“Pop music is so shallow” said the singer-songwriter Caroline Rose briefly after finishing college. While ultimately revoking her comment that wrote out an entire genre of music, the attitude she proclaims is a prolific one. People don’t usually like the most popular pop music: the teenage Justin Biebers, the five man boy bands, the female rappers of questionable talent, etc, but I think it’s better to say that people don’t like bad pop music because there is a great divide between that which is good and bad (surprisingly enough). I suppose I should define my terms first though. While one can parse genres apart and compare and contrast styles and effects across the board, I find it easier to say that pop music is anything that utilizes both instrumentals as well as vocals, although even this loose definition does not hold true for everything. On the one hand, opera would not be pop music but an instrumental interlude on…let’s say a Metallica album would be part of the pop music trend. In this sense, pop music, to me, is popular music, the music that any average person would listen to and follows the lyrics + band format. Therefore, pop retains its essential pop-ness, even if it’s not popular. And it is perfectly alright if that does not make sense to you, it barely does to me anyway.
So why begin this discussion with Caroline Rose’s comment on the shallowness of pop music? Mostly because I think it’s entirely correct to say such a comment. For the most part. While I do not wish to pick apart bands and collections of subgenres and say which ones are good and which ones are bad, I think it remains rather obvious that some are better than others. Surely Bob Dylan (yes, even Dylan does not escape the umbrella of pop, that whiny folk bastard) conjures more positive memories in quality than The Monkees. By that logic not all pop is created, or written, or performed, equally. A certain scale exists to measure the skill of all pop artists to ever live and breathe. The question that is most pertinent to this discussion then, and the only true follow up question to truly put these ideas in their place, is: “what music alleviates the problem of pop music wallowing around in the shallows?” In a sense: “what does goodpop music sound like?”
Funny enough, the woman of the intro is the very woman I have to answer this question. Caroline Rose’s “Money” is the example of good pop music. The idea I have in my head of what good pop is, is what I believe most people see as actual pop music, the pop pop music (henceforth pop2music): it is the bubble gum, simplistic crap on the radio that the average person suffers day in and day out while driving to and from work. These are the songs of the day, ones that nobody would ever hope to remember in ten years but still will on account of them being used as commercial jingles, the butts of jokes, or simply out of the sole desire to remember what it was like being in high school again (I will never forget you, Carly Rae and LMFAO). My point here is this: the best pop music is the bubble gum song that seems to shoot for the lowest common denominator and still has something to say, through all of the annoyance, and Rose’s “Money” does exactly this.
However, where the two previously, parenthetically, and shamefully mentioned Carly Rae and LMFAO managed to capture a grand audience by some divine intervention (surely talent alone—“PARTY ROCK!”—does not explain everything in those cases), Rose has done the opposite. While the song has been out for years now and has an extremely unfair advantage on Rose’s, “Call Me Maybe” has 337,366,129 streams on Spotify as I am writing this while “Money” is polling in at only 164,042 streams. As unfair as that comparison may be, the lack of a wiki page for Rose as a performer speaks enough about her popularity in the world at large to solidify my point: Rose is not popular by any means. But perhaps this is the best place to put a stop on my comparison to talk about the contents of the song, because those are important before I continue.
“Money” details the complex circumstances surrounding the effervescent nature of youth and its perils involving money and I can’t believe you haven’t actually just listened to the song yet.
Now that you have, “Money” uses a repeated structure of the same line over and over again in order to portray the simple idea that people are motivated to act because of money. “It’s pretty self explanatory methinks” speaks Rose of the song. These actions, unattributed actions of the everyman, have been done in the name of money and nothing else.
But back to Carly Rae’s involvement here. I need her as the basis of an idea. Had the most popular song of the year in 2012 been about how people only do things for the money, it would not have felt right. The song would not have been as widely disseminated and would not have been as popular for nearly as long of a run time. While this is a stupid thing to say: “Carly Rae’s fame would be totally different if she released a different lead single,” it is at least logical. The idea of hearing over and over about how everybody only does things for the money from someone who is swimming in cash because there is not a radio station in existence that will not play her song on the hour every hour for an entire year makes me sick. Even if the song would have been written before Carly Rae entered stardom, the song would eventually collapse in on itself by way of hypocrisy, leaving only uncle Redfoo (sic [sic]) and nephew Skyblu (sic [sic]) to perform the shuffle ad nauseam. This hypocrisy of Carly Rae would leave her too rich to be taken seriously in a business that values money over all else. Well, at least above talent in most cases. Distraught by a stardom that could not outlast the infamous crotch wiggle, Carly would be forced to retreat to the shadows, never to perform again (This seems like the most likely outcome at least). Which leads me back to the person who actually performs the song.
