How I Became a Katy Perry Sympathizer

Currently making the rounds on Facebook is this parenting blog post about our responsibility to teach kids about “good music.” Or, as the title states: “How to Talk to Your Kids About Their Shitty Taste in Music.” It’s a weakly argued call to arms in reaction to the whole VMA/Miley Cyrus twerking debacle.

What a load of hipster-douchebag crap. My retort: How on earth did your kids get exposed to this “shitty” music in the first place? Pro tip: don’t leave your kids in front of Disney XD all day, or they will think music is meant to be overly synthesized, un-artistic pop.

I’ll admit, pop music is heavily marketed to our young people. Whether you realise it or not, a lot of money is spent on product awareness — that’s the music biz. What is on the album takes back seat to the mysticism or hype built on what you think is going to be on the album. You already know what to think and feel, before hearing a note. That is marketing.

If done well, the potential audience will be worked into a frenzy. So let’s get accountable for our actions: instead of pointless, complain-ey blog posts, why not get our mom-and-dad brains into the game? The question should be: Are your kids getting caught up in marketing? Do they know what marketing is? Do you know what marketing is? Do you understand the intersection of marketing and the arts?

Few people, including most people who work in the music biz, care to understand this concept. They willfully ignore it, and gleefully get caught up in it. And, so, our kids follow suit. New Arcade Fire anyone? Gawd, white people — adults, even — are SO PUMPED about their new album. It’s exhausting.

So when my 8-year-old daughter decides her favourite singer is Katy Perry, what do I do? Is Ms. Perry a suitable role model, considering the mainstream options? Is anybody? Or is this an opportunity to impose my jaded, post-feminist, post-indie rock opinion?

In my mind, my daughter must make her own decisions. If I listened to my parents, I would only like Kenny Rogers and 80’s Tina Turner. Our kids must create themselves for themselves. Our job is to give them a loose set of rules, parameters inside which to make good and positive decisions. When my kid asks to listen to “the radio” in the car — which inevitably means Top 40 dance pop stuff — I abide. We listen. I tell her to listen for the sidechain compression, the auto-tuned vocals, the recurring use of beats and fills, arrangement structures that are copied form song to song. I want her to listen with her brain, unhindered by any marketing message.

Point being, life is a perpetual learning experience to be enjoyed. This is the main lesson I teach my children, and happens to be my prime directive. Most music, yes, is shit. Katy Perry balances on the razor’s edge of being a mega-YOLO-slut (ever listen to the lyrics to “Last Friday Night“?) and being a young, powerful, inspiring woman with an incredible voice. RAZOR’S EDGE, PEOPLE.

So sure, we’ll watch the “Roar” video on YouTube together. We did that with “Gangnam Style,” too. Trendy music will ebb and flow, but it’s those times when we’re walking home from school and my daughter is humming “Ring My Bell” by Blood Sisters that I feel a tinge of redemption.

This entry also appears on HuffingtonPost.ca

Me Party

I spent the latter half of 2011 with my head out of the music industry cloud. I’ve been luxuriating in a stress-free world of science fiction and artificial intelligence. I’ve been reading and writing more than anything else. But then the year turned to 2012 and I realised I would soon have to remove my head from the clouds and return to planet Earth.

With this came an odd realisation: Should I spend so much time on writing fiction? Or should I try to make music? The logical side led me to a classic dead end: “Well, Natalia, whatever you choose, it will be a terrible way to sustain yourself.” Which I naturally shrugged off. I am in too deep to worry about something as stupid as money. 

Instead my head floated off into another cloud. A creative cloud, wondering how to preserve my dignity but still have fun with it. I’m no songwriter, and therein lies the problem. I have no confidence from being surrounded by actual songwriters. In fact, shoddy songwriting is one of the things that maddens me the most about popular music. And by popular I don’t mean only Pop, rather all the inescapable musicians, the stuff in the “press.” It adds to the argument that there are too many bands, too much mediocre music, everybody wants to be a star but they rarely know why.

A bonafide songwriter knows. They know because they have no other choice. They aren’t rebelling against their parents or doing it because they can (i.e. rich kids). They are doing it because they have to. I know, you guys are reading this saying: “Oh, whatever. As if.” But it’s true. Or at least it used to be true. What is popular these days, what comes up through the ranks, is not based on good songs or incredible inspiration. It is half-assed and financially backed. And all that is fine. It’s cute. I guess it is what people need in an age where great marketing rules the roost.  

But this rant has been ranted before. Which is why I keep my head elsewhere: this is wasted breath. Wasted bandwidth. I’m exhausted by it, by the rules, the gatekeepers. I know. I get it. I’m not getting in.

