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Embracing “No Pop” and meaningful music

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As a music reviewer and pop culture expert, a phrase I hear often from people around my age is “There isn’t any good music anymore”.

To which my usual reply is either “Music doesn’t suck, you just think it does” or if I’m feeling particularly cheeky, “Music doesn’t suck, you suck.” Let’s focus on the first answer.

When I answer someone that “today’s music” isn’t terrible, they just believe it does comes from the fact that the majority of music the western world is exposed to is manufactured on an assembly line and pretty much all sounds the same. And I completely agree, that particular music sucks. Hard. Like a hoover.

But for every that makes it to air on the radio or every music video that gets a million hits on Youtube, there are a ton of bands that are incredibly good that get little to know play in the popular media. To give you an example, a young guy that I used to work with is big into hip hop but can’t stand the hip hop of today. To this end he explained “Man, rappers these days aren’t as good as Biggie or Tupac. There isn’t anything good coming out.” I turned to this young man and said “So I take it you’ve never heard of El-P.” We happened to be carpooling that day and it was before El-P had teamed up with Killer Mike for Run the Jewels so I popped in El-P’s “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead”. While he didn’t quite click into that album, he was surprised someone that good wasn’t getting more attention (I have noticed that dude did get into Run the Jewels though). My simple answer was because it wasn’t manufactured. A record company doesn’t understand it but “knows” it won’t get mainstream traction so it goes by the wayside.

Fast-forward to 2014 and a gentleman named Lonely Vagabond. I do know that he goes to more shows then I have ever gone to and he cares about music very deeply. In 2014, he presented a little bit of a manifesto on term and movement he had come up with called No Pop.

No Pop (noun) – short for Not Popular. Meaning anti-commercial, non-chart-friendly, also inferring there is no expiration date on music nor is it limited by geographic or regional boundaries

Basically it’s rooted in the attitude that people should search for the music that moves them, away from the corporate machine and towards artists who haven’t lost their capacity to be creative, experimental or boundary-pushing.”

We sure do have the same opinion. He just managed to put it together better then I had. During my high school years, I had to suffer through the rise of boy bands like the Backstreet Boys. As part of that, my more musically inclined friends would state that pop music was awful. The problem I had with this were guys like Matthew Sweet. Sweet has recorded what I considered at the time, some of the greatest pop rock albums ever made. Girlfriend and 100% fun are catchy pop rock awesomeness. But if the Backstreet Boys are pop, what does it make Sweet? Well I guess alternative but he sure didn’t fit in with the alternative at the time. Bands like Pearl Jam, Ministry, Soundgarden, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, those guys were alternative. Sweet had pop music sensibilities (or at least how I defined them) he just happened to be a really, really good song writer.

So, many years later, I now have a place where he fits in perfectly. No Pop.

And Matthew Sweet isn’t the only one who fits into this category. Johnny Cash is another example of a guy that various periods of his career didn’t fit into the preconceived notions of what country and folk music was. He also didn’t care. He would go on to redefine what the world would consider country music sounded like but again, if you look at country music as it now stands, Cash’s sound doesn’t fit in with Florida County Line or an Emerson Drive. So if he’s not country, where does the Man in Black fit?

David Bowie while popular was rarely confined to the constraints of labels or genres. He wanted to explore music, push himself creatively, commercial acceptance wasn’t considered or needed. Tom Waits is another artist who just goes in there to push himself as an artist.

To me, No Pop is what’s needed in music. I don’t care about the genre or if it’s popular. I just want it good or creative. I would, in many ways, prefer to hear something that’s terrible but obviously creative with heart and soul to it then something that is just cookie cuter and boring.

This is a rallying cry of sorts. There is good music out there, you just have to wade through the sea of garbage to find it. Not only that, share it with others who are also sick of the same crap we hear in day in and day out. Tell your friends about the good stuff, not just the stuff you hear about. Spotify playlists, twitter. Technology has made it so easy for the masses to shove terrible rappers, auto-tuned-to-death singers and country bands that are as bland as Ikea furniture down your throats, take a hold of that same technology and start firing back shots. Let the world know about Matthew Sweet, Black Mountain and Run the Jewels. Go to shows and let the world know that these bands don’t only exist but are good.

Love the good, ignore the boring, No Pop for the win.