How NOT to write about music – 124. Flowdan

FLOWDAN

Neil Kulkarni: Not that I can pay you but I’d love you to write about this before the year is out.

Me: Something I keep noticing about grime is that although the genre is still being treated as a New Thing by sections of the mainstream, many of the protagonists have been around for 10, 15 years now – so far back, we were writing about them in Plan B Magazine, giving them cover stories even. Case in point: Flowdan  This grime MC/producer was part of the righteous Roll Deep collective from 2005, has collaborated with The Bug, Wiley and Lethal Bizzle, and released his first solo album in 2009. I mean, whatever. Just an observation, but we sure as fuck weren’t calling it grime back then.

Imaginary Neil Kulkarni: (yawns)

Me: `————————————————–`

I mean, not sure why folk want me to write shit after all this time. Mostly, I have little or nothing to add to the conversation (surreal; I did not type the above line) and I sometimes suspect darker motives behind such requests – showing me up for the unmediated insecure driveling fraud that I am. Impostor Syndrome. When I am thrown outside my comfort zone I usually only make asinine comparisons or resort to pro music journo speak (i.e. reiterating and rewriting points noted by others) in an effort to mask the process. This video, for example. There is a point in it where I am indelibly reminded of Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (cut to a hotel room in Seattle where Jason Statham keeps repeating the phrase “they can’t do that, that’s bang out of order!” to me over and over, to which I can only wearily reply, “It’s already happened, mate”).

There is another bit that makes me think of Gravediggaz (cue interview):

“We grew up in hell,” Prince Rakeem says, “inside a big brick building with chambers in it. People on top of you, people on the side of you, people on bottom of you, there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide from all these surroundings. There’s no food inside your house, no A/C — it’s hot, it’s summer time — no money, welfare is the only source of income.

“We just saying, ‘Yo! We came out through the ovens of hell!'” the rapper explains. “We don’t worship Satan. We got wicked ideas, we got good ideas, mere’s a positive and negative side to everyone. That’s why we say, ‘Positive education/Activates constant elevation’. You take each letter from that, and you get PEACE. That’s what we’re about.”
Gravediggaz: Dead Dead Good (Everett True, Melody Maker, 17 September 1994)

But why keep reliving the past?

Imaginary Neil Kulkarni: forget it.

Me: I am only looking for points of commonality. Welcome to London. That’s how we function. Nobody don’t trust nobody round here. My world disintegrates into nothing, with a sudden sharp random BLAM – a cold burst – and continues, the violence mainly inside my head only manifesting itself in brief uncontrolled bursts that never become physical. Yet.

Life is cold. Life is chilling, children’s voices off and calling down a street you can never find, footsteps receding into the distance but one of these days you know they’re going to stop right outside your house. Sharp, like that glass slicing through your thumb. Resonant, like a disgusting meme. Cool, but cynical.

I.N.K.: --------------------------------------------------

Neil Kulkarni: Jerry Thackray my only point of disagreement here is the notion this is outside yr comfort zone. You’ve been writing about this kind of music for decades. Plus anyone struggling in modern England has a right to this record and a say cos it’s one of the few things this year to nail things so sharply x

How NOT to write about music – 123. Låpsley & DJ Koze

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Lifted out of my Great Pop Mixtape November 2019 for a little more emphasis, a little more oomph, a little less conversation a little more action on this cold wet miserable grey cold (have I mentioned the temperature yet?) Tuesday lunchtime.

You may be wondering to yourself what genre this scintillating 12-inch slice of extended disco belongs to. Well, let me set your mind to rest right now.

It’s disco.

Disco, baby.

Disco disco disco disco.

Disco disco disco disco disco.

D-I-S-C-O (but no, not disco like that).

Disco.

