Monday, August 25, 2008

In response to your comment....

Your post (and the title of the book you quote from) made me think something else: what is the difference between the way teenage boys and teenage girls react to pop? The teenage girl's relationship with pop seems more genuine, less forced, to me. Boys don't abandon themselves to pop as much, or at least not in the same way - instead of cutting a rug, they make lists or collect everything their favourite band has ever done - anything to distance themselves from (and, in a way, deaden) the music.

Girls "get" pop more than boys do - they immediately find meaning where boys have to search for it. And it is more limited to a specific time, place and set of feelings - hence why women are often less lifelong in their passion for music. The glorious, estacy of teenage pop obsession exhausts itself for girls, whereas boys turn into neurotic, depressive rock fans (cf High Fidelity). Paddington

I largely agree with your analysis of the differences between the way teenage boys and teenage girls listen to pop, and indeed, music generally, particularly when it comes to girly pop versus boys rock. (I have less of an idea how this relationship differs in other genres of music though, although from the little I do know, I’d say that dance music, particularly DJ-based genres engenders dorky obsession, whilst hip-hop and its grimier cousins appears to be quite closely linked to abandon and cutting a rug, as it were.)

In answering your question, I feel compelled to conjoin my two big loves, music and books, into one big love-in and pull out my YA bible, Julie Burchill’s Sugar Rush. It’s probably no surprise that former NME writer Burchill, places such significance on pop music in her first-love novel, Sugar Rush. Significantly, here the first glimmer of sexuality, drinking, dancing, and all those delicious activities that are so magical when you are 16, and simply silly and a tad banal when you’re 26 (unless you’re me, in which case, they’re even better) are rooted in the protagonist, Kim’s, involvement in pop.

When Kim falls in love with the deliriously sexy and rebellious Maria, she is plummeted head first into what she refers to as GirlWorld.

“Girlworld makes daydreaming, water-treading sirens of us all. The posters of boys, torn from magazines, on the walls, the fruity cosmetics on the dressing tape, tiny tops from Morgan and Kookai strewn across the floor, the CDs out of their boxes, snatched off in the heat of the moment of having to hear THAT SONG, RIGHT NOW. Until after one and a half minutes you remembered the one you REALLY wanted to hear.”

Burchill captures nascent teen girls’ heady obsessions with boys and fashion by linking it to the impulsive, compulsive pull of pop music. In Sugar Rush, her characters discard their inhibitions and clothing with the same thoughtless, heartfelt recklessness that they tear their CDs from their cases “snatched off in the heart of the moment of having to hear THAT SONG, RIGHT NOW.” Everything is beautiful, momentary, fleeting, yet ultimately, disposable. (Unless the two things become married in a divine union. Then you get the undying devotion embodied in the soaking seats of concerts stretching from The Beatles to The Backstreet Boys et cetera et cetera, until, of course, they try to become “musically serious” or break up.)

Burchill’s image of CDs discarded across the floor, usurped by a better song summoned immediately in the heat of the moment reminds me of my eager, impatient habit of only listening to half-songs, ever a slave to the skip button. I am instantly reminded of my old boyfriend’s habit of stopping me from flicking onto a new song on the i-Pod until the previous one was finished, thereby disrupting the play count and disrupting the machine’s record of our listening habits. Often, by the time that song had finished, my desire had melted. The moment had passed.

I gave up trying to express my identity through my music some years ago. I’d appear insane or schizophrenic, and besides, daaarlings, I’m just too complex to be little more than a straightforward little indiegirl (my previous e-mail and music blog incarnation btw). Boys into their music have a tendency to wear their tastes and their carefully studied knowledge like a badge of honour. Similarly, I used to be like Kim in Sugar Rush - a girl who believed to be taken seriously, you had to take everything seriously, especially your music. Contrasting her musical identity with her love-interest, Maria’s, Kim explains:

“She held up a party-coloured box containing the sort of dance-tune compilation that I had often yearned over in Virgin but then turned my treacherous back on, because I am – was – a High girl, and High girls listen to Dido and Radiohead and hardcore rap about how many drive-by shooting you’ve pulled and how many bitches you’ve slapped, as we chew our pens over our algebra homework, because we’re, like so intelligent or something that we know they’re only ‘ironic’ shootings and slappings.”

