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Valerie's Views: On conforming to pop

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AUGUST 27, 2015

For some people, pop is an ironic indulgence. It’s reserved for jam sessions in the car with the squad or lit-as-fuck college party playlists. Amid the increasing relevance of social media and the concurrent growth of digital noise, identities validated by exclusivity now demand greater interest in niche genres.

A phase-and-a-half ago, I was devoted to the underground, and I never cared for what was playing on the radio. At social gatherings, I’d mouth along to Carly Rae Jepsen on the appropriate occasion before returning home to my private realm of incoherent garage punk, electronic ambient and sleazy, appropriative white-girl rap.

My pop obsession began when my busy academic schedule made it difficult to regularly scour the plains of obscurity for new artists. As a result, I had to resort to more accessible modes of entertainment. The depths of the Disney throwback archive — which consisted of pre-2010 Miley Cyrus, emo Demi Lovato, the Jonas Brothers — became my sole source of sustenance amidst desperate all-nighters and last-minute research papers. I dragged myself back into the world of radio pop, a place I had distanced myself from since middle school. Soon enough, I couldn’t get enough of the mindless, mass-produced stuff.  

My facetious indulgence in pop turned unironic, transforming into a fully seasoned religious devotion. My Spotify queues were wiped clean of the indie and lesser known artists to make room for my playlists of Fifth Harmony, One Direction, Ariana Grande and Selena Gomez. I wasn’t just dabbling in the mainstream anymore. I was swimming in it.

Admitting my infatuation with the mainstream felt more taboo than having a second scene phase or attending a cybergoth dance party. I felt as if I was conceding to the reigns of normalcy, disgracing the values of the modern age by conforming to the shallow industrial complex that is generic pop and not liking “REAL!!!1!” music.

In realizing there is absolutely no shame in sincerely enjoying fetishized sanity-numbing pop, I no longer found it necessary to consider any kind of music a guilty pleasure. Music, on a universal level, is supposed to invite unadulterated joy, whether it be considered country, dubstep, alternative folk or any bizarre category I can’t relate to. A song doesn’t necessarily require a deeper meaning or philosophical interpretation to convey quality. It is completely fine to share some of the same tastes in music as an 11-year-old preteen fresh out of elementary school.

I’ll admit I’ll always lowkey enjoy of the crinkly nosed, side-eye expressions made at me when I tell people that Nicki Minaj’s verse in “Monster” exceeds in ingenuity the entire discography of The Beatles. But if I’ve learned anything from my growing obsession with pop, it is that all music is valid and deserving of praise in its own right. Even The Beatles, who have been historically legitimized as “real” music, were considered youth pop trash by crotchety adults in their time in the same register as modern critics of One Direction.

Justin Bieber’s music is no less authentic or demanding of raw talent than Elton John’s. The viral phenomenon of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” proved itself a brilliant work of genius that has made unparalleled cultural impact, a reality shrouded by the frenzy of both positive reception and hostile backlash. Ultimately, the act of relinquishing yourself to the wave of the masses is not a complete abdication of identity. It is untrue in these cases to assume that music demanded by the majority requires any less artistry, methodical production or visceral craft than either the classics or particular artsy, abstract genres.

So let your sheep flag fly and join your fellow plebs in the pursuit of simple pleasures. Life is entirely too short to be a closeted Taylor Swift fan.

Contact Valerie Khau at [email protected]
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AUGUST 27, 2015