Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pop History Repeating Its Terrible Self

Okay, so I'm a little ashamed of what I'm about to write, but considering some of the pop culture analysis on Paris Hilton in relation to Terrorism I did during one of my classes last quarter, I'll somehow make it through.

The biggest pop star in the world is not the A-Rod breaking, Guy Ritchie maybe-divorcing Madonna, she belongs in the 80s. It's not washed-up deadbeat mom Britney Spears, she left her dignity and tiny bit of singing talent in the 90s. However unfortunately, the queen of pop at the moment is mid-teen Miley Cyrus. Why are so many teen girl popstars emerging from Disney? Is nobody else trying to cash in on this market? First the Mousketeer likes of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, then Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan, and now Cyrus. They've even expanded into male pop stars in the model of former Mouseketeer Justin Timberlake with The Jonas Brothers.

There's a pretty big difference in the shift of the types of female pop stars. Madonna obviously didn't start with Disney, or even in bubblegum fodder (even her earliest material was sexually charged), she was edgy from the get-go. She got the way she was by defying female stereotypes of dealing with sexuality and embracing what she wanted and actually being rebellious. Female pop stars now adhere to the idea of manufactured rebellion; just look at the obvious transitions of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera into sex goddesses by the release of their 2nd albums. They just wore less clothing (look at the regression of music videos, especially in Aguilera's "Dirrty" and Spears' "I'm a Slave 4 U", there was nothing about taking pride in your sexuality and turning the idea of men being dominant on its head. Spears and Aguilera became idols for men to ogle and worship, Madonna did what she wanted when she wanted to because that's how she wanted to be.

Now, I'll admit to having listened to a few Miley Cyrus and Jonas Brothers songs, and I've seen some of the music videos on YouTube, and the stuff just bothers me in the way only heavily overproduced material does. Its catchy, there's no doubt about that, but its all flash and no substance.

There is one thing that occurred to me as I found out a little more about the situation of Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. The two mega-stars are very religious, and Cyrus had a relationship with one of the brothers (I honestly don't care who, it'd be like Hoku dating one of the members of Hanson, you can't tell between any of them), but now they're broken up. Whatever that means, they're 15-year-old devout Christians, but then again so were both of the Spears sisters, and look how that turned out.

Here's where we start to retread our manufactured pop culture. Cyrus' lead hit off her new album is "7 Things," which details 7 things Miley hates about some mysterious ex-boyfriend, later rescinding the hatred in favor of 7 things she likes about her former flame. Now, its impossible to count the 7 things in the chorus because she never separates the ideas into 7 thoughts, and rambles on with commas for certain reasons, ultimately ending with hating/liking that he makes her love him.

Okay, stop for a second, we've got a breakup song between Miley Cyrus and one of the Jonas Brothers, both Disney stars...but that seems strangely familiar. Oh wait, this is pretty much exactly what happened between ex-Mouseketeers Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake around the release of his song "Cry Me A River." Two pop stars, one relationship, one breakup, one breakup song.

So why am I relating these two things? Well for one it allows me to bemoan the decline in music quality over the past six years. "Cry Me A River" is a Timbaland-produced piece of revenge-pop genius with great lyrics and singing from Timberlake (and god damn is that video amazing), while "7 Things" only has catchiness going for it, not danceability or improved re-listening (but honestly what song of hers would actually benefit from multiple listens?). I also see it as a shift towards trying to make meaningless childhood relationships more adult.

Now I really disagree with the conservative viewpoint that movies like Juno and Jaime Lynn Spears giving birth are exposing the possibility of pregnancy and the supposed "dangers" of adult life to an audience too young to view them, but that this kind of dumbed-down similarity emerging in a celebrity "relationship" at 15 instead of 20 just seems odd.

Cyrus' chief audience is even younger than her, what do they know about these kinds of relationships? With Cyrus and Jonas being even younger and more religious, the sex has essentially been driven out of the equation. With Spears and Timberlake there were lyrical allegations of cheating committed by Spears, as well as the question over how virginal she actually was. I don't think that question emerges for Cyrus, despite the photo scandals she's had, and it seems to me that in this bizarre progression of pop stars of younger ages mirroring older more complex relationships, the "adult" topic of sex is being completely left out and kids aren't understanding fully what comes along with something that complicated.

It's a stretch, I know, but when the lines started connecting between Cyrus/Jonas and Spears/Timberlake I just sort of let my mind wander on the topics, and these are my thoughts. Yeah, I've actually written a serious response to a ridiculous music trend, but this is the way the money is going, so we have to pay attention to it, at least to bemoan how terrible it is that people actually pay to listen to these CDs, get tickets to these concerts, pay for a ticket to the movie version of the concert, then buy the DVD of the filmed concert as well as the TV season DVDs. If you can name anything else in music making that kind of revenue, I'll start focusing on them.

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