Thursday, December 4, 2014
tastes in pop music
By GREGORY HICKS
Picture this: you're shopping
through a supermarket; pushing a cart
down the right side of the aisle, taking
note of all the most popular brands,
and when you see something that tick-
les your fancy, you toss it in your cart.
Oftentimes, however, there's one
more step thrown in for those who
take pride in their self-awareness:
flipping the item around and scan-
ning through the ingredients and
140 calories, 8 grams of protein,
some red dye No. 40 thrown in there.
Check. Toss it in the cart.
Now imagine if we treated our
music this way.
A clap on the second and fourth
beat, a few doo-wop backing vocals,
some brass in A major, female
empowerment lyrics thrown in.
Check. Toss "All About That Bass"
into your iTunes library.
Professors at the University are
here to act as your musical nutrition-
ists. With the year coming to a close,
it's time to consider what exactly
you've digested with radio and popu-
lar music characteristics in 2014. If
asked, could you pinpoint the year's
biggest trend? You might be surprised
how much your listening habits have
changed in the past few years.
Pop goes the weasel
American Culture Prof. Bruce Con-
forth sits at the desk of his Haven Hall
office. There's a guitar case resting on
the floor next to him, just below alarge
portrait of Robert Johnson - all cast
in the orange glow of a lamp-lit room.
Not coincidentally, Conforth is on the
executive board of the Robert Johnson
Blues Foundation and is a performing
blues musician himself.
But most importantly, Conforth
is an expert when it comes to popu-
lar music. As the first curator of the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the highly
regarded American culture expert has
worked with 'everyone from Ringo
Starr to Aretha Franklin, and here he
is now, delivering his expertise on Tay-
lor Swift -The magazine's 2014's most
buzzed-about artist - without even
"Time Magazine just had Taylor
Swift on the cover of their recent issue,
and the caption on the cover was 'The
Power of Taylor Swift,' soI had to read
the article. At the verybeginning ofthe
article they called her 'America's most
important musician.' That's a direct
quote from Time magazine. Taylor
Swift is America's most important
Conforth isn't afan of Swift, howev-
er, nor does he believe that the country-
gone-pop singer is representative of
any sort of long-lasting artistic legacy.
What he does believe is that Taylor
Swift is the pinnacle of 2014's biggest
commercial trend: hyper-produced,
hyper-honest anthem pop.
"You've got these two tensions
going on in pop music," Conforth said.
"You've got this tendency towards
the homogenization and blandness of
auto-tuned perfection and every song
sounding exactly the same, and then
you've got this other contingent of
people who are saying, 'Well, we want
something that sounds a little more
honest, and maybe we need to go in a
completely different direction!"
And upuntil this year, Conforth said
the two crowds were going in com-
pletely different directions.
"The groups like Mumford & Sons,
the Lumineers, Hurray for the Riff
Raff, the Avett Brothers - what I call
these acoustic pop groups - who the
rap on them is that people were turn-
ing to thembecause they wanted some-
thing more honest," Conforth said.
"They were sick of the overproduced
pop single, and they wanted something
that sounded more honest, more real,
That desire for honesty bled into
today's dance pop, even if not as
poetically as the acoustic pop groups
See POP MUSIC, Page 38