You’re not cool for hating pop music

As a quiet and insecure 14 year old, music felt like a way for me to define myself. I wasn’t sporty or outgoing, but I did know about music. I thought because I could read music, I had a better understanding about what was good music. I had this idea in my head that only people who truly loved music listened to obscure artists, because we went out of our way to find music we liked. I prided myself on having an iTunes library filled with artists no one else had heard of. I bought too small t-shirts from obscure MySpace bands, feeling smug every time someone asked me “who’s that on your shirt?” I blasted Metro Station on my iPod nano until the day “Shake It” hit radio stations; I then deleted them from my playlists and felt embarrassed they had ever been there in the first place. I felt like I needed to change my favourite songs if they became popular and fell into a weird rabbit-hole of obscurity, where I wouldn’t listen to anything if it was on the radio.

mitchel-lensink-236502

Photo by Mitchel Lensink.

It wasn’t until I got a bit older and actually developed a personality outside of my tastes that I realised how silly it is to blanket-hate a genre of music for no other reason that its popularity. Your taste in music means nothing other than which particular vibrations tickle your eardrums. I was denying myself the opportunity to listen to so many great and fun artists for completely arbitrary reasons.

Recently I read a really great article called “The Mozart-like complexity of Carly Rae Jepsen’s biggest hits”. Musicology professor Nate Sloan points out that people have a tendency to dismiss pop because a lot of it sounds similar, but that that line of thinking is kind of ridiculous because “musical style is defined by stylistic cohesion. I don’t think it should surprise us that Top 40 has some sonic similarities. But I think the pejorative connotation is undeserved.” The argument of not liking Top 40 because “it all sounds the same” kind of falls flat when you realise that the vocals in every emo/pop punk band are sonically very similar and mostly about grabbing Juliet by the hand and getting out of this town. I’m not hating on that style of music – to be honest, I’m still very much in love with it – but it’s definitely hypocritical to think it’s a superior genre based on that line of thinking.

“Everything Except Country and Rap: What You Really Mean” is another fantastic article, going in-depth about why people dismiss musical genres – specifically here, country and rap. The crux of the argument is that people don’t want to admit to liking music that signals something they perceive as negative, in this case “something other than white, and something lower than middle class“. While dismissing pop music doesn’t have the same racial/classist connotations, it rings true on the representation note – I didn’t want to listen to pop because it signalled that I was similar to other people. At a time in my life when all I wanted was to be different, I hated that thought.

As well as it being unreasonable to not want to be associated with popular taste, it also makes no sense to hope that your favourite artists won’t become popular. Artists can’t survive off indie points – they need radio play, record sales and concerts with more than 20 attendees. Not to mention, even big-name artists don’t often tour NZ – by avoiding pop, I was limiting my choices of live shows, as well as basically hoping my favourites wouldn’t succeed.

I’m 23 now and obviously in a very different place – musically & in every other sense – than I was at 14. Fortunately, I’ve moved well past the “I’m not like other girls!” stage and liking what’s popular no longer seems like a bad thing to me. I’m still a slightly obnoxious indie kid: The Horrors are forever my favourite band, Laneway is definitely the best music festival NZ has to offer, and my iPod is still filled with obscure hipster bands. But I’m not writing off artists for silly reasons anymore – my current favourite playlist has the likes of Kesha & Selena Gomez mixed between CHVRCHES & Chaos Chaos. Yeah, I get sick of hearing the same song over and over again on the radio, but overexposure is not the same as “legitimately terrible”. My musical life has been so much more fun since I realised that.

Favourite songs of right now (4)

It’s two thirds of the way through the month and I haven’t posted once! I’ve been having mad creative block, trying to think of something worth writing about. Due to said mad creative block, I’ve been listening to way more music than usual so I thought I should share the songs that have been running through my mind all month:

“Writer in the Dark” – Lorde

I’m in love with all of Melodrama to be honest, but for some reason, this song really stands out for me – probably because I’m a sucker for dramatic one-note piano parts (kind of related – here’s my cover of “Liability”). I bought tickets to her Wellington show later in the year and I’m so super pumped – I saw her in 2014 and she was amazing live.

