For the last month of 2012 (and my last of this feature), I selected one of the biggest selling pop artists of all time, ABBA (read my initial thoughts here).
Have I given in to the worldwide phenomenon?
Look, I get it. ABBA wrote some very catchy songs and I can see why some of their music has become classics of Pop, but most of it just leaves me cold. It’s similar to how I understand that the Black Eye Peas are successful merchants of easily digestible pablum, yet listening to their music makes me want to punch walls.
Pop music is truly the most elusive art form when it comes to describing what works and what doesn’t. I mean this in the general since that even Heavy Metal and Country are ‘pop’ because they mostly stick to the 3- to 5-minute song format with verse, chorus, verse structure. But I also mean Pop as the individual genre that encapsulates artists like Michael Jackson, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake or any music designed for the most immediate and sugary pleasure.
I love me some JT. I also can’t help but be a sucker for a solid pop song, though I can’t always explain why one earworm is more enjoyable to me than another. For instance, “Call Me Maybe” is a behemoth pop hit, yet I have no great love for it (I’m not a monster; I think it’s likeable enough), while “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” to me, is the pop smash of the year. On the surface there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the songs. They’re both female-sung traditionally-structured, 3 1/2 minute, love-themed pop songs with big hooks and catchy melodies. They could be sisters. Yet the latter gets stuck in my head after the opening bar and the former just sort of floats past me.
(Two things in Taylor Swift’s favor: That video is friggin’ fantastic and the little spoken interlude near the end is a wonderful pop tradition calling back to “Leader of the Pack.”)
Sometimes pop works, sometimes it doesn’t. I mean, I think generally we can all agree that Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake are successful pop artists, whether you like pop or not, and there are plenty of failed pop acts littering the halls of music history. But in the middle are artists like Kylie Minogue and Robyn, artists who have had huge pop careers internationally but for whatever reason have only had intermittent success in the US (Kylie moreso than Robyn). The American market remains to this day the all important barrier between Pop Star to Pop Monarchy.
ABBA broke through in the US way back in the 70s and the last decade has seen them resurgent, but listening to their music is a bit of a chore for me. It’s not because I dislike Pop Music, or pop music, or even disco, or Sweden for that matter, I just don’t like ABBA. I could try to parse out why their songs do nothing for me, but ultimately I’d probably just contradict myself.
Pop is pop is Pop and it defies explanation.
Will I Buy An Album? Uh, didn’t you read the above essay? No.
Favorite Song: “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia,” “Take A Chance On Me,” are all catchy enough nuggets and probably represent ABBA’s best known songs. I can see their appeal, even if they don’t appeal to me. If I have to pick one ‘favorite’ song by this band, though, I’d have to go with “Money, Money, Money,” because, my god, is that campy as sin. I feel like I should be watching Rocky Horror Picture Show whenever that song comes on. I can’t say I really like it, but I appreciate just how committed it is to whatever the hell it’s trying to be.
And that’s it. The end of my year on this little feature. I’m not so sure it was particularly interesting to anyone else, but at least it was enlightening to me. Cheers.