Long before it reached DJ Koze’s studio for an additional loop-de-loop through an audiophile’s time machine, “Operator (He Doesn’t Call Me)” was already deeply devoted to pop history. As originally produced by Holly Lapsley Fletcher and Rodaidh McDonald, the track — among the standouts on Låpsley’s debut album, Long Way Home — is a warm swirl of throwback maneuvers. There’s the part-barbershop, part-gospel-styled voices that open the song and float throughout; the sweeping strings and double-time tambourine that power it; Låpsley’s smoothed-out garage-soul voice; and even the narrative it delivers (girl dials up lover, operator’s not helpful in getting through — a pop trope since before Mary Wells). Each element triggers memories of fine yesteryears, not to mention the era of a single-carrier telephone monopoly.
NPR – Songs We Love

Or, as she puts it…

He doesn’t call me so put me through operator
Maybe I’ll leave him and fall in love with you operator
My baby doesn’t call me so put me through operator
So tell me should I leave him and fall in love with you operator

You can buy a physical copy of this via Discogs. £77.06 well spent, I’d say.

How NOT to write about music – 122. Hurtling

Here is what you should know about me.

  1. I don’t listen to music these days.
  2. I don’t communicate with people these days, outside of work.
  3. I suffer from depression, loneliness.

I know that on the rare occasions I listen to music (now, for instance) it immediately serves to lift my mood. It affords me a high – artificial, temporary or authentic WHO GIVES A SHIT, what matters is the feeling. You may query why I do not listen to music constantly when I am alone (outside work) to counter the effects of 2) and 3).  That is a reasonable question. The answer lies in the very nature of 2) and 3). Plus, I am still beating myself up 18 months after my divorce. (Do I think I am a bad person? Probably.) There is a circle happening. It is vicious. If I could get 1) happening then 2) might not happen and 3) could be reversed, possibly. But because 3) happens, 2) happens and thus 1) happens because overwhelmingly I have come to realise how much music has served to bring community and friendship into my life. Last night, I did not see Tropical Fuck Storm play live in London. The night before, I did not see Tropical Fuck Storm play live in Brighton. I had plenty of notice for both, and could easily have managed the journey. In all probability, this means less than nothing to you, dear imaginary reader. To me, however… even in the depths of my despair in Brisbane I would have made the show. They’re my fucking favourite Australian rock band for fucking fuck’s sake, brilliant. Inspired. Life-affirming.

See 1), 2) and 3).

You nay have noticed that on this blog I increasingly write about pop music, Top 40 stuff. (My god, how great is that title track from the new Charlie’s Angels movie?) The reason for this is straightforward enough: I no longer immerse myself in music (or I do very rarely, which amounts to the same thing). So I need the quick fix, the easy buzz. Ariana cooing about how she wants a new boyfriend? Blam! Lizzo reliving glory moments of the 70s? Blam. Listening to music on the train does not cut it. Too many distractions, and also the music is there to serve another purpose – to block the outside world, the stifling grey, the braying laughter.

So here is what you should also know about me.

I haven’t completely given up. Not yet. The faint echoes of “I’m Everett True, bitch” come back to haunt me, mockingly. Occasionally, the stars will align, the mood will be right. I will turn on the music. And you know the fuck what? The music so rarely lets me down. This evening, I finally got round to listening to this London band Hurtling. I’ve been meaning to, for a couple of weeks now. Don’t know the first thing about them, but here’s why.

  1. The dude at their record company sent me their CD.
  2. Neil Kulkarni gave them a shout-out on Facebook.

More than enough reason. I’d have taken it off, 10 seconds in, if I hadn’t liked the way it sounded: waver-y and woozy, lots of loud-soft loud-soft dynamics and fuzzed-out distorted guitars and a female vocal that burns and connects to sweetly with my heightened frightened senses that I spend half the time thinking, wow man Madder Rose were such an underrated band of the 90s man, and half the time thinking, god damn god fucking damn Throwing Muses really were the fucking greatest band of the late 80s, 90s , 00s and whatever decade you deign to name and I am such a dotard retard for not ALWAYS acknowledging this, and then another half the time thinking that this music – and fuck the comparisons – is making me feel so high, so alive, so ready to take on anyfuckingthing again and fuck 1), 2) and 3). I have no idea why the dude from their record company did send me the CD but… thanks.

Good job I didn’t read the press release before I wrote any of this, or I wouldn’t have even bothered playing the album. Yes, it does mention Smashing Pumpkins. I did think that occasionally I heard a little Veruca Salt but.. no man no. No fucking way.

