Monday, August 23, 2010

"Blah Blah Blah, But Can You Dance To It?"

[ Good evening, Internet! First, some business:

1) Work has officially ended, which means no more chasing small children, therefore far less exhaustion, followed by far more writing.

2) The Gaga-Bowie thing was a hoax—as proven by this post on his official website—& all I can say is: Thank the Good Lord Above. Despite the likelihood of this circumstance, I don't necessarily feel foolish for last week's entry; it felt all too good to vent. Scary, still, how close it seemed to real... ]

With more & more time to waste, I've been reading more & more: Stories, a collection edited by Neil Gaiman to sate my fetish for short fiction, along with Legend of a Rock Star: The Last Testament of Dee Dee Ramone, which is fresh & fascinating & nearly illiterate in the most joyously poetic sort of way. Most importantly, though, I've gotten back to the News—capital N—which for me means a decent scan across the front pages of the Guardian, the Times, & the Globe, ending with an archaeological dig through their Arts & Leisure sections.

It was on one such expedition that I encountered this article about Ms. Katy Perry, who has, of course, been on my radar since her frustratingly heterosexist "I Kissed a Girl," & whose voice unfailingly wheedles its way into my eardrums from some stray speaker every 15 minutes with that insipid "Tik Tok" rehash—the one about Daisy Dukes & bikinis & utterly mind-numbing "OMG POPSICLE = DICK" innuendo. I read the piece because I was curious—because I wondered what exactly about Perry, who speaks in a baby voice while striving valiantly to bring back the bow, classifies her as a "Pop Cartoon." What I learned is what I expected—that is, not much. But beyond that, I was struck by a few passages in the article:
“A lot of people criticized ["I Kissed a Girl"] for playing into masculine fantasies as opposed to saying something new about gender politics,” said Sadie Stein, a contributing editor at the blog Jezebel, who has followed Ms. Perry’s career. She paused, considering that statement. “It seems silly to even say that,” she said.

It was, after all, just pop: that was Ms. Perry’s line of defense, to call her work lightweight, fun, throwaway. (She has also spoken in support of gay marriage.) Still, her credibility has been questioned throughout her career: is she a symbol of rebellion or a rote representation of a good girl gone bad, a manufactured product of the music industry or an individual with a loopy sense of style, blah blah blah, but can you dance to it?
Yes, that last bit—"blah blah blah"—is, in fact, written into the text of a New York Times article.

It just bums me out, because what this reporter is saying—or, rather, shaming Sadie Stein into saying—is that pop criticism is unimportant; that it doesn't matter that what passes for entertainment today is Katy Perry lying naked & doe-eyed in a pile of cotton candy, winking as she says "on top," while pre-packaged synthesizer beats bop along & millions of copies are sold. It's unremarkable that an infantilized pinup who spends her time playing (one assumes, being generous) dumb struts around in a bustier while calling herself a strict Christian. I could perhaps entertain the point that Katy Perry is such an inconsequential flash in the pan that she's not worth discussing, but as long as her "music" garners enough attention to be number one on the Billboard charts for six weeks, I'm going to care.

When I rant & rave about Lady Gaga, it's not in the slightest because I hate Stefani Germanotta, the girl with excellent fashion sense & marketing who happened to strike a few chords right on a piano; it's because I'm frustrated with her fanatic fan base, the legions who hold her up like a deity without much real cause, while better, campier, more interesting acts flounder in obscurity—frustrated that they've settled. Because this is what pop—short for "popular"—music does: it mirrors back at us what we want; what we, as a society, are feeding into the Music Machine to be ground up, spit out, & played on Top 40.

Perry's songs may be "lightweight, fun, throwaway," but the fact that her Jessica Rabbit meets Candyland visuals—complete with that insipid, breathy ditz-voice & a straight-girls-making-out-for-male-amusement cliché—are so widely accepted, even lauded, drives me absolutely up a wall. Because it means that's still what we expect: stupid sex kittens, coy smiles, good Christian girls with after-hours clothes. We are just as sexist, crude, & slow as we always were—or, if we aren't, our tastes have been dulled by so much Pure Shit that we've given up on asking for better, & that depresses me.

Of course, there are plenty of just-as-deserving targets for my vitriol—Ke$ha, Britney Spears, even 3OH!3, Perry's sometime collaborators who boast they've brought the "fun" back into music (though why fun has to come at the expense of quality or taste, no one's quite sure...). But Katy's in my crosshairs because I found her article first, because I fucking loathe that California song, & mostly because I refuse to tolerate shit like this:

Asked if she ever regretted not finishing school, [Katy] said: “No, because spell-check exists everywhere.”
We need to—need to—stop idolizing willfully dumb people in this country. It just has to stop. Not one person has ever benefitted from foregoing education, whether high school or grad school or taking the time to read a book about something new. Whatever you can stomach—or afford; knowledge & intelligence, information & communication has to prevail. Stupidity erodes as much as it sells, & that is why I see doom spelled in the flourescent wigs of Katy Perry—who, with her braindead innuendo & cherry chapstick, has rocketed to the Top of the Pops.

So sure, you can dance to it—but only just.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

Hot & quick like the best rock 'n' roll, throbbing with the surf sensibility of the Beach Boys—from whom Perry stole & perverted her title—this song is utterly adorable & danceable & catchy as all calamity. The perfect summer anthem for a summer's end.

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