Cut out the Dido and there’s me, aged 16, trying to be taken seriously and swearing off cheesy pop, or at the very least, hiding my Kylie behind The Velvet Underground. I catalogued my music, controlled my listening and spent a significant time on the internet, discussing music very seriously with like-minded, equally serious boys, writing for online music sites. I sacrificed all-night dance binges at the local nightclub in favour of much shoe-gazing and chin-scratching in boys’ cold bedrooms, the windows shoved open to get rid of the smoke as we analyzed Smashing Pumpkins/Jimi Hendrix/Nirvana et cetera et cetera.

But although the kind of music I listened to changed, the way I ate it up never has. I listen obsessively but shallowly, devouring individual songs and albums but barely digesting them. I only really took any nourishment from the truly excellent (Prince, Radiohead, Beastie Boys, The Clash etc.) and the personally significant (Fleetwood Mac’s Everywhere, Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis Eyes, Robyn’s With Every Heartbeat, The New Radicals' You Only Get What you Give), which are frequently, also, truly excellent, but centred not around the album, or the career progression, but the three minutes it takes to crystallize a memory, cement a relationship or force a decision.

Boys collect, collate, catalogue, analyze, order and sort. I find this level of anal obsession something of an aphrodisiac. To me, it demonstrates an intoxicating combination of passion, restraint and borderline psychosis, my top three qualities when seeking a mate (screw GSOH). I admire it, and for several years, did an okay-ish job of trying to replicate it. But given the choice, I respond to music impulsively, spontaneously, hysterically. Give me a dancefloor, a moshpit, or a mirror and a hairbrush over a league table any day. I’d rather lose myself than find patterns or time signatures.

I like music when I commute, when I work, when I play, when I cook, when I eat, when I drink, when I love, when I socialise, when I bathe, when I dress, when I work, while I sleep. I rarely sit and listen. Music is rarely something to analyze (although I do appreciate that too) but rather, a constant companion when no one else is around. When I have felt miserable, or joyful, fallen in love, or fallen out, the first thing to know will be my stereo. It reflects my momentary happiness or heartache back to me.

In Sugar Rush, music provides the soundtrack to Kim’s love affair with Maria.

She whooped, drained her glass, pulled me to my feet. She turned me to face the mirror, stood behind me, caught my wrists in her hands and began to move my arms wildly to that beautiful song – “Cos you’re FREE – to do what you WANT to do – you gotta LIVE YOUR LIFE – do what you WANT to do!” Her eyes were wide in mock horror.
“Ohmigod, Kim! Look! You’re just a dancing machine! A slave to the rhythm! You just can’t control your feet! You’re going to dance yourself to death! Stop! STOP! NOT ON A SCHOOL NIGHT, KIM!”
We feel backwards on to her bed, helpless with laughter – and in my case, rising nausea from unfamiliar Smirnoff on an empty stomach, bar a Belgian waffle – and it could have gone either way right then; I could have vomited or I could have fallen in love. As it turned out, I went for the latter option. But I often wish I’d just been sick, right there, and then on Sugar’s sweet-smelling GirlWorld bed, and disgraced myself with a short, sharp shame, rather than take the scenic route to sorrow, as I was later to do. But again, I get ahead of myself. There were loads of good times to come, before the morning after – that final morning after the one that never ends – that finally caught up with us.”

What I love about this is the utter cheesiness of the song she chooses. It’s absurdly optimistic and motivational, good but not groundbreaking, serious, but only for the short time that it exists. It’s meant to inspire a kind of deluded ecstasy, not cerebral engagement. In short, it’s about capturing and cherishing a moment that may, or may not be magical; that could end in vomiting, or falling in love.

Part II of this post to follow later this week…


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