So What

Let’s set the WABAC Machine for the halcyon days of 2008, with one of the biggest pop hits of the decade. I think this song should bring it all flooding back nicely. It was one of the last pop hurrahs of the slutty, plastic crystal crusted, Adderal-manic 2000’s. Times sure were different back then – there was this thing called ‘optimism’ and everyone was spending buttloads of money to look like a drag strip hooker. I always thought that the singer P!nk was pretty much the worst of 2000’s pop music: she combined some of the most bombastically generic production with a mawkish earnestness untroubled by irony, all while having the aesthetics of a teenager trying to dress ‘punk’ in a suburban outlet mall. I wouldn’t say that she was the nadir of lowest-common-denominator pop music, because she is, at least, a pretty decent vocalist, but she’s pretty close to it. Even a stopped clock, however, is sometimes on point, and P!nk’s combination of trashy-white-girl posturing and insecure-white-girl vulnerability served her well at least once. She pulled the inspiration for this song from the breakup of her marriage, and although it turned out to be a false alarm and they got back together, the angst is real, and it provided fodder for one of the best defiantly crying-only-on-the-inside breakup anthems. It’s an exact, specific feeling that everyone knows: when you loudly insist, to anyone at the bar who will listen, that you’re still a rock star, while your makeup runs down your face and most of your drink is on your shoes, and you know you’re probably going to wake up with a black eye. Yep, you know you’ve had nights like that, and this is your song for nights like that.

So Long Old Bean

Devendra Banhart somehow manages to evoke visions of proper English gardens and South American exoticism in one take. It’s his mixed heritage, of course, and polyglot interests. This is exactly the kind of blissed-out openness that sounds like it wafted down from the Summer of Love. People back then weren’t afraid to be twee or sentimental, or childishly delighted by the world around them. That was the drugs talking, of course. Or maybe the air was just headier. Anyway, I miss the popularity of psychedelic music. It feels at-home to me.

So Happy I Could Die

Lady Gaga has written her generation’s ode to female masturbation, meaning that that particular playlist is now between her and Cyndi Lauper. The difference between now and Lauper’s day is that nobody really noticed. It was barely a blip between all of Lady Gaga’s many other controversies; there wasn’t enough attention to go around for a conversation about sexual wellness because there were so many risque outfits to talk about. Anyway it fits right in with Gaga’s aesthetic of hedonistic self-empowerment. Gaga understands that for the millennial ladies, it goes without saying that if you can’t find a flesh-and-blood disco stick, you can opt for the battery-powered kind. Of course, in fitting with the millennial mindset, it could also be understood as an exploration of alcoholism and alienation, because it’s the conundrum of our time that social stability has declined inversely to the increase of all that self-actualization and autonomy for the modern woman.

So Easy

You might remember this song from such important cultural events as… a T-Mobile commercial from sometime in the early 2000’s. Really. Judging by the YouTube comments, a lot of people remember it from just that, and some have even spent the past decade searching for it. Well, T-Mobile fans, your search is over. It’s Royksopp, from the 2001 album Melody A.M., which is considered quite a classic in the annals of Scandinavian electronic music. This obviously beggars a conversation about how art and commerce have melded together into a new state of hyper-capitalist sensory-surround pop culture. It wasn’t that long ago that no serious artist would ever consider selling their music for commercial use, because it would disgrace them as an artist. It was called ‘selling out’ and anyone who did it was seen as a greedy hack who should just go jump off a bridge in shame. Remember when The Rolling Stones sold Start Me Up to Microsoft in the 90’s? They were one of the first major artists to license their music, and it was a real scandal. Well, now they have more money than God, and yesterday’s scandal is today’s best practices. Now, it seems like, if we have to see ads and watch commercials – and we do, oh, how we do – we can at least expect to discover some cool new music, and it’s a great way for artists to break out and get themselves out there, since nobody makes any money selling records anymore. Everybody wins! Hooray for terminal-stage capitalism!