The press release also calls it alt. rock but this if this is alt. rock then it is alt. rock from those wonderful five seconds when alt. rock was not a dirty word. In places, this is Bitch Magnet good.

Listen to this one, and hey fuck yeah. I’m still Everett True bitch and I ain’t dead yet.

 

The illusion of authenticity and music criticism

everett069

Many academics argue that an understanding of the issues around authenticity is crucial to an understanding of popular music and the dialogue that surrounds it (Atton, 1998; Frith, 1996b; Jones & Featherly, 2002; Sanjek, 1992). What is not so clear is what authenticity means in the context of popular music. All music is a performance. This holds true whether the music is being played in a live setting such as a concert hall, through an online platform like YouTube, in a recording studio, or in a bedroom on an acoustic guitar. Frith (1996b), however, argues the historical importance of the music press is ideological not commercial, and so it falls to the writers to pass judgment based on the music’s perceived authenticity and aesthetic value, not its commercial potential. Jones and Featherly are blunt: “Authenticity is critical to the discourse surrounding popular music” (2002, p. 104), as is Sanjek:

One of the central issues to rock ideology is authenticity: the degree to which a musician is able to articulate the thoughts and desires of an audience and not pander to the “mainstream” by diluting their sound or their message. (Sanjek, 1992, p. 14)

This line of thinking has dominated rock criticism since its inception in the 1960s. It includes a common denial of, or at least refusal to engage with, the fact that popular (rock) music has anything to do with commercial considerations.

‘Authentic’ rock bands are not supposed to care about sales. The reason for that is because the music critic-as-fan often uses authenticity as a tool: the band is legitimised, made authentic, by personal experience. This feeds into the fan’s sense of personal identity, and no music fan likes to believe they have been manipulated by marketing and hype. In the same way that subcultures are defined in relation to their dominant counterpart, mainstream culture, so too is the value of the players within that subculture (Thornton, 1995). Over the years, many critics and academics have interpreted that value as authenticity. Moore, for example, argues that authenticity is interpreted several different ways in relation to popular music, citing the example of Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell:

The term has frequently been used to define a style of writing or performing, particularly anything associated with the practices of the singer/ songwriter, where attributes of intimacy […] and immediacy […] tend to connote authenticity. It is used in a socio-economic sense, to refer to the social standing of the musician. It is used to determine the supposed reasons she has for working, whether her primary felt responsibility is to herself, her art, her public, or her bank balance. It is used to bestow integrity […] . (Moore, 2002, pp. 210-211)

How authenticity is defined is dependent on the subculture that is using the term. For example, “hip-hop artists claim authenticity through a form of autobiographical lyrics about racism, crime, and drug abuse, with which they establish an ethos, or ‘street cred’” (Enli, 2015, p. 12). Some form of rebellion against the dominant culture is implicit in the usage of the term in conjunction with rock music, conversant with the origins of rock in the counterculture of the 1960s.

However, that notion has changed in the last couple of decades after the assimilation of rock into mainstream culture became so apparent that it was impossible for all but the most fervent of rock fans to ignore (Grossberg, 1992). These days, to charge rock music with being more (or less) authentic than pop music lacks credibility (Kramer, 2012) and leads to charges of rockism (see above), and yet the notion persists, romanticised and mythologised by critics whose function is to romanticise and mythologise music. Authenticity is used on an ad hoc basis, applied by those so inclined with equal vigour to Top 40 chart stars and the most underground of independent artists: ‘Are they authentic to themselves as artists?’ runs a familiar nonsensical line:

Authenticity can be thought of as the compass that orients rock culture in its navigation of the mainstream. Rock fans, critics and musicians are constantly evaluating the authenticity of popular music, on the lookout for signs of alienation and inauthenticity (including, for example, over-commercialisation, insincerity, manipulation, lack of originality and so on). This preoccupation with ‘authenticity’ helps rock culture constantly to draw lines of division within the mainstream of popular music…