So then, why not make something frivolous? I ask myself. Why not fall in line and further saturate the music world with more gratuitous art? Should I do something I firmly believe that I have no business doing? I wouldn’t make it for primarily for you, but for me first and you second. Would that offend you or interest you? Would you download it? Would you pay for it? Would you want to hear it? 

And PS: don’t panic. These sentiments have nothing to do with The Dears. The Dears are alive and well. We’re just staked out in a bomb shelter living off of rations and bottled water.

 

I’m Thinking of Un-Friending Everyone

We get up in arms — offended almost — at the suggestion of Our Internet being taken away from us. We view corporatization or privitization, tiered or restricted content as an affront to our civil liberties. We must maintain network neutrality. The www is merely a vessel, like a library, something that holds information we might seek or need. Which items you choose to view is completely at your discretion.

So why, then, do we allow Facebook to slap a crazy bias our online experience with such welcoming and open arms? Facebook has essentially taken the back door: now that we’re at the party, FB has come in and made that party a little less free and amorphous. The party is now rigidly structured. Compartmentalized. There’s nothing neutral about it: FB offeres a thinly veiled sense of freedom, but really, we have simply and unwittingly been initiated into a private club.

The FB format tugs on our very heartstrings, having lured us in emotionally, then entrapping us under a pretence of socialization, popularity and approval. If a child’s birthday party needs to be a Facebook event, or an intriguing idea condemned to a one-Like-click then hasn’t it been done already? Haven’t we all, as members of FB, been played?

I imagine stinking rich millionaires, smoking cigars, wearing tailored three-piece suits on their yachts (or whatever the stinking rich stereotypes would do), chuckling with admiration at the level of Evil Genius Mark Zuckerberg has attained: how he made it through the gates, into our hearts, and now we believe in him. Implicitly. Now he preaches to the converted, and we follow. Unquestioning of the fine print. Who has time to sift through repeated updates to the myriad terms of service agreements we face daily?

If the phone rang this moment, and on the other end was a nice lady asking if you had a few minutes to answer some questions you would say: “No,” and press End before either of you had a chance to say good bye. What we don’t realise is that Facebook passively does this: collects personal data. Every move you make, word you say, link you click through, funny picture of a cat, zombie or cat-zombie you approve of: that information is collected. Every friend you have comprises a matrix of data that is being used to “connect” you with products. Or future products. Now we gleefully volunteer the information, we volunteer our level of education, where we live, how old we are, if we are married or single, if we have kids or pets, what books we read, TV shows we watch, games we play: statistical data we can’t find the time to enter in to our own government’s Census forms (I bet you just threw that shit into the garbage anyway).

The level of marketing at the foundation of this operation is multi-tiered and brilliant. Admit it: you guys lapped that “The Social Network” drivel up. Another success: Evil Genius/CEO/guy that JUST WANTS TO BUY HIS OWN FUCKING YACHT has been humanized. But you know what they say: “It takes money to make money.” And I am saddened on a daily basis by how true this is, especially in the Western World, and more heartbreakingly, how it increasingly applies to modern culture (another rant, another time).

“Success” is not about doing your best, it’s about being invested in.

Just remember: you don’t need an online life. It’s just something someone gave us for nothing. Oh, and what’s that other adage? “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Fundamentally, what I’m getting at is that I encourage you to be a good person. Don’t be evil. Don’t be a dick. It is so vitally important that you live your life in the moment, because let me tell you, the grass doesn’t get any greener on the other side.

Morally Reprehensible

The other day, after I dropped Neptune off at preschool, I decided to go grocery shopping. I learned that 9:30AM is a very strange time to go grocery shopping, and nobody really goes shopping that early in the morning. I don’t know if it was due to the lack of other shoppers and similar ambient distractions, but the top 40 music they were piping in really caught my attention. Specifically the morally reprehensible lyrics to Nickleback’s “Rock Star.” It goes a little something like this:

I’m through with standing in line
to the clubs I’ll never get in
It’s like the bottom of the ninth
and I’m never gonna win
This life hasn’t turned out
quite the way I want it to be

(tell me what you want)

I want a brand new house
on an episode of Cribs
And a bathroom I can play baseball in
And a king size tub big enough
for ten plus me

(yeah, so what you need)

I’ll need a, a credit card that’s got no limit
And a big black jet with a bedroom in it
Gonna join the mile high club
At thirty-seven thousand feet

(Been there done that)

I want a new tour bus full of old guitars
My own star on Hollywood Boulevard
Somewhere between cher and
James Dean is fine for me

(So how you gonna do it?)

