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The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

‘Bad’ pop songs are essentially the same as ‘good’ ones

Patrice Wilson, the songwriter/producer responsible for giving us Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” recently posted to YouTube his latest of many other kid-sung pop songs called, “Chinese Food.” Not surprisingly, the song is as ridiculous as “Friday,” and the reception is just as negative.

Eighty percent of raters thumbed down the video, which is a consistent rating across all of Wilson’s videos, including songs like, “It’s Thanksgiving,” and, “Skip Rope.”

That harsh of a reception is interesting, not because the songs aren’t terrible, but because they sound exactly like everything else on the radio.

Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” was posted to YouTube six months after “Friday” and boasts a 93 percent approval rating. Musically speaking, the songs are damn near the same thing.

The formula of contemporary pop music is simple and generally unvarying, with the same handful of chord progressions over an identical drum beat, the exact same verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure, and lyrics either about the opposite sex, dancing or self-esteem. The formula applies to nearly every female pop artist, from Lady Gaga to Katy Perry to Beyonce to Selena Gomez and Nicki Minaj, and very few amendments need to be made for the formula to account for male pop artists.

My point isn’t to complain about pop music not being creative or varied but, instead, to pose an interesting question. If “Friday” and the average Top 40 pop song are musically the same, what makes most people dislike one and like the other?

The most obvious difference is the lyrics. Wilson’s tween singers can’t sing about sex and drugs and partying, and it’s somewhat telling that so many radio hits are just those lyrics pasted over the same music. That’s a too dismissive explanation on its own, though.

The quality of the singing and looks are another major difference. The kids in Wilson’s YouTube videos are just regular kids with a lot of money, popular pop singers have to jump through a lot more hoops to get major record deals and those include being a great singer and great looking on arrival. Still, post-production tools have narrowed the gap between the sound of a good and bad singer and the occasional artist will find their way to the charts despite not fitting the conventional standard for looks.

A major, less obvious, contributing factor is that songs like “Friday” give the typical listener enough of an outside perspective to shine an uncomfortable light on the music they listen to.

When it comes to films, to use a similar example, there are “movie buffs” and the people who just watch popcorn flicks. All-in-all, the popcorn flicks have a larger audience, but that audience is less interested in the art of film and generally spend less time and money on it.

An easy way to see what the popcorn flick audience is watching is to look at DVD rentals. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the top DVD rentals as of the week of this writing are Iron Man 3, World War Z, and Scary movie 5 – not exactly Oscar movies. With film, however, there is a large enough audience for more sophisticated, higher-brow movies that there’s still a lot of money to be made for production companies releasing Oscar-type movies.

In the music industry, however, the only market that gets any attention is the equivalent of the popcorn flick market. Popularity seems to be the only standard for excellence in mainstream music, and the idea that a song can be very popular but not very good isn’t widely acknowledged.

Even the Grammys, which is supposed to be the music equivalent of the Oscars, are hugely biased towards popular music. Consider, for instance, how different the movies that get nominated for Oscars are from the movies that nominated for MTV Movie Awards, but how similar the artists who get nominated for Grammys are from the artists who are nominated for VMAs.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with listening to music on the basis that you like how the singer looks and you can dance to it, just like there’s nothing necessarily wrong with liking a movie just because it has a good looking actor and explosions, but I suspect there’s something particularly unwelcome about realizing your taste in music is on par with liking Scary Movie 5.

The reason why people who mostly listen to radio acts seem to have so much animosity towards nearly the exact same thing being done by girls singing about Chinese food might be because, on some level, it makes them realize that they don’t actually like music as much as they thought. What most people really want in music is just someone pretty who sings something unsurprising that they can dance to.

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About the Contributor
Sasan Kasravi
Sasan Kasravi, Opinions editor
Opinions editor, spring 2014, fall 2013, spring 2013.

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‘Bad’ pop songs are essentially the same as ‘good’ ones