Liner Notes

Fame: The New Pop Commodity

by JB

fame_150Many would point to Britney Spears as the symbol of the End of Pop.

Grossly unfair. Britney Spears is a classic pop icon: she can sing, in this interesting-sounding rasp which is frankly more nuanced and emotive than Christina Aguilera's Mulan-murdering aaaa-aaa-a-a-aaaa-aa-aa. Spears' concerts are fun to watch, and you can put down money for her albums and expect pop satisfaction, instead of feeling ripped-off and more determined than ever to support the filesharing masses. She also has good taste in choosing songs, more so than we can say for Jessica Simpson or (recently, alas) Mandy Moore, and please can we not write our own songs if we don't know what we're doing?

Spears is OK. The End of Pop's spokesperson, poster-child, and mascot-holding-the-pitch-corrector-machine should be none other than Jennifer Lopez. How the Hell did THAT happen?

I write mostly about Top 40/pop music and something weird is happening to pop. I thought filesharing would push record companies to innovate, but instead the industry is responding in a lame-duck, frankly un-American kind of way. There is no way the pace of legislation can catch up to innovation ("On the Internet, the Code is law") and yet the industry is increasingly relying on both lawyers and the preteen market through selling squeaky clean, boring, connect-the-dots zero-vision zero-tolerance "celebrities" of the American Idol order. Alicia Keys? Beyonce? Whose sole talent is the ability to dance in stiletto heels? (An art Tina Turner already perfected, plus she can sing.) What the hell? Shouldn't the next Celine Dion be able to sing better than Celine Dion? (Like that's hard.) All of my reviews are beginning to sound the same: "The artist has no vision. The album is not an album but an imitation of an album. The artist is not an artist but an imitation of an artist."

Then while watching an episode of American Idol for the first time, I finally Got It. Through my melisma-wracked thoughts I began to wonder why the biographical documentaries on each contestant was longer than their actual performances and I realized, That's it! That's the point of American Idol. Pop isn't about selling out talent anymore.

It's about selling out fame.

America is now a country where fame is marketed over talent (i.e. Paris Hilton, who manages to be a highly visible celebrity without having any talent at anything whatsoever). Remember when pop music used to be about, you had this talented but naive bunch of kids in a garage band or some misfit with a great voice at some Middle America high school or whatever and they're signed to a label and catapulted to success overnight then sucked dry by the industry machine and end up on cocaine?

Now the only art here is the art of career management. Industries invest in artists not based on their talent quotient but on their fame quotient, probably because fame (unlike works of art) is a commodity that can't be fileshared or sold in imitation form at a streetside vendor in some tourist-heavy emergent economy nation. Jennifer Lopez, who was probably begged by the evil Tommy Mottola to cross over from movies into music, is eye-catchingly photogenic even for Hollywood standards but has a completely uninspired voice and SHOULD NOT BE IN MUSIC. And yet she is pushed, and pushed, and pushed. Fame trumps talent, a concept she's bringing to perfume lines in duty free shops across capitalist civilization.

I'm glad to see the backlash surrounding Ashlee Simpson; it still proves that no matter how successful your stupid reality show is on TV, you still have to make the rounds at bars and malls and clubs, to prove to yourself that you really do love music enough, and to prove to others that you've worked hard enough to have people dropping money just to hear you, that you've earned your listeners. Because the fame that's given to you can be gone in an SNL lip-synching moment. The fame you earn stays forever.

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