Pop for Skeptics

50 Reasons to Be Excited About Pop Music In 2013

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in event of a nuclear holocaust two things will persist: cockroaches and pop music. In our monthly Pop for Skeptics column, Rohin Guha explains how the latter need not be a terrifying thing to navigate, nuclear holocaust or not.

No pop fan really knows what to do with himself in January. It’s a special time of year when new fads are still being cooked up and otherwise unremarkable artists — nice to see you again, Nicole Scherzinger! — stand a fair shot at selling more than just a couple records. Some enterprising pop oracles might consult science, the stars, and mathematical trends to make all kinds of predictions about what is set to become “the next big thing.” Others, like me, will wait until some stuff has happened to do that. Sure, with January finally over and done with, it’s probably a bit too late to be making prognostications about what we should look forward to in pop this year, but to borrow a phrase from last year: YOLO. Below, then, are precisely 50 reasons to look forward to pop music in 2013. … Read More

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Hipster Glasses, Facebook, and a Kiki: A Skeptic's Guide to Pop in 2012

With only days left until the end of 2012, the Internet is full of best-of essays and lists and embeddable Spotify playlists that reaffirm critics’ and tastemakers’ street credit and perpetuate the myth that most people writing about music actually have any kind of significant impact on the way that pop music is created, packaged, and sold. I won’t bore you with such gas. Instead, here are some fun superlatives that summarize the world of pop this year, for those of you who may not have kept up with this realm. These are undeniable touchstones — meaning that should you, as esteemed people with ears, have scruples with this list, it would behoove you to make an appointment with a qualified audiologist post-haste. Otherwise, read! Click! Dance! … Read More

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A Brief History of Man-Hating Music Videos

With global warming, political unrest, and a cratered international economy serving as the shaky pillars of today’s world, we need pop music now more than ever. As hopeless headlines continue to paint dark horizons for us, pop is one of the few lights to shine through and inspire whimsy. Even the harshest skeptic has no choice but to relent and give into the genre. So we present Pop For Skeptics, a regular Flavorwire column committed to curating and commenting on the best ear candy from the US and around the world.

Misogyny in music, from rock to pop to hip hop, is a phenomenon so ancient and ubiquitous that it doesn’t even surprise us anymore. Neither, in this post-Madonna era, is it strange to see female pop stars treat men like sex objects. But what happens when these artists, besieged not only by their male counterparts but also a catty entertainment press and constant political threats to women’s rights, forgo the soft blows of easy objectification in favor of mounting a full-on attack on men? It’s not necessarily that some of pop’s brightest stars are giving off misandrist vibes; they’re simply mincing fewer words to put men in their place. Inspired by Christina Aguilera’s recent video for “Your Body,” which kicks off with a cheeky promise that “No men were harmed in the making of this video,” we’re taking a look at some of the most man-hating music videos in pop history. … Read More

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Can Calvin Harris Avoid Overexposure?

With global warming, political unrest, and a cratered international economy serving as the shaky pillars of today’s world, we need pop music now more than ever. As hopeless headlines continue to paint dark horizons for us, pop is one of the few lights to shine through and inspire whimsy. Even the harshest skeptic has no choice but to relent and give into the genre. So we present Pop For Skeptics, a regular Flavorwire column committed to curating and commenting on the best ear candy from the US and around the world.

Everybody in the entire world loves Calvin Harris. It’s inarguable. To deny it is to deny the fact that “We Found Love” is now a three-word shorthand that evokes pulsating dance beats and Rihanna’s Amazonian wailing; to deny it would be to deny the ubiquity of one of the most successful pop songs in the 21st century. But with this ubiquity comes a price. In the run-up to the October 30th release of this third studio album, 18 Months, Harris faces a big ol’ fork in the road. He has been raking in collaborators by the handful, including Florence + the Machine, Ne-Yo, Ellie Goulding, and, of course Rihanna. This is the kind of creative promiscuity that invites speculation as to whether Harris will go the way of other quick-to-peak DJ-producers before him, or if he’ll find a way back to the niche where he became a darling in the first place. … Read More

