ROCK VS POP
Who Will Win This Historic Showdown
of Battling Genres for
All The Marbles?
In the end, Rock became such a well loved and ubiquitous mode of being that it folded all other genres into it, including pop. So while today the rebellion is pre-packaged or truly astoundingly freaky in order to get your attention, in the end all of it is either trying to challenge you or soothe you. That's probably true even if the artist thinks that the path to pop is by way of a little rock posturing because rock is simply the modern mode of all youth (RUN DMC, we're looking at you), or if a rocker goes a little too pop (Billy Squire, we're looking at you).
So now there is pop-rock, and metal, and stoner rock, and punk, and dance pop, and dream pop, and whatever Diamanda Galas is (sometimes mixed with Janes Addiction), and all the flavors in be-twee. And it's all good, but some of it truly rocks like an Indica that will hit you hard --some of that OG kush couch-lock-- and that's cool, sometimes you gotta plunge into the primordial pool. Like Primus. Some of it is kinda like a great hybrid, say Blue Dream or The Stone Roses. And some of it is an upbeat poppy little Sativa like The Beatles that is still a type of cannabis in the end and will stone you if you smoke enough. It's a rainbow of flavors, a gradient that goes from the extreme of death metal on one end to gangster rap on the other, with every color in between.
Somewhere in between there is a river an artist crosses from wanting to challenge to needing to please, though, and often it leaves them a little wet when they wade in and out. Still, those who build bridges can wind up conducting all kinda commerce, or an orchestra.
I guess in the end it is to the American Rock and Roll Project's credit that now around the world challenging expression is considered somewhat more acceptable (even in China). Freedom of speech and Humanism, of course, are at the heart of the project. So in the end, pop music adopted most of rock music's poses, and jazz and blues and soul and rap and RnB kept what they always had (which they bequeathed to rock): righteousness.
Essentially, now, rock's rebellion is today's default notion of popular and soothing. If we're not rebelling against something somewhere then somebody is falling asleep on the job. To not be a rebel is so rebellious that it's actually hip to be square and Huey Lewis is your new overlord. Now, simply everyone is breaking free from society's supposed chains in some way or another, and if they're not they're just considered twee curiosities.
Rebellion is in our national DNA. Thus it's the default mode and not rebellion at all. Rock attitude is ubiquitous and a kind of soothing pop lie itself now: "Yes, you are special and your music is just as individual and cool as you are, you rule-breaking maverick of the post-modern internet algo-influenced vast American cultural wasteland! Every dropout a hero, now buy this t-shirt at the mall!"
Yes, that message is a soothing one since it can't be always be true for everyone. Some misfits really do go shoot up schools thinking they're striking a blow against the robots of conformity and human achievement. Some people really do give up and underachieve. We can't *all* be rebels because if we were then we'd all be conforming.
No wonder I don't like tattoos all that much either. Soccer moms celebrate their kid's sweet 16 with a family tattoo has got to be lacking in imagination somehow. Participation in a marketplace which commodifies our personal existence into advertising-based branding initiatives and social media gestures as the only thing which gives our lives meaning is pathetic in the end. So pop rebellion is just a Ramones T-shirt, nothing more, nothing less, and Bono wept for all of us when it hit him that his youthful naiveté was irretrievably gone.
Thus, today, there really is a third type of music: the pop-rock hybrid infects almost everything it has ever touched since the 1960s until today (just three hours ago by my watch). It poses as if it was challenging but it's ersatz and aims to please in the end. It's just sooth in soap foam; it evaporates in your hands and leaves your skin feeling moisturized, like Palmolive, but in the end you're just doing the fucking dishes in the sink not raging against the washing machine. You're soaking in it.
And that's, again, fine. People need pleasingness to stay happy. I know I do. Every person who ever wrote piffle has told themselves that what they were doing diluting the world's pure water with piss was a noble calling: the world is weary, it needs a break today. And I need to eat. What's wrong with being a people-pleaser instead of a complainer? Here's that jingle you ordered, would you like to add fries or supersize that?"
Sometimes a song may lean to one side or another, or be a hybrid the two, but in the end the point is that even these exceptions immediately seem to start to slide from that fulcrum point towards one side or another and prove the rule. The rule is, most of the time you can simplify and unclutter your life with the easy to apply binary: either it's more rock or its more pop. A song doing a perfect balancing act over a river of flowing cess and lost dreams making its meandering way out to the sea is still always on its way from one shore to the other.
Take Paul McCartney. His early work was rock. His middle period was a perfect hybrid. And his late period work is often pop which suffers from being less challenging, fresh, pertinent and relevant. Less rock and more roll, you might say. Yet some of it is good Prock (is that the greatest portmanteau ever or what?) or decent electronic pop rock. That he was able to alchemize it at all for several decades makes him one of our culture's most cherished groundbreakers, yet he's also a gentleman whom you could introduce to your daughter and not worry about any potentially degenerate misadventures (though they might do some light drugs and record some concrete musique at four in the morning, and I guess that's ok). That accounts for exactly why he is so mega-successful.