Top 40 radio is littered today with sap-mall pop groups and chintzy solo acts that have all the substance of porous cream puffs. Record companies are building better bands from producer-picked dancing models that can only occasionally carry a tune. They put together a group, get producers to write lyrics and a melody, hire the kids a choreographer -Paula Abdul or somebody - slam out an album, and then play it non-stop on the radio for a few weeks. Truly awful albums fair poorly despite the grating coercion of constant exposure; they only sell a few hundred thousand albums. Anything else with a beat makes millions. Then the group, finished with their dance lessons, gets sent out on tour to enjoy fifteen months of fame before the record company drops them, only to remember the kids after they get out of rehab and start writing rap lyrics.
I hate the music industry: how it smothers the public with no-talent artists; how it thrives off one-hit wonders, image, and shoddy record deals; and how it drives radio and television to continually broadcast the smarmy dumbed-down pop their cardboard-cutout musicians spew out for deaf execs. The Backstreet Boys? I can't stand it. As bad as Meatloaf, only there's more of them. Michael Bolton and Kenny G may only be painful memories by now, but Brittany Spears and these little go-go boy-bands are picking up where they left off, producing heartless imitations of art that sound like freeze-dried disco-biscuits. The beautiful plastic faces - never mind the plastic breasts - coupled with tawdry lyrics and some poorly choreographed modern dance makes me want to run home and watch "The Lawrence Welk Show" reruns.
"My loneliness is killin me," Spears breathlessly intones in her number one hit, "Baby One More Time", now in its 42nd week in the top 5 of the Billboard charts. The effects processor her producer ran the vocal track through almost helps. Almost. "I must confess I still believe," she continues, and shortly thereafter an all-girl chorus backs up dear Brittany's pale voice, "still believe" they echo. "When I'm not with you I lose my mind," madness! Death! Grieve oh grieve for thine poor wretched soul! Oh sun, oh moon, oh cute boy I met last week, I didn't get your number. "Give me a sign, hit me baby one more time!" If it wasn't for that big cheesy grin she has pasted to her face as she lip-synchs the song for the vids I'd almost think the song was about domestic abuse, but instead we have a drum machine beeping and skronking out stale hip-hop formulas from the late 80's and an All-American sixteen year old clutching her newly enhanced glands and yelling "hit me baby one more time" with the kind of enthusiasm that makes me think of some particularly ecstatic Whitman poems.
The problem here cannot be bad high school poetry, however. The poetics of angst-ridden lovelorn youths is a fact of post-pubescent hormone imbalances. There is little to be done about such endemic expression beyond better parenting, a thing which I'm sure most parents would tell me is unlikely to stop the emotional tides of adolescence. The problem, perhaps, can't even be that the record companies are making drivel of this caliber, or that they are doing it to make millions off of teeny-bopper sub-culture. We cannot even complain that they created teeny-boppers to begin with, as this was an inevitable scenario - the outcome of the music industry's grand experiments in the 60s to produce in-house pop stars, straight from the casting couch to the spotlight - hence "The Monkies". The experiment was repeated later, most notably in the case of "The New Kids on the Block", the horrific plague of my own middle school years. Now in college my ears and sense of propriety are assaulted by "N'sync" and "98 Degrees". It curdles the brain and makes the ears bleed, all in the name of good fun.
Ideally none of this would be possible. Ideally radio would be locally controlled and designed to inform the consumer, not drive the cattle into compliance with national pop standards. That is to say, music could be treated more like an art form and less like some industrial product. But I'm living on dreams and fantasy.
No, while the distributors running the radio stations around this country were pushing Hootie album after Hootie album onto taste-impaired members of society, grown patriarchs of the recording industry (namely Eric Foster White, who, not surprisingly, penned some of the songs on Whitney Houston's latest "effort", and Max Martin, who so far as I know has done nothing beyond contracting an awful name) were writing the lyrics for Spears' number-one best-selling album. I'll spare you the verses, the song surprisingly gets much worse considering that the authors are experienced 'tune-smiths'. So what if they're composing the zombification of the pop-lyric, perhaps we should consider it a neo-baroque exercise in mundanity. There they are, french horn and strings; like any over-produced work of crap the neo-baroque teeny-bopperist movement thrives on a thick agar of pretension: high school crushes are the end of the world; abusive boyfriends are the subjects of upbeat, happy-go-lucky dance tunes; the orchestra swains the pop-star's weak, ineffectual voice; and the target audience consists of 13 year old girls who understand none of it, at least if they're lucky.