February 05, 2004


The Poptimism thing won't go away. Now Joe at The New Hip Hop, Political Correctness Trend enters the fray.

There haven't been many k-punk posts that have produced so much response, both here (in the comments) and on other blogs. And there haven't been many posts that have generated so much misinterpretation, either. Granted, it was a post that invited misinterpretation.

It's worth remembering that my piece was originally a response to Marcello's vast 1985: the worst year for music ever. Marcello's disection of the grisly remains of that year were offered up as grim warnings of the perils of poptimism.

Now some, and Joe is clearly one of them, find the idea that poptimism could be dangerous risible. Who cares what the equivalent of 2024's bloggers will think of 2004?

But my point wasn't about the judgement of history. That begs too many questions about who is sitting in judgement, and when.

No. My point was about being coerced by the pressure of the present into settling for less, being bullied by Now into betraying your own libido. It isn't that people who enjoyed music in 1985 are now shamefaced because of the judgements of a few bloggers. (That would indeed be ridiculous.) It's not a question of being shamefaced at all. It's a matter of a gradual realization, as the intensity levels rise again, that what had become acceptable as 'good pop' was anything but. So it's not some far-off court of taste that will 'decide' 2003 wasn't so great; it's 2004, or 2005 - whenever Pop stirs itself again.

Joe's point about nostalgia is a curious one. In my original post, I said that it was the nay-sayers, the anti-poptimists , who would have been accused of nostalgia. And being an anti-poptimist is in a sense nostalgic, if saying that there are times when Pop was better than it is now, is nostalgic.

Joe also adds a frankly bizzare reading of my sign-off remarks on Tears for Fears.

After quoting my comments "(I hold the first TFF album in high esteem: and their decline, their massification and blusterization is symptomatic of everything that went wrong in the Eighties.)", he writes:

'The pathos of parentheses. I want to buy the guy a drink and say DUDE, so you like the first Tears For Fears album? SO? Why would you burden yourself with feeling bad about it, why would you let your distaste for the band's subsequent work and what it may or may not be "symtomatic" of tarnish your memories or the enjoyment you get from listening to that album now?'

Where did I say I was feeling bad about liking the album? On the contrary! Marcello had rightly singled out the 85 TFF for a kicking; I was merely pointing out that their debut was much better. The point was about the difference between 1982 and 1985, and how TFF's decline reflected that.

Stepping back from what Joe said, and reflecting on this whole discussion, there seem to be two Poptimist positions:

1: The idea that pop, now, is good.

2: (encompassing 1) The idea that pop is always good.

Position 1 Poptimism strikes me as pretty threadbare - Joe's own examples (Timbaland/ Missy, the Neptunes) are, as his own qualified praise seems to grant, past their best. And even if you get enjoy the new Neptunes and Timbo material, do you enjoy it as much as what the Neptunes were doing three years ago, or what Timbaland was doing six years ago? 2003 was a mediocre year for both of them. They aren't the issue, though: the fact that they haven't been upstaged by any new pretenders is. I'll say it again: hip hop is the problem in 2003/4. It might be a positive problem, something that Pop has to reinvent itself to overcome. But hip hop circa now is Pop's bloated, unreflective default option. Timbaland and the Neptunes need the carpet pulling away from them, just like punk pulled away the carpet from the Stones and the dinosaur rockers in the mid 70s.

So Position 1 I would vigorously dispute, but Position 2 seems to me utterly indefensible, except in the sense that Mark Sinker was adopting it, as a kind of a priori methodological hypothesis. (See comments on this post). Mark's claim was that all chart pop is, by definition, 'good pop' in that it works. Mark is not a Poptimist proper though, since he wants to set aside questions of evaluation, in the name of (what I would characterise as) a machinic analysis: 'I'm interested in what it's doing, and what I can do with it' (not how good it is [alleged to be]).

What's odd about Poptimist position two is that it seems to be out of step with the experience of being a fan: the ups and downs, the expectations and the disappointments are part of the masochistic reel/real of being a popfan, subtracted out by the sunny side-up, 'you can always find a good record if you look for it' enlightened connoisseurship of the Poptimist.

You can find 'good records' in any year. But that doesn't make every year a good year for Pop.

Posted by mark at February 5, 2004 05:01 PM | TrackBack

people would never transpose poptimist values onto literature. (or do they? like saying if you don't like amis and catherine cookson you're a old weirdo with no sense of fun or somethng. defending andrew motion, no one does that)that's funny in a way isn't it? or am i just dumb? just saying.

dunno about your hiphop is the problem thing. nah, i don't like that bit. the public is the problem, people are the problem, dumb fucks.