‘Authentic’ designates those music, musicians, and musical experiences seen to be direct and honest, uncorrupted by commerce, trendiness, derivativeness, a lack of inspiration and so on. ‘Authentic’ is a term affixed to music which offers sincere expressions of genuine feeling, original creativity, or an organic sense of community. […] authenticity is a value, a quality we ascribe to perceived relationships between music, socio-industrial practices, and listeners or audiences. (Prior, 2015, p. 131)

Within a music press (NME, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork) that favours rock and latterly ‘indie’, which is rock by any other name, authenticity is considered crucial as it is the principal point of difference between favoured bands and theirinauthentic’ pop counterparts. This is confirmed by Moore who writes, “The issue of what can be understood as ‘authentic’ is […] of course pertinent to the hallowed distinctions between ‘pop’ and ‘rock’” (2002, p. 210). The reason authenticity is most commonly associated with (male) rock music and inauthenticity with (female) pop music can be traced back to rock’s beginnings as an oppositional force to the dominant culture (Bangs, 1987; Grossberg, 1992) and the fact rock criticism (and, to a lesser extent, rock music itself) has up until recent times been the domain of the male.

Until the last decade and the ongoing democratisation of music criticism, few female critics have been allowed into (or wanted to be allowed into) the boys’ club of (rock) music criticism, and popular music has been shaped accordingly (Brooks, 2008; Kramer, 2012). This gender imbalance is rapidly changing however and as a result, these narrow gendered definitions of authenticity have been challenged numerous times in recent years, notably in the writing of female music critics such as Ann Powers, Maura Johnston, and Jessica Hopper, who regularly speak out against outmoded terminology. For example, Hopper contends on her blog that popular chart singer Lily Allen “regardless of what anyone thinks, is basically the Sex Pistols of girls making bedroom electronic pop” (2010), an assertion that strikes at the heart of rock ideology. In an essay reviewing Hopper’s book The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic (2015) Crawford writes,

Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t own any albums by the Rolling Stones. They’re just so archetypal, so very rock and roll—and that, I find, can be a difficult thing to admire. Rock music has rarely offered women the same tangible promise of social rebellion and sexual freedom that it has given men—though plenty of women, myself included, have tried all the same to find those liberties in it. “Boy guitarists notwithstanding,” the journalist Lillian Roxon wrote to a friend, in 1966, “I don’t think I can stand the sight of another bloody electric guitar.” I know just how she felt. (2015)

On Collapse Board, a fierce debate raged during the latter half of 2011 over the concept of authenticity:

Before we go any further, let’s be clear on something. ALL music is fake. That’s why they call it a performance; that’s why they call it an act. The act of performing a song in front of people is a profoundly strange and unnatural thing. It is ALWAYS pretentious. There is ALWAYS some degree of artificiality to it. People don’t normally get up in front of a bunch of strangers and express themselves melodically. It is, whether the artist is aware of it or not, an act of creation that—while it may share some, or no, similarities with the artist—is not the same thing as the person doing the creating. (Creney, 2011)

Being deemed authentic is one of the lines used by both critics and academics to separate high (or middle) brow contemporary music from lowbrow (mass-produced) pop. However, in the increasingly complex and complicated world of web 2.0 environments, this idea is becoming less and less relevant as it becomes easier to fake authenticity. Every heard song has been mediated by the production process and other related processes, whether in a live setting or in a studio. Every song reflects the character of the personality and identity of the persons performing it, the same way all fiction is rooted at some level in ‘fact’ and all factual writing is rooted to some degree in ‘fiction’. As pioneer filmmaker Jim Jarmusch puts it (while conflating use of the word ‘authenticity’):

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and your theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable: originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to”. (2010)

Not all academics believe that authenticity is a useful classificatory tool. Many argue that authenticity does not exist within popular music, or if it does, it exists at such a low level within every performer as to have little or no value as a descriptive tool (Williams, 2006). And yet the notion of authenticity in popular music persists, constructed via various conventions and tricks, as Enli (2015, p.136) terms them in relation to media studies; predictability, spontaneity, immediacy, confessions, ordinariness, ambivalence and imperfection.

