Let’s be clear. Pop music never left the building. But it did enjoy a lengthy respite as hip-hop and rock took over the penthouse for a while.
Then a funny thing happened last year. Pop music popped back up to the top floor. And as we look at the top artists of 2010 — and those who are bound for a big 2011 — it’s clear that pop stars are again holding the keys and looking down on everyone else.
Seven of the 20 best-selling records of 2010 came from pop artists — compared with four in 2009 and two in 2005, according to industry trade magazine Billboard. Pop made its comeback via names that have become very familiar in the past 12 months: Gaga, Bieber, Katy, Taio, Kesha, Cee-Lo, B.o.B., Rihanna, the Black Eyed Peas, Guetta and even “Glee.”
“Sometimes I go dancing at these hipster clubs populated by indie rock-types, and all they’re doing is dancing to Britney and Kesha and Lil Wayne,” said Lyndsey Parker, the Los Angeles-based managing editor for Yahoo Music. “I wonder why they aren’t dancing to indie-rock music because it’s clear that that’s what they’re listening to on their iPods. But when they’re drunk in the clubs, it’s their guilty pleasure to dance to Lady Gaga.”
It’s cool to like pop music again — be it a legitimate love of the art form, a kitschy affection for the big hooks or an ironic connection to the music’s outrageous contagiousness.
Just ask Kesha, the newly crowned pop star who brings her “Get Sleazy” tour to the Fillmore Auditorium on Saturday, Feb 19. On one hand, her ubiquitous debut single, “TiK ToK,” was the No. 1 song of 2010, according to Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. On the other, she was completely snubbed by the Grammys — despite having dominated radio in the U.S., Europe and Australia.
Kesha’s too-cool stage persona can’t be bothered with Grammy snubs and conversations about her self-awareness, though. When asked about her relationship with pop music — the genre that fuses itself with dance music and white-girl rap to define her debut full-length, “Animal” — the singer was elusive and noncommittal.
“I love pop music,” Kesha, a.k.a. Kesha Rose Sebert, said a few weeks ago from the L.A. rehearsals for “Get Sleazy,” “but it might not be the first kind of music I would listen to. I prefer to listen to records, top to bottom on vinyl, because it’s like chapters in a book. Listening to a whole record tells a story. . . . I gravitate towards rock ‘n’ roll.”
In a short and sporadic conversation with Kesha — in which she came off as agitated and aloof — her current place seems to be of the unsatisfied, under-recognized pop star. Her unspoken hope for her current tour is that it legitimizes her drunken, party-all-the-time image.
“A lot of people have never seen this different side of my personality,” she said. “I play a lot of instruments, which I’m not sure they’re aware that I play. And I can dance, and a lot of people have no idea that I can dance.”
A change in genre might also be on the horizon for Kesha — regardless of her immediate association with pop music. Her next record might eschew pop for hip-hop — or rock, even.
“I could definitely see myself exploring the rapping even more, as it’s developed into its own genre,” said Kesha. “But I’m definitely going to make a rock record at some point, too. I just don’t know how the next year of my life is going to go.”
This is today’s pop star — defiantly preferring old vinyl records over the music of her peers and talking about switching teams to rock ‘n’ roll. And it’s that edge in personality that is drawing in some of pop’s latest converts.
“Pop has gotten edgier,” said Yahoo’s Parker. “It’s not as squeaky- clean as it used to be. Lady Gaga is out there, and Kesha and Rihanna are very edgy-looking. Their videos are wild. Britney Spears even has a dubstep breakdown in her new song.”
Spears’ latest, “Femme Fatale,” comes along at an ideal moment. By the time it comes out March 29, our pop infatuation will have only increased. Just ask artist and collector Andrew Novick, who already has the release date circled on his mental calendar.
Novick has long been obsessed with Lady Gaga. And Britney before that. And Tiffany before that. Novick has scalped expensive tickets to be closer to these pop goddesses — a true sight when you see his 40-something, punk-rock visage in the front row at a Britney concert at the Pepsi Center — and he’s also collected their music for decades.
Pop’s accessibility speaks to him, but as a former punk rocker with history in legendary Denver rock outfit the Warlock Pinchers, he’s also drawn to pop’s weirder, more perverted sides. The oddball fashion. The arty music videos. The creative choreography. The mythical back stories. The real-life train wrecks.
“I love everything about it — the band, the graphics, the music, what they wear,” said Novick, who lives in Denver with his wife and dog. “Because it’s pop music, the more I listen to it, the more I like it. It’s catchy, and then I even get into the ballads and all their cheesy emotions. And at some point, it transcends what it is to where I actually really enjoy it.”
Pop (along with its star producers Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Ryan Tedder and others) is certainly enjoying its current reign. Just look at its plentiful Grammy nominations and the news that the rock-rooted Guitar Hero video game franchise is calling it quits. But like any great empire, it will have to fight to maintain its dominance. And if Kesha jumps ship to another radio/chart format, who will those artists fighting from the front lines be?