such as Little Boots, Ladyhawke, La Roux and Lady GaGa appeared on the scene, taking the charts with them. Xenomania (a group of writers, musicians and producers) upped their game, making talent show nobodies Girls Aloud cool for the tween market, the casual consumer and with the help of NME, also for indie kids, with both brilliant songs and a genuine hardwork attitude, they’ve collaborated on 20 songs so far and the band are now the most succesful vocal group ever. But how did it get this way?

Well, unfortunately, it’s partly down to the death of the mainstream indie scene. Since the Strokes appeared in 2001, boys and girls on both sides of the atlantic picked up guitars and played a strange combination of The Smiths jangly guitars and the New York garage scene, with catchy lyrics and snappy drum sounds. It took off to great acclaim and Indie took over the world and being in a band was suddenly cool again. Now 8 years later, independent music shops, self made demo tapes and bands that were once full of energy are all but gone. Indie became corporate and stale. Bands moved away from that sound and a good indie band (something I would be discovering on a weekly basis 2 years ago) is becoming rarer and rarer, not to mention that the bands just aren’t selling any more. Kaiser Chiefs latest album “Off With Their Heads” flopped, only releasing one single. As did The View’s. The mainstream music press and media know this. A recent listen to Radio 1 has turned their nose up at indie, Arctic Monkeys aside. Jo Whiley, the daytime voice of indie, is being replaced by Fearne Cotton, former Top Of The Pops host and pop enthusiast. Zane Lowe’s show, which used to be full of indie gems, is more concentrated on Alternative Rock and the fast growing grime genre. Steve Lamaq, the man who introduced the world to Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys has been given the boot from the station.

However, the indie magazine NME, all being to aware of this prepared earlier. In 2008, they championed Ladyhawke, giving her album a glorious review, they also highlighted future pop acts like Florence and The Machine and La Roux to the world, months before they began successful. Allowing the premier indie buying market to ease into the change, which as one of them, I have managed to do.

Pop has gained it’s re-energised success mainly due to one thing. Freedom. Back when pop was big in the late ’90’s, it was because it was a big record company executive telling everyone how it’s done. Meaning female artists had to strut around in as little clothing as possible, sing what’s put in front of them and not have a personality. Now things are very different. The current pop revolution is led by females and they’re doing things their own way, they write their own lyrics, from songs about Sexual politics (Pokerface) to lending a helping hand (New In Town), they tour excessively, they bring a unique sense of glamour and they kick. Ass.

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