Sunday, February 18, 2018

pop tarts and the "criminality" of sweetness

Pop Tarts got on the front of Melody Maker in 1987.

They were a bit like the Pet Shop Boys if they'd read some of those little black Foreign Agents Semiotexte books by Baudrillard and the rest. The idea that resistance and being "alternative" just replicated the system - that hyper-conformism was the right strategy.

Frank Owen did the piece and the cover line was "Superband of Simulation Pop". So absolutely Baudrillard-infused.

Long before it became common for pop stars and rappers to have merchandise and branded clothing lines and perfumes, the Pop Starts talked about wanting to start a whole range of Pop Tart luxury products -  truffles, you name it.

This is the late Eighties. They would sneer at the faux-inauthenticity of REM or Smiths.

Indeed I think they got the name "pop tarts" from something someone had written disparaging all the Second British Invasion MTV bands - Dave Marsh, who wrote scathingly about the  "new pop tarts" from England assailing American shores and destroying rock?

Well, maybe not - most likely they got it from the sugary, refined-carbohydrate-dense "breakfast" snack. 

They were this couple, Randy and Fenton, who after the pop stardom masterplan fell through, then succeeded hugely with a company called World of Wonder making TV docs that specialised in anything extreme or wacky or kitschy.

Imagine if John Waters made documentaries.  

They also directed the movie, Party Monster,  about that Limelight club fiend Michael Alig. A Leigh Bowery type who created a Taboo-style scene of exhibitionism and excess in New York, populated with pill monsters and drug pigs. And who then murdered one of his drug dealer associates, chopped him up in the bath if I recall right.

These divides have been going for ever, actually - the ironic embrace of frivolity and worthlessness and vapidity. It goes back to Wilde -  probably further still.

You want to avoid anything that smacks of earnestness or the hale 'n hearty.

To be worthy and wholesome is anathema.

Certainly as long as I can remember, there's been someone ostentatiously publicly liking something  merit-less  - which is fine as far as it goes (challenge the boring established metrics of merit, sure, why not) - but worse, something devoid of interest on any level - at MM, for a moment, you had certain people saying that they thought Curiosity Killed the Cat were good - while looking sideways to see if it was going to get a rise from other people.

Or there was Morley saying that a  particular Tight Fit 12 inch was better than Led Zep III. Admittedly witty  - and, at the time, a timely polemic. 

But even before the New Pop era transvaluations, you can find examples of this reflex in pop writing.

Right back in the early Seventies, you'd get a few critics saying actually Gary Glitter is good, the Sweet are good... arguing that manufactured product has a certain purity of mercenary intent to it.

I'm sure somebody in the rock crit community  must have opined of The Archies's "Sugar Sugar", that - bubblegum - was pop at its purest - in that sense needing no defense or apology.

Probably it was Nik Cohn was the very first to say  - in the field of rock writing - that teen crazes like PJ Proby  meant more to him than Dylan. That he preferred Hollywood pulp to art-movie profundity.

Then again Noel Coward - speaking through the character Amanda in Private Lives - declared "extraordinary how potent cheap music is" back in 1930. 

It's like a structural position within the field of pop taste.

So the question for me has always been - what's the dialectical next step beyond that? Given that it's already a played-out, over-familiar game.

At one point I was thinking it could actually be the embrace of middlebrow.

Or, conversely, a re-theorization of the value of snobbery and the hip versus square worldview. 

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