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The Best and Worst Singles from Repackaged Pop Albums

There comes a time in a pop star’s life when she, her business manager, some barnacles from the major label footing the bill for her latest record, and some other freeloaders gather in a conference room and look at how much money she’s been able to scare up a few singles into an album release. They might decide, “We’ve sold quite a lot of records and people want more!” They may note that people are still buzzing about the artist and suggest, “Say, auspicious pop star, how would you like to record another album quickly so we can make another boatload of bucks?” At this point, the pop star might say, “You know what? I’m tired.” But, plucky as they are, major label types will persist: “Okay, well, we have all these live tracks. We have some b-sides and demos, too. We can master them in Garage Band and have you pose for a new album cover and call it a ‘deluxe edition.'” At this point, the pop star might say, “Sure, fine, is there more Cîroc?” Of course, there is always more Cîroc. … Read More

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The Best New Artists from Pop’s Promised Land: Detroit

With global warming, political unrest, and a cratered international economy serving as the shaky pillars of today’s world, we need pop music now more than ever. As hopeless headlines continue to paint dark horizons for us, pop is one of the few lights to shine through and inspire whimsy. Even the harshest skeptic has no choice but to relent and give into the genre. So we present Pop For Skeptics, a regular Flavorwire column committed to curating and commenting on the best ear candy from the US and around the world.

When I bade farewell to New York City, I was also saying hello to an old friend: the Greater Detroit area. Diving back into this part of the world, I found a hotbed of pop genius blooming in my own backyard. Of course, you can peruse any number of sloppy trend pieces about Detroit without finding journalists who are able to recognize signs of revitalization, but are rather obsessed with pushing the narrative of Detroit as a land of ruins. In fact, the national discourse about the city’s cultural revitalization seems stacked against its resurgence. But the joke is on the rest of the world, because when you look at the quality of pop that’s coming out this part of the world, you realize it’s Coachella-caliber chart-ready pop with a futurist edge.

What’s more brilliant is that the city’s pop landscape makes sense of a culture of versatility that has given the world such acts as Madonna, Eminem, The White Stripes, Aretha Franklin, ADULT., Motown, and all of DEMF culture. Unlike the music scenes in bigger markets like New York, L.A., and Austin, Detroit hasn’t lost its specificity to the homogeneity of major label appropriation. Whether it’s decrepit buildings, bustling all-American roads like Woodward Avenue, or the general sense of the region’s ability to synthesize everything from hip-hop to bubblegum pop to EDM, pop stars from Detroit tend to have a special ownership of their hometown that Lady Gaga, for example, can’t seem to match for New York. After the jump, we explore some of the best tracks by these exciting new acts. … Read More

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Bid Farewell to New York With These 7 Pop Songs

With global warming, political unrest, and a cratered international economy serving as the shaky pillars of today’s world, we need pop music now more than ever. As hopeless headlines continue to paint dark horizons for us, pop is one of the few lights to shine through and inspire whimsy. Even the harshest skeptic has no choice but to relent and give into the genre. So we present Pop For Skeptics, a regular Flavorwire column committed to curating and commenting on the best ear candy from the US and around the world.

In life and pop music, nothing is more difficult than saying goodbye. It’s a word none of us want to let fly out of our lips because it indicates that something we’re intimately familiar with has ended and something scarily abstract is about to begin. Perhaps most terrifying of all, then, is saying goodbye to New York City. It’s akin to breaking up with your beloved, if your beloved happens to also embody the most lusted-after lifestyle in America.