Snowball

So, have you heard about Moby? Apparently he’s a sad schmuck loser who consistently strikes out with women who are far out of his league and then lies about it. Like when he wrote in his memoir that he dated Natalie Portman and she was all like “wut, lol, no I was 18 you creep” and he was like “but we’ve been photographed together, please pleeese tell them we dated” and she was like “hard no!” and then he was so humiliated he canceled his book tour. Which is hardly terrible or earth-shaking as far as celebrity gossip goes, but it does put me once again in the exhausting position of evaluating my fandom of a person who got caught soiling their pedestal. Which, in this case, is hardly a scandal. Moby’s pedestal was never that high, and he didn’t even do anything particularly wrong besides being an average delusional sad dude who thinks that a few hang-out sessions and/or misguided hook-up add up to a ‘relationship’, and being a self-deprecating sad schmuck who gets rejected by women has kind of always been his ‘brand’, so. I mean, I was just evaluating my fanhood of Michael Jackson, and although I decided that I was perfectly okay with not being his fan anymore, I still spent the rest of the day singing “Annie are you OK?” in my head, so… this is child’s play, really. The only thing that gets me is that, unlike full-blown pedophiles, delusional sad schmucks with creepy intentions are fucking everywhere, they’re an everyday part of every woman’s life, and though they may be thinner on the ground once you’ve aged out of being potentially dumb enough to fall for them, they don’t ever entirely go away, and the fact that Natalie Portman still has to waste her time clarifying that she did not in fact ‘date’ a creepy sad older man who imagined himself dating her because they hung out a few times, well, just…. eww, squick. Moby not canceled, but unfortunately revealed to be a mediocre human being, flawed in a very conventional, boring, and pathetic way.

Smile Upon Me

Gee, I wonder what Passion Pit’s been up to. Does Passion Pit still exist as such? Their most recent record came out in 2017, and I guess that they’ve suffered from having singer Michael Angelakos’s personal life being made into a focus point. (He came out in 2017.) Also, is this particular brand of dreamy electronic pop still au courant? I mean, as far as I’m concerned, electro-dreampop is the genre of the decade and I will never stop loving it. But also it’s 2019 and maybe it’s something else to crest the wave. (Please don’t let it be overly-earnest singer-songwriters with high-pitched voices.) Anyhow, in 2008, when they released their first EP, Passion Pit was ahead of the wave, and that makes them essential listening.

Smile

Lily Allen is almost the same age as me, and her career follows such a perfectly post-millennial trajectory. She was the first and, I think, only, person to parlay MySpace popularity into a major mainstream pop career. She released her first demos online in 2005 and a year later she was a real-life star. Obviously, no one uses MySpace anymore, but social media has become the gateway, unguarded by anyone but trolls, from obscurity to notoriety. Nowadays, it’s a near-instant process and it’s become common to see young stars following a Kurt Cobain-like trajectory from promising to prematurely dead in a matter of months, as opposed the years it formerly took for that kind of drama to play out. Oh, but in the golden mid-2000’s, when Lily Allen had the sweet hit of the year, it was unheard of. Where did this girl come from and how did she do it? There was even a grudging sense that Allen had ‘cheated’ her way to fame, that she wasn’t really a ‘real artist’ because she’d used the internet to grow her fanbase, bypassing the usual years-spent-in-the-trenches process. There was talk about the necessity of paying one’s dues in order to have earned the sweet rewards of stardom. Nowadays, that feels like old people talk. Now one cares how you came up as long as you’re generating content. Lily Allen, for her part, got herself a major label contract as soon as she could, and it was only with that financial backing and PR know-how that she fully cleared the hurdle between internet sensation and entertainment industry professional. And now she’s writing songs about the angst of being a divorced single mother, making me, for one, feel incredibly old. On the other hand, though, it’s a kinda heartwarming to see the former MySpace brat grow into a pro with a long-term career that she’s steered, bumpily enough, through controversy and personal struggles, proving that artistic longevity is possible and sustainable, even for the instant-gratification generation.