Tom Ewing’s overview of pop in the oughts is crucial reading for any Idolator reader, not the least because without his influence in the earliest part of the decade this site (and probably a good chunk of the Pitchfork list!) would look pretty different. (Tom was one of the guiding lights behind the bulletin board I Love Music, where I and a lot of other writers cut their musical-rhetorical chops.) It’s a dense piece full of lots of meaty material on how the “pop” ideal has shape-shifted since the Britney-n-Justin glory days that ushered in the millennium; I’ve excerpted a bit about the curious nature of pop qua pop in the current moment (which is something that I think about a lot) after the jump.
As the importance of a steady stream of fresh tracks grew– to drive iTunes sales, lubricate the blogs, populate the MySpace– so team-ups, remixes, and covers proliferated. Many existed in semi-official limbo, others– like the forced collaborations of mash-up artists– were unapproved, though also unmolested.
Any successful act or even song would now generate huge dataclouds of music and video way beyond the official catalogue. And for less successful artists, it became apparent to pop fans what a treacherous creature that “official catalogue” could be. In a shrinking industry, the pop almost-star’s position is a treacherous one. You get the feeling many people at record labels don’t particularly like commercial pop as music, and if your initial tracks failed to get radio play or a solid chart placing, your album might vanish unchampioned from the schedules. You’d either be dropped or in re-development limbo, and when a full-length did emerge it would often bear no relation to its original leaks or teasers.
Like the endless collaborations, the extended unofficial catalogue is something pop learned from hip-hop, and towards the end of the 00s this limbo effect became a particular hazard for R&B acts. The release this year of Ciara’s Fantasy Ride, for instance, was a bittersweet one for the fans who’d followed the breadcrumb trail of leaks and promotional false-dawns. They ended up with a fine album which couldn’t live up to the highlight CD-Rs they’d spent two or three years compiling.
A huge amount of music designed for mass popularity simply never saw the light of day, which led to a slightly feverish, cratedigging mentality among bloggers who enjoyed it. Combine the punishing schedule of an MP3 blog on the make with the fact that pop’s sound enjoyed global appeal where its local stars didn’t, and pop sites in mid-decade became treasure-houses of gaudy obscurity. Unreleased demos by the fifth member in a minor girlgroup would rub ID3 tags with B-Sides from “Australian Idol” losers, all presented with rote enthusiasm.
Some of this stuff felt worth unearthing– I spent a good part of 2003 wrongly convinced the world would soon bow the knee to Lene Nystrom’s Play With Me, a saucy, sparky solo album from Aqua’s lead vocalist. But mostly the emergent pop fandom reminded me of those old 80s indie-poppers– small cults celebrating a version of pop in exile. Their unwavering belief was the same, too– these songs would be hits if only people could just get to hear them (or, in a slight twist, if a bigger name would just cover them).
There’s so much more at the link; you should definitely read it.
The Decade In Pop [Pitchfork]
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