Sunday, August 22, 2010
The Britney Spears Effect
There are guilty pleasures in music. Those songs that come on the radio: shallow, anthemic little pop songs that stand for nothing but catchy, radio-friendly mainstream nothingness. The type of song that slithers it's way into your brain, regardless of how much of a wall you try to build up to keep it out. You despise the vocalist of the song, an artist you consider meritless and talentless. Or maybe you despise the lyrics, because you know your IQ just dropped a certain number of points because of the garbage you just put into your ears. Or maybe it's the fact that this song is only getting played on the radio because it's the type of music that sells, thoroughly lacking in originality or inventiveness. Either way, whatever your issue is with this song, it has found it's way, by chance or fate, into your ears. And you are forever changed. It starts with humming it a little while you go about your everyday tasks. No big deal, innocent enough. Then, you hear it on the radio again. Only this time, instead of trying to tune it out, you turn the volume up, rolling up the windows of your vehicle as you do so as to avoid other drivers who may catch you indulging in this little sin. Then, (and this is the sign of a REAL song addiction) you YouTube the video, knowing that you hate yourself a little bit more for doing so, but not being able to help yourself. THIS, my friends, is a catchy pop song. This is a guilty pleasure. I call it: The Britney Spears Effect.
My experience with guilty pleasures, or rather an album full of them, changed my view of music (for better or worse) forever. I used to avoid these artists and songs, as inescapable as they are, out of pure morality. The morality being this: that music should only be made (or played) if the artist really stands behind what they're doing, and means every bit of it. My favorite artists have always been the people who push the limits, exceed expectations, and really strive their best for originality. So naturally, I've always despised the people who own the charts, the corporate monkeys who bring CEO's of artless record labels millions in revenue. And there is one sin that I could not deal with: singing music that was written by other people. So, naturally, I always hated Britney Spears with a fiery passion...
Then, I heard Gimme More. I dare you, any of you, to try and find a song with a less clever chorus. Furthermore, I dare you to find a song that is more ridiculously overproduced. And while you're at it, try to find vocals that sound like they spent more time being altered in a computer before making it to the finished product. You will not find one. This song is as much of a guilty pleasure as there has ever been. It is pure TrashyPornoSensoryPleasurePop, and it is more addictive than crystal meth (and a LOT sexier). I only stumbled across this song because silly little me wanted to see Britney Spears' latest video, only to oogle at how much of a trainwreck she had become, and to see if it was possible for her to sink any lower. (Remember, this single was released around the Shaving of the Head era). Don't get me wrong, I felt bad for the girl, as she was being very publicly crucified by the media. I guess you could say she was a less intelligent and much more auto-tuned version of Jesus, without all the miracles or the Son of God emotional complex. But still, crucified she was, and the whole world was there to see. So, I watched her video, disgusted at how much selling-out a single person could do.
I didn't think much of the song, I only vaguely remember thinking that the beat was catchy, but remained perfectly aware that Britney herself had nothing to do with the creation of the beat, or the writing of the ridiculously shallow lyrics. Then, something strange happened. I heard the song again, and I was hooked. I didn't want to be. In fact, I would have rather been exorcised and had this demon song cast out of my body forever. But hooked I was. I began to see the value in the song, as much as I didn't want to, and I realized just how great the beat really was. It was incredibly trippy and refreshing electro pop, and that's really all there was to it. No, these lyrics did not inspire me. No, I have never felt an affinity or emotional connection to Britney Spears or her manufactured brand and image. But I've never felt an emotional connection to chocolate chip cookies, either. In fact, I feel like a guilty fat ass everytime I eat one. But I still eat them occasionally. I mean fuck, they're GOOD, aren't they?! And so was this song. It was fucking GOOD, and I dare anyone on this earth to disagree with that statement. So I did what any logical Obsessive Compulsive walking music encyclopedia facing a crisis of musical integrity vs. guilty pleasure would do, I went to Wikipedia.
Wikipedia. The God of all information sites. Any album, any song, any artist, any time period, it's all there! And sure enough, Britney is there, in all of her electronic glory. I dug a little deeper into this album of hers (Blackout) and found what I was looking for: Danja. Danja is a record producer, a fucking genius, who worked with Timbaland (one of the Saints of Modern Day Music Production) before making a name for himself as a solo producer, eventually working his way up the ranks to work with the likes of Britney herself, the queen of the charts, the virgin of the 90's, and the slut of the 2000's. This is every pop song producer's dream: to work with the one woman who can ensure that 9/10 people in this world hears your music. I realized, through my "research", that Danja not only produced this song, but most of her album as well (an album that was receiving mainly positive reviews from critics, who were stunned that Britney could still release good music even while being nailed to her metaphorical cross). I also found another interesting fact: Britney Spears was the executive producer of the album. The plot thickens.
All of this seems like useless information, the rant of one who remembers way too much about music that matters way too little. But there IS a point. The point is this: the minute that I knew a little bit of the background of the song, the more interesting the song became. What could be viewed as a simple stupid hit song was becoming, in my head, an epic piece of pop masterpiece. Once I realized that there was someone behind the scenes of this song, arranging synthesizers, drum loops, and all kinds of strange sounds and samples, someone who knew exactly how to create a mesmerizing and hypnotic effect on the ears and brain, I became fascinated. I stopped listening to Britney. I mean sure, she was still there, singing in that breathy, sexy ass voice of hers, but I didn't really care about that. I could imagine Danja, sitting in his studio at 3 in the morning, knowing that there was something missing, something he needed to add before the song could be JUST right, and not giving up until he did it. Now, that's probably an incredibly romantic and ridiculous portrayal of the creation of this album, but it serves the point: I was beginning to listen to the actual music of the song, viewing it as a piece of art that was created by someone with a passion for music, rather than just letting it wash over me the way most people do. I really just delved in. I eventually bought the album. I fucking love it.
I guess the point is that music has its way of changing your perception. It's hard to view any song as meritless when you actually stop and LISTEN to every little sound, and realize that someone, somewhere, created this, because they are good at what they do, hopefully because they LIKE what they do. I really got into pop music much more in the years after this, not because I'm shallow or close-minded as a music listener, but because I began to fall in love with the producers. These people whose job is to use the electronic production tools available in the new millennium to create entire orchestrations of sound, using no organic instruments whatsoever. I started researching even the most shallow of all music, looking for the names of the songwriters and producers who worked on the songs that had a beat or sound that I had fallen for. I started to look BEHIND the scenes, instead of just looking at what's on stage. And I began to appreciate the radio, and the electronic sound that is so "in" in 2010. We're lucky to have so many people who are good with keyboards.
So I guess you could say I started to appreciate Britney Spears as well. Might even say I became a fan. I began to regard her use of songwriters to craft her songs as the equivalent of the frontman of a rock band using his band to craft the sound he wants. Sure, he may not pick up a guitar, may not know how to hit the drums the right way, but he knows what he wants. He knows what he's going for. And he'll use any means necessary to get the sound he wants. This may, once again, be a romantic view of Britney Spears' songwriting process. As much as I would love to sit here and think that she is wholly devoted to each and every one of her songs, and uses her songwriters as a band to craft the sound she wants, I don't really know that. I've never met the bitch. But it's a nice thought. And I respect her, if simply for the fact that her name and silky-smooth voice is the window by which many producers can get their music out there to the world. That's just badass.