To put it negatively, pop music doesn't seem to have a viable adulthood, and masculinity (or whatever) stops making sense — or stops making excitement, anyway. (This last is a lot less true in the dancing than the singing, and I'm more and more questioning whether "popular music" is the right term anyway, "music" being too limited a descriptor. "Popular" is limited, too.)
So, on cue, Rock Critic Roundtable is hosting a discussion regarding NOT MEN, inspired by the relative absence of men (and boys, presumably) in Dave's recent year-end best-ofs. (Absence of male performers and frontmen, that is, not producers and execs.) He's asked Sabina, Jonathan, RGR, and Alex to be the convo, and invited us to the peanut gallery.
From the peanut gallery I have these questions:
--How much is Dave's experience shared; not just voting for female performers rather than male, but which performers, for what reasons? I'll note that the U.S. charts are happy to welcome males. But the Freaky Trigger Top Ten for 2011 was women from start to finish (though that's as performers, front people; if you go by writer-producers, I know just offhand and not visiting Wikip that Teddy Park was at number four and Klas Åhlund was number six, and I'm sure there were others as well representing the uterus-deprived). I get the feeling that, no matter a shared preference for women (which I'm not sure they all have), Dave and Alex seem to be coming from a similar place but RGR, Jonathan, and Sabina aren't nearly as close (to each other or to Dave and Alex). But maybe nonetheless there are telling similarities.
--So in what sense is this judgment (female performers better than male) a phenomenon of a group or a social class or a social category? E.g., in the early '60s a whole bunch of males in their teens or early twenties in the London area art schools were listening to American r&b and blues and rock 'n' roll, often reaching back to the early and mid '50s. Is our current preference for young women performers at all similar to that (similar people in similar circumstances, somewhat influencing one another, forming similar tastes and interests, a sense of where to reach out and away from themselves to find themselves, or to find something, and where the tastes don't match, at least having similar focuses regarding what to disagree on, etc.)? So, which young women, singing which styles and contents? (Richards, Clapton, et al. didn't fasten on just any black American performers, but particular ones, from whom they made something particular of their own.) I think the issue here is at least as much social class as gender.
--In what ways other than gender is Ashlee Simpson, for example, NOT DAVE and NOT ALEX?*
--Continuing that example, how come guys do a worse job than Ashlee of telling the story of Dave and Alex? Were there ever any male performers of the past that Dave and Alex could recognize as telling at least a somewhat similar story (say, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed)? If so, what's the difference between then and now?
--Regarding RGR fave Screeching Weasel: I hadn't listened to them in over a decade, but I'm listening right now, and they're... I don't mind them, but they are 50 million kinds of weak compared to the Stooges and Sex Pistols and Rocket From The Tombs and Guns N' Roses. Maybe I need to blast them louder (which I can't 'cause it's late at night). I suppose one reason that Blackout was my Raw Power of 2007 (comparison made here) was that there was no Stooges Raw Power released in 2007. But I don't see how anyone coming on as a "punk" in 2007 could have done a Raw Power, or how any self-defined punk ever will again, whereas a non-punk like Britney can. So I don't consider my changes in listening since 1973 actual changes in taste, but rather getting what I always got but from different sources. And sure, I've broadened into attempting ballads and such, but still, what moves me now isn't much different from what moved me then, it just, I don't know, has different notes, and styles, a different look, and is made by different social groups. But Britney's closer than the Screechers to rock 'n' roll. (Yeah, I know, I've been making this argument for at least 26 years. Broken record.)
Btw, where I would go in response to Dave's question is to the last full paragraph of my first Rock Critic Roundtable several months ago, 2011 having been The Year In Which Until Almost The Very End I Way Underrated LMFAO:
Bom aspires to Mariah but does a better Britney, even if it's just a joke. LMFAO portray themselves as desperate dance dolts, though they're actually good with timing. In Big Bang, G-Dragon is quite the smoothie, but feigning clumsiness here, he lets himself loose.
One of those cited, Bom, is a woman. But the basic thought here is of needing to go to parody or a derogatory self-portrayal to unleash something in oneself that one is actually good at. And while Bom does quite well anyway (her band finished #4 in the Freaky Trigger poll), it seems as if LMFAO can't function without those constraints. (I say "it seems" because I've yet to hear anything other than their singles.) In a convo with arbitrary_greay on the boyband thread, I said:
"Sexy And I Know It" sounded like a deliberate comic exaggeration and goof in the original too [not just in the Aaron Carter mashup by DJ Bedbugs]. The wink was always there. Which isn't to say LMFAO don't mean it on some level — they realize how average-looking, non-studs they are, that's part of the whole setup and joke; but an underlying message, for them and their fans, is that drunk-ass party slugs like them are doing fine, are as sexy as they need to be (especially when everyone's drunk).
The thing is, LMFAO, being such blustery guys, could never do what 2NE1 do, go "Even if you were me you'd be envious of my body" and do it straightup, no hedging, no taking it back. And conversely they couldn't turn around, like 2NE1, and say, "Don't lie to my face tellin' me I'm pretty... 'cause I know I'm ugly" and make it sound true, every bit of the pain, as 2NE1 do. Guys like LMFAO would just sound pathetic/bathetic.
I guess my thesis (or something) is that Teddy Park, who wrote "Even if you were me you'd be envious of my body" and "Don't lie to my face tellin' me I'm pretty... 'cause I know I'm ugly," couldn't be the one to sing those lines, either, not convincingly. Has to be girls.
Finally, here's a wonderful but also somewhat horrifying performance where a young Korean woman is utterly warm and inviting in a dance with a young man who's supposed to be responding in kind — I think — but seems utterly paralyzed and petrified. The thing is, a typical sexualized r&b performance in America where the guy was confident and responsive would probably bore the fuck out of me.
*Also, despite Autobiography continuing to work for Dave and Alex through their twenties, and me through my fifties, I doubt that those songs could have been written by her and for her if she had been much older than the 19 years she was when she (along with Shanks and DioGuardi et al.) actually created the album.