Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ears of the Masses

This morning while I was perusing the Arts section of the Dallas Morning News my attention was drawn to the review of LMFAO’s recent performance at Dallas’ American Airlines center this past Friday night.

It offered a synopsis of the group’s history as well as some descriptions of the concert which must’ve called for one helluva Tech Rider. But what was said about the music of LMFAO did not sit right with me.

"Musically, LMFAO is essentially a simplistic rehash of Black Eyed Peas' electro-pop hip-hop sound without the female vocals. It's no surprise that they covered the Peas' 'Boom Boom Pow.'"

This reviewer seems to focus on the similarities between LMFAO and Black Eyed Peas viewing the fact that they indeed are similar as negative.  He fails to realize that the fact that they maintain a similar soundworld without the female vocals is innovative and creates a distinct aural and stylistic difference. The BEP have clearly been influential in the development of LMFAO's musical language so it really isn't a surprise that they'd cover one of their hits; that's how they pay tribute just as they have done by referencing Led Zeppelin in the lyrics and the music video of "Party Rock Anthem." This isn't like the Foo Fighters/Prince cover battle, it's a sign of respect. Schumann covered Bach, Liszt covered Beethoven, LMFAO covers the Black Eyed Peas, and I covered "Party Rock Anthem" on my recent jazz album.

The reviewer continues:
"Every LMFAO tune follows the same formula: a tossed-off verse or two and a loud, frenetic thump-thump of a chorus with virtually identical tempo."

First of all: wrong.

Secondly, even if this were true you don't base your criticism of today's pop music on a lack of large-scale formal  innovation. You won't get anywhere. You have to listen deeper. Listen for the moments of ingenuity and the subtle nuances that makes this music artistically original. Granted, the live performance of "Party Rock Anthem" may not have had the 10-bar phrase that the album version does. In attending Ke$ha’s 2011 performance in Tulsa I heard phrase-lengths in her live performance different from her albums due to the musical adaptation necessary to perform the electronically produced material. Whether or not it was there on Friday, I have no doubt in my mind that the hit on beat two after the bridge occurred, and I bet it was epic.

I am a purveyor of the belief that the thumping bass-drum often heard in dance music reminds us of the first thing we hear as human beings: the mother’s heartbeat, who’s pulsing vibrations are engrained into our musical memory. Ergo, dance music’s use of the bass drum in this way is perfect at eliciting the intended response. The frequently heard drum-beats and chord progressions present in countless songs in the world of pop music are all part of the collective musical subconscious of the general public, akin to the trill on the supertonic so commonly heard in the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his contemporaries. These are just as valuable of a musical asset as anything else.

A lot of pop uses a similar form but there are far too many variations of it within the works of LMFAO to chalk them up as "the same form". In the studio version of "Sexy and I Know It" alone one finds a two-part pre-chorus after each of the two verses. In essence it creates the effect of a three-part verse that utilizes repetition, text painting, and extended vocal technique. The piece concludes with a vamp that expands upon earlier musical material that not only allows the dancing listeners to do their thang but also serves to create a feeling of less intensity to best serve it’s intended purpose whether it is for a party playlist, a DJ’s mix, a radio edit, or a live concert. I have no idea what differences in form occurred in the live performance as a result of this song being the last encore of the evening but I would guess that it would include a repeat of the chorus and an uproarious ending. 

The review concludes with a face-palm stating:
"That's what passes as musical entertainment these days."

I have known many classically-trained composers who are disgusted by the  contemporary pop music that people listen to and are horrified by the fact that it is listened to.

I’m horrified by the fact that it isn’t being listened to by people who are working to create music in the world today.

Yes, I believe that one can write incredible music without listening to pop, but this gets into the question of why one writes music; a question that I will not venture into too deeply at this time. But if one is trying to reach the general public with their music and this is the music that is reaching the general public then there is much to learn. 

Because this is the music that is making it into the ears of the world.

Musical taste is a purely psychological concept. Therefore there is no basis to pass judgement on the music that someone enjoys. Yes, I try not to flip a bowel when someone speaks ill of the music that I love, but if 10,000 people are party-rocking and loving it?
You can bet your Beethoven that I’ll be party-rocking just as hard.

Tarradell, Mario. “Visual, if not musical, spectacle from LMFAO”, Dallas Morning News, Arts & Life, Section E. Sunday, June 17, 2012.