I’m gonna trade this life for fortune and fame
I’d even cut my hair and change my name

[CHORUS]
‘Cause we all just wanna be big rockstars
Livin’ in hilltop houses driving fifteen cars
The girls come easy and the drugs come cheap
We’ll all stay skinny cause we just won’t eat
And we’ll hang out in the coolest bars
In the VIP with the movie stars
Every good gold digger’s
Gonna wind up there
Every Playboy bunny
with her bleach blonde hair
and well..
Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar
Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar

I wanna be great like Elvis without the tassels
Hire eight body guards that love to beat up assholes
Sign a couple autographs
So I can eat my meals for free

(I’ll have the quesadilla… ha ha)

I’m gonna dress my ass
with the latest fashion
Get a front door key to the Playboy mansion
Gonna date a centerfold that loves to
blow my money for me

(So how you gonna do it?)

I’m gonna trade this life
For fortune and fame
I’d even cut my hair
And change my name

(chorus)

I’m gonna sing those songs
that offend the censors
Gonna pop my pills
from a Pez dispenser
Get washed-up singers writing all my songs
Lip sync ’em every night so I don’t get ’em wrong

(chorus)

As I tried to find the Honeycomb cereal, I paused, listened carefully to a few verses and uttered “FUUUUUUUCK!” in total exasperation. The irony of my frustration was two-fold:

1) This song is idiotic. And I take personal offense to the stereotypical “Rock Star” lump being cast. Like only the douchebags that 1) like/identify with this song and 2) wrote it in the first place could possibly take this literally, or feel it contributes to our culture in any way.

2) This song came out in 2005. And it is so “timeless” that it continues to get played on the radio. That said, the next day I heard that “So What” song by Pink on the radio, and apparently 1 in 4 people’s dream job is being a rock star (confirmed by independent polls in The Gazette and BBC).

Anyway, it’s funny. Murray and I got into this heavy conversation a few days ago about music, and how music used to be a tradition, a reason for communion, whether to be spiritually or culturally enriched, to celebrate and belong. And one day, when they invented the record, I guess, and music could me easily commodified and sold, something disappeared. The art left and the business took over. Marketing replaced cultural identity. Now we have these very broad categories that require us to “buy into” them. I think the only vestigial element of spirituality in music remains at live shows: where people experience something together.

So my question, then, is when did it all go to shit? When was a song as comical as “Rock Star” meant to be taken seriously? Who decides? I guess we decide, you decide, the people decide.

But do they? Who decided to put that song on the radio, playing several Nickleback songs a day where as other bands – with potentially better songs – won’t ever be played. Aha! So we do not choose…marketing has determined the answer for us, has told us what to buy, what to identify with, who to be. Not free, but just subdued enough to keep society chugging along.

UPDATE: I can’t win this battle…the irony of music about music is bigger than I am.

Playing the Record for People

On Tuesday, Murray and I embarked on an Ontarian adventure. We drove down to play the record for some people. This album is precious to us, and we would be totally devastated if our past year’s work was misused or stolen from us. So we never sent out any CDs to anyone, and in fact the only way anyone who didn’t play on the record can hear it is to come to one of our impromptu board room meetings for a listening session. We came to Toronto to play it for friends and also some industry types: at least, the ones who were open to the idea of a listening session. We would gather people together, put the CD on the stereo, then leave the room. After 58 minutes we’d come back, reclaim the CD and that’s it. That’s how we’re rolling: no burns, no iTunes imports, no files somewhere on a server. No ripping, burning, leaking or stealing allowed until we’re ready. Because we know it’s going to happen eventually — we’d just like to be involved when it goes down. Call us crazy, but these songs are the keystone, our main conduit keeping us connected with our fans, and we want to enjoy that communication, not live in fear of it.

So we’ve got a lot of convincing to do: our works’ cut out for us. Murray and I are kind of on a reconnaissance mission: collecting information, seeing who’s into our outsider ways, observing people’s reactions, their favourite tracks and single selections, what they did and didn’t expect. It’s been interesting, and the common thread (for me) is how good it sounds no matter where we play it. It carries itself with a creative consistency across several platforms: headphones, car stereos, amazing stereos, crappy stereos, computer speakers and other small systems. Even after hearing it dozens of times in its finished state, I still hear things I’ve not heard before.

Now we’re simmering, letting all the ideas come to us as sort of a natural reaction to how the music is being perceived. The music industry has forced our hand, compelled us to let go of old world methods and marketing templates for organic ways and the opening of an unconventional, artistic discourse. We want to put something out there for you to hear soon, too. Stay tuned for the news of listening sessions, because we might get crazy and invite you to the next one.