I know all about this because I had to leave the city just last week — bidding adieu to everything from the Williamsburg Bridge to Sammy’s Noodle Shop and even the reliably unreliable 7 train — as I decided to swap New York for Detroit, perhaps at Patti Smith’s behest. And while throwing scarves, old mementos from ex-boyfriends, and books written by friends into boxes, I found a little time to construct an ideal playlist of songs that seemed to reconcile and make sense of the heavy emotional baggage that tends to come with having to say goodbye, especially to a city like New York. … Read More

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Pop For Skeptics: Why Are Music Videos So Obsessed with Fairy Tales?

Once upon a time, pop stars used to be just like us. But then at some point — probably during their impressionable youth, while the rest of us were stuck in SAT prep classes — they were whisked away to an enchanted world of pop superstardom. It was the promised land of excess and beauty, where everything is magical all of the time. Louboutin heels served as glass slippers; award ceremony afterparties as fancy balls; black limousines as horse-drawn pumpkin carriages; and hunky A-listers as Prince Charmings. Yet it’s an open secret that when most of these pretty young things got sucked into the vortex of pop, they also found themselves having to grow up overnight. While they shirked the banalities of roommates bugging them about the ConEd bill, pop stars found themselves entangled with the messier parts of becoming an adult too soon: contracts, scores of people relying on them to make piles of money, and grueling hours that most of us probably only begin to reckon with as adults.

So it makes a lot of sense that some of the biggest stars in pop have, at one time or another, have employed fairy tale motifs in their music videos — what other trope could so evocatively represent the difference between who they used to be and who they are now? In addition to providing a venue to meditate about who they have become, these children’s stories allow pop stars to reconnect with that younger, perhaps forsaken version of themselves. Perhaps that explains why the fairy-tale music video trend pervades popular music across cultural, geographical, and musical divides. After the jump, we explore some rock and pop stars’ kitschiest fairy tale fantasies — many of which harbor curiously dark messages about coming of age. … Read More

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Pop For Skeptics #8: The Internet’s Favorite Love Songs of 2012

If winter is the time of year when single people scowl, forsake love, and slink off to that alone-time retreat they’ve created for themselves under the Manhattan Bridge out of watermelon rinds and Chinese food take-out cartons, then summer is when they thaw and renew their search for romance. They might make bold overtures to someone they’ve admired for quite while. They might even fall back in love with the idea of being in love. Recently, I found myself somewhere in the middle, entertaining a Lazy Susan of dates, each more hilariously terrible than the last. One way I’ve been coping with dashed expectations is by wistfully working through love songs released this year.

More than almost any other pop subject, love songs can get away without having to be original or innovative. Every type of love song that ever will be has already been written, making my search for the definitive love song of the year especially tricky. But there was something about “30 Minute Love Affair” by Paloma Faith that resonated with me. Maybe at some point in time, I might email one of those bad dates — the one who keeps texting me after he blew me off — the video below, with the subject line, “Baby, we’re done.” … Read More

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Pop For Skeptics #6: Where Have All the Girl Groups Gone?

I’ve always seen all-girl pop groups as a great way to put otherwise mean-spirited members of the high-school pep squad to work, supporting the global economy, while giving something (songs catchy enough to dance along to, branded merchandise, etc.) back to the community. Unfortunately, America as a whole hasn’t always shared my enthusiasm for girl bands. Sure, we went through a full-blown love affair with the Spice Girls, but many of us were begging those British pop conquistadors to sail back to England 18 short months after they washed up on our shores. Back then, however, there were a roughly equal number of girl groups being marketed to pop aficionados as boy bands. For every Spice Girls, there was a Backstreet Boys; for every All Saints, there was an ‘NSYNC; and for every B*Witched, there was an O-Town.

But the latest wave of boy bands breaks this trend. With The Wanted and One Direction both cracking America, there’s a similar pop renaissance currently underway, albeit with a glaring exception: The girl groups are missing. This throws the pop ecosystem off balance; it disturbs the cultural cosmos. The gods are furious. Aphrodite’s calling up Athena on her mobile and shrieking, “Are you seeing this shit? What gives?” After the jump, in an effort to appease the goddess of love, we point a few explanations heavenward as offerings. … Read More

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