“Stuck” – Noah Cyrus

I’ve been wrestling with my unexpected love of Noah Cyrus’ music, but I’ve come to accept that she has a damn good voice and sings some damn catchy songs – I’m now unashamed of my new obsession. I’ve been repeating the acoustic version of “Make Me (Cry)” since it came out but her new single “I’m Stuck” is unreasonably catchy and has such a cool rhythm, it’s definitely the best thing I’ve heard from her yet.

“Machine” – The Horrors

After three long years, The Horrors have finally released a new song. I’m loving the direction they’re heading in (but in all honesty, I’m such a fangirl that I’d be in love with anything they released). I can’t wait for the new album to come out (and with it, hopefully some NZ tour dates!). I’ve seen them live three times now (not to mention that time I actually met them) and it’ll never be enough.

“Sorry” – Halsey

I loved Halsey’s first album, partly because her songs are damn catchy and also because her songs are in the perfect place in my voice (here’s my cover of “Ghost”, if you’re interested). This song off her new album is really lovely and it’s definitely on my list of songs to cover when I’m next with my piano.

“Heartlines” cover (NZ Music Month!)

My new flat doesn’t have space for a piano and I can’t afford a keyboard just yet, so I can only play the piano when I visit my parents. While I miss being able to play the piano every day, it’s kind of nice having to go to my parents’ house because it means that I visit them more often and still see my cat regularly (he has not forgiven me for going to Canada and is even more mad that I’ve moved out since coming back to NZ). Anyway, I mentioned in my last post that I was planning on covering Broods’ song “Heartlines” and when I went to my parents’ house yesterday I finally got the chance to record it (and to remind my cat that I still love him).

Musical Spotlight: NZ Music Month Edition

Luke Thompson: Luke Thompson is an incredible musician. I’ve seen him live twice now: once with Avalanche City and once when he opened for Passenger. This song is a few years old but is a particular favourite of mine – I love it when singers really go for it in one huge, emotional note and he nails it in this song.

The Naked and Famous: Everyone knows The Naked and Famous because of “Young Blood”, which is a fantastic song, but they have plenty of other wicked songs too. I’ve always loved “Girls Like You” off their debut but lately I’ve been loving their new album “Simple Forms”. It’s some parts dancey, some parts dreamy, all parts awesome.

Broods: I saw Broods live (funnily enough, not in NZ) when they opened for Ellie Goulding in Canada. They’re an awesome live act because they’re so high energy, but they can do chilled vibes equally well – I adore this stripped down version of “Heartlines” because it really shows off their versatility. I’m actually planning on covering this song in a week or so, so keep an eye out for that!

“Liability” cover (it’s NZ Music Month!)

It’s May, which means it’s NZ Music Month! NZ Music Month is a celebration of  the wicked homegrown talent of kiwis, with radio stations playing more local tunes and people focusing on how awesome kiwi musicians are.

Lorde is very probably NZ’s most famous musician, so I figured May would be the perfect opportunity to cover her new song (no, not the one about green lights, the other new song). I love it when big artists release songs with very simple instrumentation (especially when it’s piano-based) because it really shows off their vocals and also makes it super easy for solo acts like to me do a decent cover.

Throughout the month of May I’m going to do my utmost to record some more kiwi covers (maybe an original too?) because NZ truly does have some incredible talent that deserves more love.

“Michicant” cover & remembering how to piano

Coming back to NZ meant reuniting with my lovely piano, which I missed dearly. Any time I found a piano in Canada I played it, but that only amounted to about 10 times (strangely enough, you don’t often find pianos just hanging around) so I’ve been super excited to actually have regular access to a piano again.

The other day I had a full face of makeup on because I had a job interview, so I figured it was the perfect time to finally record a cover on the piano. Despite the fact that I’ve been playing since I was 9 years old and I know this song like the back of my hand, I spent an hour messing it up and cursing at myself. Eventually I remembered how to piano, but I was frustrated enough to not feel self conscious talking to the camera, so please enjoy the sound of both my talking voice and (hopefully) my singing voice in this cover of my favourite Bon Iver song:

EDIT (11/4): Clearly I’ve been away from the piano far too long because I published this under the wrong song name initially. Woops.