The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jacob Brookman Headshot

Why Are Pop Stars So Boring?

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

There's a phrase I've come to use to describe some of pop's more 'interesting' offerings: Authentically contrived.

Nicki Minaj is an excellent example. She appears to use her money and appearance as the key creative stimulus for her artistic output.

So because she's heavily involved in the subject matter of her own marketing and publicity, it actually makes her decision to sing about it authentic. Write what you know, right?

Miley Cyrus is the same. Her recent re-brand from teenybopper to creep-magnet at the MTV Video Awards provoked a media schmozzle after doing a bit of dirty dancing with a sleazy older dude in a two-tone suit (no - it wasn't Suggs).

Indeed - in the unpleasant (and highly entertaining) war of words between Miley and the Irish singer Sinead O'Connor, Miley's position was justified by the perception of her as empowered - she called the key creative shots on the performance.

To put it in dance terms - it's okay for Miley to twerk Robin Thicke (she dry humps him) but it's less okay for him to dagger her (Robin does the dry-humping).

It demonstrates the continued prominence of gender politics in pop music and pushes a punk approach to youth rebellion - happy to use reactionary images to make a wider point. The key difference is that with punk music, you actually felt like a Clash gig was a cultural event - there was an authentic social message at its heart, even if it amounted to 'F**k you'.

I really have no idea whether there's a wider cultural movement regarding contrived authenticity - outside of alarming parents who did the same thing a generation before.

Actually, I think that the comedian Bill Hicks summarised this disconnect rather well. In one of his typically vitriolic rants, he castigated marketers for seeming to interpret every part of artistic expression as a marketing angle - thus his very contempt for them could be re-sold as the 'righteous indignation' angle etc.

The Professor Greens and Rihannas seem engaged in a race to the bottom in search of new ways to offend parents. But the parents are wise to it - after all, when they were teenagers they had their own selection of parent-offending performers.

So in this regard, parents take on the role of the marketers in Bill Hicks' skit.

Teenagers shout "Screw you Dad! I'mma lick a sledgehammer!'"

The parents say "Aha - the hyper-sexualised rebellion angle - I remember it well from Smack My Bitch Up by the Prodigy".

But there's an additional element in contrived authenticity, and that is the bludgeoning capitalism we're spoon fed - that unmistakable stink of the superficial that pours out of the radio.

You'll know it when you hear it. Next time you hear a song where a luxury brand is name-dropped or there's a line about 'making money' - that is what I'm talking about - no matter the 'ironic' posturing of the singer.

This appears to follow a market-fundamentalist narrative that favours material gain and luxury branding as the primary force of empowerment for youngsters. Actually, this philosophy is the forebear to daytime TV trying to scare adults into staying at home, worrying about immigrants/crime, and ordering prescription drugs.

But you know what? It's very difficult to enthuse young people about issues outside of their immediate vicinity. Things were clearer in the 80s when issues like Apartheid, AIDS and Live Aid felt fresh and prevalent. They also felt more fixable than today's complex issues. Is Syria fixable? How about immigration?

Can you really imagine Miley Cyrus promoting better gun control in the US, or One Direction making a stand over offshore tax evasion in the UK? How about Daft Punk making a statement about illegalising burkhas in France?

Actually I can.

Pop stars need to back themselves on issues outside of gender. In the UK, it feels like we're now relying on the likes of Bono, Annie Lennox, Morrissey and Thom Yorke to speak out honestly about social issues. These guys are all over 40, and very much part of the rock establishment. I'd like to see younger pop musicians throw some genuine jeopardy into the mix. Not just a version of authenticity based around product placement and post-irony. It's boring.

Around the Web

Popstars - Part2 (ITV 2001) - YouTube

Popstars (UK) - TV.com

Artists | AZ of UK top 40 chart artists - The Big Top 40

Pop stars launch Poppy Appeal - News stories - GOV.UK

Sex in pop music: what do other female pop stars think?

Pothole popstars: Keep sending us examples of Bristol's worst potholes

'Majestical' Nicole Scherzinger shows off her assets in swooping gown on X Factor

Katy Perry wishes her fellow pop stars would stop getting naked

Pop's lurid antics worse than porn, U.K. MPs told