I love music, I really do. In a previous life, where visual art is now, there was sound. I still love music, it’s just that I happen to write about different things these days, these other preoccupations. But there are brilliant others out there, crafting silly + gorgeous ruminations on our soundtracks. Wallace Wylie, a frequent contributor to Everett True’s Collapse Board, is my new favourite. A recent essay of Wylie’s makes a compelling argument for “Why Pop Music Matters (No Matter What Age You Are).” And here’s an example, from that piece, that demonstrates why I feel so enamoured by this man’s words:
Pop music is…free-market driven. Those who imagine that pop music pushed through important cultural gains, for instance viewing MTV’s decision to play Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video as a watershed moment in race relations in America, are actually outing themselves as cheerleaders for neo-liberalism and market-driven change. Postmodernism’s embrace of pop as a stick to beat academia and serious critics with presents a huge contradiction in terms of postmodernism’s supposed aims, i.e. the breaking down of accepted cultural norms about Western Civilization. It exposes postmodernism for what it is, an in-house coup by one set of academics at the expense of another. Neo-liberalism is merely the next phase in Western Civilization’s obsessional belief that freedom and the free market remain inexplicably linked. The fact that postmodernism is willing to embrace that belief shows that postmodernism is merely the next link in the chain of Western thought rather than a serious attempt to undermine it. Postmodernism bows down before the power of the market as much as any neo-con and, as such, it props up the single most important and dominant aspect of Western culture, the very one that Western armies and corporations are forcing on the rest of the world as we speak.
Wylie’s contention is that postmodernism does not rescue pop music from charges of frivolity that critics would have be pop’s undoing. But further, postmodernism and pop cannot be bedfellows for their antithetical relationship to the status quo:
Pop took the artistic inclination to experiment and pumped it full of business-think steroids so as to keep the music in a constant state of revolution. It put those opposed to pop’s agenda in the unenviable position of either championing artistic conservatism or endorsing deliberately unmarketable product as a means to sneer at the novelty-driven desires of the pop music aficionado. In other words, pop outflanked all of its critics by making them extreme traditionalists or anti-populist cranks. The deep, dark secret at the heart of the pop experience is this: pop music doesn’t need an intellectual framework, it doesn’t need postmodernism, and it certainly doesn’t need this essay. It lives, breathes, and devours all in its path regardless of whether you approve or not. It doesn’t care whether you give your endorsement with an ironic smirk or with a heartfelt scream. Pop music is smarter than you are.
Wylie concludes by making an argument for paying attention that is hard to ignore: To seek out pop music that moves you is to perform that moment of the verb, to be alive, to resist calcification and feel yourself beyond your otherwise predictable boundaries. Like good pop music (and like good art), this writing makes me feel alive. It makes me wonder what we’ll become, which is the best kind of wondering to be left with.