My definition of pop is a bit strange, one could say.

Mobilizing the armies of pop.
I could as well call it a recursive definition, whereby any music I dislike is labeled as pop, whereby anything that I have a remote liking for is rapidly labeled anything else. Calling something pop is an easy way to denounce it in the music sector nowadays as something bland, boring, unimaginative, but in the end catchy. Music to get the unenlightened masses hooked on and prevent them from enjoying the nuances of the likes of (you guessed it) Pink Floyd. Think of even the word “pop” itself. It’s a funny expression, almost insinuating that all other music was, well, unpopular.

Before you get the impression that my musical taste is completely elitist and that I would never even think of drinking fine whiskey next to somebody who fails to realise the parallels between Wagner and Nietzsche, a quick word of caution. Unlike most of my other idiosyncrasies, I actually hate pop for a reason. And that is because I strongly believe that it inhibits innovation in the music sector. I have done many mad, bad and dangerous things in the course of my life, and you will therefore not be surprised, dear reader, that I have even watched a Eurovision video on YouTube. For research purposes only, that is. The video that I chose was, of course, the 2006 winner, or Lordi, a Finnish metal band. They curiously won almost because they were an antithesis to the usual bland, predictable pop that the likes of Eurovision and the X Factor would generally produce. They were fresh, unconventional, and captivated the crowds with that, although their masks and style could have contributed to that as well.

Unfortunately, that reaction only lasted for a short while, for the following competitions were won once again by pop artists easily grabbing the top spots with seemingly catchy tunes that would be forgotten in the weeks after.

Something similar has happened with the X Factor, year on year. Now think of your favourite band, or a band that you liked, one that maybe had a bit of an attitude. My first thought seems to be the White Stripes and their enigmatic relationship. When asked about his personal life, Jack White retorted, “It’s the same thing as asking Michelangelo, What kind of shoes [he] wears.” On other occasions, he left the stage after wrecking some microphones in the middle of a song, in what his fans surely must have considered a sublime piece of performance art. Now, could anyone ever survive on the X Factor with that sort of attitude? Probably not. Likewise, music that takes any sort of risk or attempts any sort of innovation is generally kept out of the X Factor. In order to generate good rankings, it is best to alienate few viewers. And avoiding anything that might be considered innovative, instead opting for safe, bland pop, seems to have become an unfortunate trend to keep ratings high.

The off button is probably the most useful feature of a TV, particularly with shows such as the X Factor. I would worry little if only die-hard fans of those shows, most of whom are beyond help by now, were affected by them. Yet it is almost guaranteed that the X Factor winner’s single will top the radio charts, especially for the lucrative Christmas period. This was especially highlighted by a Facebook campaign last year, which somehow managed to lift Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name” to the top of the charts, to compete with the X Factor winner. Now, this would not be a problem if only those poor, misguided souls that are X Factor fans cared about charts. But, unfortunately, charts guide radios to determine airplay. Which means that pop has the ability to push other music out of the radio.

Even in today’s times, radio does matter. A lot.

There are undeniably many good stations, such as BBC 6 Music, but unfortunately most stations are forced to cater to the whims of the masses. This means putting on music that is safe, predictable and that people are less likely to switch the channel from. Charts and ratings are a major part of that. Unfortunately, this creates a listener-imposed Platonic Cave. We fear the unknown when it comes to music, despite the unknown often presenting us with new and innovative tracks, with niche artists that we fall in love with or even with rediscovering the bands of our (fore)fathers. Pop music, bland and formulaic, is an entrapment in a certain musical mindset, and entrapment is never good.

The journey of musical discovery has its ups and its downs. Along that journey you will encounter amazing tracks whose artist you would love to marry if only he hadn’t a somewhat interesting relationship with his “sister,” and nauseating tracks that will leave you searching for the remote to turn the X Factor back on, as you see the same artist collaborate with the Insane Clown Posse. Even Jack White is fallible, I’m afraid.

Pop music is only a distraction from all the wonderful artists that are out there. It is a distraction that seriously harms their ability to gain airplay on the radio, which is crucial if they are to get recognition and reach you in any way. In the end, pop music is being shoved onto us in such degrees that we start thinking it is good, as so many seem to play it. Yet the poor inhabitants of the Platonic cave (it might be easier if you mentally replace that with X Factor fans) were also at first comfortable within its warm confines. Yet many leaped out into a world unknown, never to turn back.

The unknown is scary, but it also is an adventure. Embrace it, stop playing back the same track by Rihanna and dust off your dad’s old Pink Floyd album. You can thank me later. Christmas is coming up. Buy me (or someone else you love, if the two are mutually exclusive) an interesting album.

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Lukasz Kroll

Image – Anatoliy-024