[Editor's Note: Don't miss Jessica's reading of The Girls' Guide to Rocking — a hip, inspirational guide for rad girls who want to make their rock dreams come true — at Powell's Books on Hawthorne on Monday, July 13, at 7:30pm.
The gig is up. This much we know. The big paradigm shift is upon us, or at least floating down the pike, and so pop music function must follow cultural form. For the better part of the last decade (we can shorthand this as Bush-administration era), pop was a refuge from war and national shame — we could stick our heads into its golden sand and blot out the ever-grimmer feelings associated with American citizenship.
Pop, dance music, and even indie rock, for the last few years, have done well in mirroring the manic tenor of American consumerism, goading and gilding our insatiable appetite for more. Post-9/11 pop reflects our desire to deny and escape the problems we're now confronting, and certainly all the irony, "cocaine-glamour," and display of excess that pop was presenting us was a great fucking way to blot out the misery and instability. It all had its glorious moments (I'm looking at you, Beyoncé), but now its time is irrefutably up. More than being parcel of the Obama-age sea change, music's shift is just as tied to the music industry collapsing on itself — there is less money and glamour to be had. No one is sure how exactly making a living from music is going to work (or if that's even possible, as we are several fan-generations into the idea of "music = free").
This lessening of the stakes right-sizes things a bit. Unlike the Darwinism-of-the-markets talk that is applied to other "bubbles" (what isn't a burst bubble at this point?), the music industry has never been fair and it's always been a survival of the fittest; it's hard, it's a hassle, you have to really want it to do it. What is now fermenting is the idea that this attendance to excess is untenable, distracting, or, if we follow the lyrics of Lily Allen's latest album — dishonest. In this right-sizing, there is an air of the grounded-and-real coming to the fore; as we are amidst a capitalist-culture free fall, the essential and the real are all that matter now.
What is it that (pop) music is going to be good for now? What is it going to mirror back to us? What will it deliver us to/from as we sally begrudgingly towards acceptance of capitalism's apocalypse? To try and extend pop's pre-2009 fantasies to cover us now is not really an option — those drugs don't work anymore. While the exact ratio and make-up of what new heaven/hell music is about to push back at us, one thing is clear: irony and irreverent distance are inappropriate responses to our new-'Bama age; it's a callous posture when you are digging your way out of a hole.
This is not to insist that pop must reflect our daily reality, as I am not sure any of us are really ready for chart hits about lying awake at night wondering if our laid-off parents are going to have to move in with us, or that a Taylor Swift torture-memo concept album is what 2009 needs. Pleasure and escape are fundamental functions of pop/rock music ? that will never change ? but what we can wring from it is changing and will continue to.