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Widespread popularity of pop music not an accident

Staff Columnist

Published: Monday, February 20, 2012

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08

I recently came out of the closet. The pop music lover's closet. I have embraced the catchiest, sappiest and danciest of pop anthems, and I am not afraid to tell the world about it. In fact, today I cleaned my room to the tune of Lady Gaga's "Hair," danced to Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl" while mopping the floor at work, and I may or may not be writing this while Selena Gomez's "Love You Like a Love Song" is blasting. I'm embracing it.

Two years ago I was the epitome of a music snob: I liked Arcade Fire before they won Best Album of the Year, had an iPod full of indie, Canadian-produced tunes and pretended not to know the words when Katy Perry came on the car radio. In short, I was way cooler than you.

So what precipitated my plummet from the pedestal of musical pretention? By the subtle influence of many friends, pop tunes began to creep their way into my music library. There was no cause for alarm at first—I mean, I kind of enjoyed The Fray's "How to Save a Life," and Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" was a whole lot of fun to dance to. But soon, without me realizing it, I couldn't put my iTunes on shuffle without Kelly Clarkson's "I Do Not Hook Up" starting, and Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now" crept into my iTunes most played. I'm not quite sure how I managed that last one.

It became clear that my impeccable music taste had become tainted — infected by the basest of music. At that point, surrounded on all sides, I waved my white flag and surrendered to Jessie J's undeniably catchy hooks. Much to my surprise, the world kept turning. I didn't appreciate my old favorites any less, nor did the bros next to me at the gym bat an eye as I mouthed the words to Kylie Minouge's "Get Out of My Way." It was then I knew I was truly free. Since that point, I have been making up for lost time. Allowing pop into my life has allowed me to realize its significance; why it persists in our culture and the function that it serves besides, of course, giving us something to dance to.

I imagine that, by now, you're eagerly awaiting me to explain the cultural relevance of Britney's "Toxic" or Rihanna's "California King Bed." Let's come back to those and do some easier examples first. Madonna's "Express Yourself" and Gaga's "Born This Way" come to the forefront of my mind. While both of these icons have detractors, they have arguably given some of the most important contributions to contemporary culture. Regardless of what you think of these figures, it's hard to deny that a club full of people dancing to Madonna claiming that, for women, "second best is never enough," or the fact that Gaga's anthem for sexual minorities debuted and rested at the No. 1 spot of music charts for six weeks is unimportant. The popularity of these songs makes it hard to deny that these women give voice to a large swath of youth across the nation, which otherwise lack unity. Tunes like these allow youth to drive a wedge between old world views and new ones, allowing a progressive and fresh cultural identity. I'm not sure that these songs and their albums are what changes values originally, but they certainly are a culmination of them. Savage Garden's "Affirmation" and Swedish group The Ark's "In Lust We Trust" are also successful examples of pop artists expressing progressive social views via their music, in addition to body-image-boosting singles like Katy Perry's "Firework" or Pink's "F*ckin' Perfect."

Now onto those titles brought up before, the dirty laundry of pop: the controversial tunes that often draw criticism from concerned mothers or senators with their ties on a little too tight, lumped with the pop that is labeled as vapid, annoying or trite. Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" was denounced by those in the gay community and over-protective mothers alike, but importantly, the song started a conversation about taste, censorship and what flavor chapstick tastes the best.

Letting pop music into my life has done me a world of good. Now I can belt out "Domino" without regret and tear up to movie trailers using "Good Life" without shame. Don't reject pop just because of its popularity. Instead appreciate its message, its audience and its impact on the world we live in. 

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