Posted by: luke at February 5, 2004 07:56 PM

Great point about literature. Exactly! It's absurd to think that culture doesn't move in cycles. Especially something as ephemeral as pop.

Don't expect much support on the hip hop thing ('cept I spose I have had it, from Robin, Marcello and Simon). I'm just suspicious when things creep into the kind of ubiquitous acceptance hip hop now enjoy. Outkast (who I actually like) at number 1 and 2 for seven weeks in the States . Jeez! I really don't think there's much difference between the Neptunes and Timbaland in 04 and Led Zep in 74.
Also, 'problem' has an ambivalent sense: meaning both an obstruction and something to be solved.

Actually, Junior Boys' Jeremy was saying to me that he thinks a big appeal of The Darkness is simply that they have nothing to do with hip-hop. Makes some sensel.

Posted by: mark k-punk at February 5, 2004 08:34 PM

the values which have become associated with hiphop are a problem. i have no PROBLEM saying that. all the macho bit, the sexual violence bit (i, not easily shocked, was just shocked listening to a garage station when the boy on the mic kept saying, natalie, stop ringing my phone, you're a slag, and by the way, i want head tommorow. and his mates were going, yeah and i need some of that too, i'm next in line you slag.') the conspicuoous consumpion bit, the i'm alright jack, fuck you lot bit, basically Essex values rit large. working in romford has opened my eyes to that stuff and i really don't like it.

i was a little bit rude about la jette just now but it's not meant as an insult to you.

Posted by: luke at February 5, 2004 09:00 PM

The bling thing is beyond tedious....But it's not just the values, wretched as they are, it's the cultural position hip hop has assumed..

Sorry you didn't like La Jettee, you can sell it onto me if you like, ha ha. But if you want real slow and lingering, there's no-one better than Tarkovsky.

Posted by: mark k-punk at February 5, 2004 09:08 PM

if i don't like sans soliel i'll sell it to you for a tenner or something. (actually i'll have to watch la jette again. could you put a link in this comments box to the thing you wrote about marker? you did write somehting about him didn't you?)it's a double pack thing. it wasn't that i didn't like it, it just could have been better if it was slower. i liked that stalker thing a lot. i'll watch some more of his. not smoking weed has freed up a lot of money for other things. i'm not sure i knew exactly what you mean by the cultural position thing, unless you just mean that anything thats big and all-conquering must be bad, which is i suppose true enough, in that it becomes the status quo and status quo were shit.

Posted by: luke at February 5, 2004 10:45 PM

Seems to be there's a basic difference between literature and pop though. I am sitting here at 1.33 AM, a bit tipsy, listening to pop music, I can be getting massive amounts out of it, loving it, whereas if I was reading I'd not be taking much in. In the morning I probably wouldn't even remember it. Pop is consumable in an instant in a way that lit isn't (OK poetry MAYBE but you *could* put together a poptimist argument for poetry and perhaps you'd start with weblogs!).

Posted by: Tom at February 6, 2004 01:38 AM

Seems to 'me', rather.

MB Mark sorry I didn't read your post, I just went straight to the comments. I will have a read of it tomorrow!

Posted by: Tom at February 6, 2004 01:39 AM

It's worth remembering that there are always over-extended behomeths hovering around the top of the charts. Timbaland may not be as exciting now as he was in '97/'98 but his stuff then was still in the minority compared to Puff Daddy style simple sample-based pop-soul numbers and DJ Premier/RZA-style hip hop conservatives. You could say that Timbaland's stuff then was exciting partly because it was emergent in the same manner that a lot of grime, dancehall and crunk is at the moment.

And it's not like it was this secret *bounty* of goodness either - look at Reynolds' fave list for '97 and '98 and there's only a bare handful of R&B/hip hop inclusions. This stuff was the diamond in the rough then as much as grime or dancehall is now, and for the pop-pessimists would I am sure have constituted as meagre a defence for the continued vitality of popular music at that point (in the face of Matchbox 20 and whatever). Indeed Reynolds' round-up in '98 (and ever since) emphasised how little he felt was going on in popular music!

Posted by: Tim Finney at February 6, 2004 03:26 AM

Luke, here's the link to the marker piece (not exactly a compact little link this one):

Posted by: mark k-punk at February 6, 2004 12:41 PM

ha! cheers mark, i'm sorry if that was a hassle. good to see kpunk and blissblog being very productive of late, now all we need is someone to take a cattleprod to ian penman and everything will be rosy again.

Posted by: luke at February 6, 2004 01:18 PM

that wasn't what i remembered reading. you don't talk about the aesthetics of it at all there. maybe you sent me an email.

Posted by: luke at February 6, 2004 01:36 PM

I think it might have been something I said to you when we met up with Oliver...

Posted by: mark k-punk at February 7, 2004 04:31 PM