Friday, November 12, 2010

Then and Now

Next week, one of my classes arrives at a unit on popular music studies. For these moments, I really like to get into the actually-popular wing of popular music, and assign as the listening whatever the current top singles are. If you were wondering, here is the iTunes Top 5 as of this morning. I choose iTunes rather than Billboard because it tends to be a little more stylistically diverse.

1. Glee Cast, "Teenage Dream"
2. Black Eyed Peas "The Time (Dirty Bit)"
3. Ke$ha, "We R Who We R"
4. Katy Perry, "Firework"
5. Rihanna Featuring Drake, "What's My Name?"

I had not yet seen the video for "Firework," which is quite...something. I'm actually kind of a Katy Perry fan; I bought her first album and although it has its ridiculous moments (most of the singles) as a musical whole it was surprisingly strong. Rihanna continues to bore me, the Black Eyed Peas continue to mystify me, and Ke$ha, well, what can you really say about Ke$ha that hasn't been said before. I'm glad, however, that we'll get an excuse to talk about Glee.

The first time I did this was in the August of 2006, teaching History of Rock and Roll as a summer course at UCLA. I looked up that Top 10 for curiosity's sake:

1. Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy"
2. Ashlee Simpson, "Invisible"
3. Nelly Furtado & Timbaland, "Promiscuous"
4. The Pussycat Dolls featuring Big Snoop Dogg, "Buttons"
5. Christina Aguilera, "Ain't No Other Man"
6. Jessica Simpson, "A Public Affair"
7. The Fray, "Over My Head (Cable Car)"
8. Cassie, "Me & U"
9. Shakira featuring Wyclef Jean, "Hips Don't Lie"
10. John Mayer, "Waiting on the World to Change"

Oh man, I forgot how much I hate the Fray. It kills me that I have that song in my iTunes, left over from teaching that class. I should just delete it while I'm thinking about it.


As I recall, this was the summer in which people (especially my students) really, really hated Ashlee Simpson post-SNL meltdown. The other notable thing about that 2006 Top 10 was how many of those songs pretty directly riffed off very specific older music. Sometimes it was direct rip-off: John Mayer making a near-exact copy of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready," and Ashlee Simpson doing Madonna's "Holiday." Christina Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man" came from her "big band" album Back to Basics, and of course Gnarls Barkley had made it into the public eye thanks to the reuse of Beatles's music in The Grey Album.

There's not nearly as much historicity in today's Top 5, with the exception of the Black Eyed Peas bizarre use of "(I've Had) The Time of Our Lives." Beyond that, I haven't had time to process, so we'll see what everyone has to say next week.


Glenn said...

I choose iTunes rather than Billboard because it tends to be a little more stylistically diverse.

1. Glee Cast, "Teenage Dream"
2. Black Eyed Peas "The Time (Dirty Bit)"
3. Ke$ha, "We R Who We R"
4. Katy Perry, "Firework"
5. Rihanna Featuring Drake, "What's My Name?"

They sure don't sound "diverse" to my ears. It's all basically one-on-the-floor dance pop. What's diverse that I'm missing?

PMG said...

Ha, the diversity is definitely relative! I was mostly happy to see the Glee cover on the iTunes chart. Plus, on the Billboard chart, Rihanna is there twice. But to tell the truth, I didn't think about the fact that Bruno Mars (Billboard, not iTunes) does provide something like diversity.

Axman said...

Interesting approach to use the charts as your basis for listening choices. I typically don't go this route myself, partly because I have a long-standing antipathy toward most of what ends up at the top of the charts (typical pop-scholar snobbery, I know) but also because of how much I see my role as teacher as partly curatorial - I want to make choices about listening that will stretch my students beyond what's already familiar. I wonder though, if in assigning chart-topping songs, you also engage the students in discussion of how the charts are compiled and what sort of authority they wield within the industry. If I were to use the charts as a listening guide I'd want to subject the institution of music charts, and the notion of "popularity" they promote, to some sort of critical scrutiny at the same time.

PMG said...

Yeah, we will definitely talk about charts as institutions--the differences between the iTunes and Billboard charts are certainly revealing. I should say that we are also spending a day discussing a chapter of Running with the Devil together with a selection of Bon Jovi, Poison, etc. Also, a lot of my students read this blog (hi!) and so hopefully we can have a discussion about this discussion!

I'm curious how others handle the challenge of having about a week to introduce popular music studies. We're a NASM-style music program mostly geared towards awarding the BMus, and so this is really the only moment in the curriculum where they will get it unless they search it out on their own. I could certainly also see doing a more focused look at some particular repertoire that lends itself well to deep analysis. But I have to admit I'm a fan of contemporary pop, and hope to do a project on it someday, so this approach reflects my own scholarly interests as well.

KG said...

I'm in a nagging mood, so I thought I'd remind that it was Jessica, not Ashlee, that used Madonna's "Holiday." Just hum the chorus to "A Public Affair" and you'll seriously miss the Madge. ::sigh::

This reminds me, are you going to talk at all about that Enrique Iglesias (feat. Pitbull) song that samples Lionel Ritchie? I think that is even weirder than Black Eyed Peas. You could frame it as inappropriate musical appropriations.

Oh, and just for fun, here's a mashup I found that's relevant to the material at hand:

Have fun!!

cpo said...

Ugh, I'm teaching Teenage Dream today from Glee and it is UNBEARABLE to listen to. Given, Katy Perry uses auto-tune too, but it hurt my ears and my soul.

I just mix in popular music throughout my 20th century syllabus. 4 on post-1950s popular music. 4 on pre-1950s. And then I go into art music influenced by popular music.

PMG said...

Yeah, I felt the same way as I think you said on Twitter; I really want to like Glee, but it is really, really uneven. That a cappella version of "Teenage Dream" is a great example of the worst side of it--it would have been so much more powerful if that they hadn't auto-tuned it to death. The overall style of the show is interesting, but good musical moments are few and far between. And usually involve Kristen Chenoweth.

cpo said...

I've changed my mind in some ways about "Teenage Dream." I think, first of all, that it's a great teaching tool. It really makes the fantasy of the show obvious, and opened a discussion of musicals in general.

Also, I kinda like how it sounds after that discussion.