Rose’s performance as a low to mid-tier artist (approximate guess) gives the performance exactly what it needs. Perhaps it’s her tone in the performance of the vocals or perhaps it’s the lack of any substantial streams on her Spotify channel (relatively) that gives the performance some honesty. Regardless, this is not someone talking about money troubles as they live well above their means or someone who is simply bragging about their wealth, as songs about money tend to go. This is Rose, making a clear cut statement that people do things for money. And I love it because of that. Frankly, I don’t think I need to tell anybody the power of money, much less the audience for this article, so I won’t (let’s just say that the starving artist [and writer] clichés have persisted because they are mostly true). The point is: here is someone singing about the power money has on everybody around her and we, as an audience, can feel that power, that influence. By way of the song, by way of life, either way does not matter. We relate to the song.
This is the first step to achieving something, even if that thing is some measly essay from someone nobody has ever heard of, in the world of pop music: writing and releasing a song that the audience can relate to (The simplicity of this point is not lost on the essay whose purpose is to prove the complexity of the genre.). Pop music, at least pop2music, can only be great if it is relatable. Formally defined in another way, pop music is music that tries to be as popular as possible, music that is mass produced for as many people as possible, or at least for the largest group of people, and in order to appeal to all of these people the theme needs to be something they all understand, but is not so obvious in its mass production that people will feel like they are just doing what everybody else is doing without reason. Rose finds this balance in “Money.”
The second step is much trickier to navigate, however. While the first step is simply singing for the biggest group of people and appealing to them (in this case, I’m assuming this is achieved because I alone believe the song is good, so you will have to bear with me), the song must actually hold up under a microscope. Step two: Be a good enough writer to give some, any, amount of lyrical depth to your song. The first thing one notices about “Money” is that the structure does not beg to be re-listened to. The repetitive guitar riff, repetitive lyrics, and two short and quick verses add up to something a bit south of whelming. Despite this, I myself discover more and more the harder I scrutinize the song. Even in the list of things not being taken action for, there still exist poetic lines that stand out: “high-powered supernova” and “neon Jesus,” briefly provide a relief to the stagnant, if not purposeful, list of items. Throughout the boredom and monotony of the list arise these examples of pure power and persuasion, yet still they remain nothing to the almighty dollar.
Even the phrases are grouped in a way that arouses discussion. Sex and law are put together in a binary, inviting the comparisons of these two ideas in contention with one another. Other comparisons are also grouped together in odd assortments: Rose is grouped with love itself as well as with the priest down on his knees; speed (drugs?), peace, and neon Jesus are joined together as an unholy trinity; until finally Rose declares that she did it for not you, nor because she could, nor for all the pain and suffering (to cause or to prevent it?). It was, to the audience’s surprise, for the money. The point of me repeating the laundry list of a song into another list (except in prose, have to collect my paycheck somehow) is only to point out that it is easy to pass up this song as the two minute, fifteen second side thought that it may well have been. “It’s pretty self explanatory methinks” after all, right? Perhaps not. Perhaps the mere existence of these last few paragraphs in the universe proves the opposite. Perhaps this laundry list of things is more complex than it lends itself to be. And perhaps, antithetically, my shallow analysis shows the capabilities of Rose as an artist, one who deserves the recognition and the fame. Neon Jesus knows she needs the money.
Where does this leave pop2music as a whole though? Surely Rose was at least partially correct when she abrasively called out pop music for not picking itself up out of the shallow end. I think what I’ve settled on though, is that it is not enough to simply write trash that everybody likes or that everybody can find something to relate to (if that is even possible). The relation to the music needs to be more organic than that. Rose performs this song because she sees her friends going through these kinds of motions; we all see people around us going through these kinds of motions. For better or worse, we do things for the money, simply put because many of us have to. The added bonus of this song is its utilization of such a simple talking point (“I can’t hang out on Saturday, I had to pick up a shift…”) as a catalyst for all of the relationships that she brings up and compares, whether purposefully poetic or not. The fact of the matter seems to be that pop music has the ability to transcend itself. By so accurately describing the world and the people in it through the most imperfect and temporary genre and art form to exist (R.I.P. LMFAO), Rose performs a song that becomes something more than the flashy, temporary thing that pop music is, and perhaps always will be, destined to be.