Enli argues that the “paradox of mediated authenticity is that although we base most of our knowledge about society and the world in which we love on mediated representations of reality, we remain well aware that the media are constructed, manipulated, and even faked” (p. 1). That paradox is central to an understanding of the ideology of rock (and thus popular music) criticism. Popular music is a mediated representation of reality, constructed and manipulated, and yet rock fans are frequently searching for what they believe to be an unmediated representation of the bands they give their support to.

Weisethaunet and Lindberg (2010) reason that the concept of authenticity when applied to popular music is even vaguer than when it is used in philosophy, where it has already become so vague as to become near-meaningless (p. 481). To illustrate their argument, the pair break down the concept in detail, and give examples of differing forms of authenticity that occur within different forms of popular music: “Folkloric ‘Authenticity’”, “‘Authenticity’ as Self-Expression”, “‘Authenticity’ as Negation”, “‘Authentic Inauthenticity’”, “Body ‘Authenticity’”, and so on (pp. 469-476). This should serve as a good example of the definitional confusion that awaits any academic or critic attempting to justify usage of the term. Establishing what authenticity actually means is highly problematic. A more sound approach is to usethe illusion of authenticity’. As Frith points out,

Critical judgement means measuring performers’ ‘truth’ to the experience or feelings they are describing or expressing. The problem is that it is, in practice, very difficult to say who or what it is that pop music expresses or how we recognize, independently of their music, the ‘authentically’ creative performers. Musical ‘truth’ is precisely that which is created by ‘good music’; we hear the music as authentic (or rather, we describe the musical experience we value in terms of authenticity) and such a response is then read back, spuriously, on to the music-making (or listening) process. (1996a, p.121)

Frith argues that the question is framed incorrectly: it should not be “what does popular music reveal about the people who play and use it”? Rather, it should be “how does popular music create them as people, as a web of identities?” (p. 121). All art is performance, or, as Creney (2011) bluntly terms it, “ALL music is fake”—and so the idea of looking to it to discover the ‘real’ person that lurks behind the façade lacks credibility:

Popular music is popular not because it reflects something or authentically articulates some sort of popular taste or experience, but because it creates our understanding of what ‘popularity’ is, because it places us in the social world in a particular way. What we should be examining […] is not how true a piece of music is to something else, but how it sets up the idea of ‘truth’ in the first place. (Frith, 1996a, p. 121)

I propose that until an understanding of the importance of the illusion of authenticity to rock criticism is reached, understanding various motivations and patterns of popular music criticism will remain problematic because the roots of what is termed popular music criticism in the present-day are so closely aligned with the roots of rock criticism. If popular music criticism is to lose the ‘death of the music critic’ tag and adapt to changing taste patterns in web 2.0 environments it needs to acknowledge the role the illusion of authenticity played in its creation, and still plays in much of present-day writing around music.

From The Slow Death of Everett True: A Metacriticism (Thackray, 2016, pp. 74-79)

Illustration: Vincent Vanoli

The Return of Everett True’s Great Pop Mixtape, November 2019

Billie Eilish

If you have any further suggestions, please make them in the comments box below. I wanna know!

Dua Lipa – Don’t Start Now

Mabel – Don’t Call Me Up

Lana Del Rey – Doin’ Time

Georgia – Never Let You Go

Kanye West – Selah

Taylor Swift – You Need To Calm Down

Billie Eilish – Bad Guy (Soulnasty’s Extended Mix)

Miley Cyrus – Mother’s Daughter

Baby Rose – All To Myself

Lizzo ft. Ariana Grande – Good As Hell

Tones And I – Dance Monkey

Ariana Grande and Victoria Monét – Monopoly

Chromatics – On The Wall

Låpsley – Operator (DJ Koze’s Extended Disco Version)

Beyoncé (etc) – Brown Skin Girl

Ariana Grande – Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored

Lola Young – 6 Feet Under

Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Lana Del Rey – Don’t Call Me Angel

Charlotte Adigéry – High Lights

How NOT to write about music – 121. Kanye West

jesus-is-king-album-cover

…wherein Kanye continues with his persecution complex, this time comparing what has happened to him with what happened to Jesus…

Again, the comments underneath the music tell you more about the music then the music itself (and this is one of the best moments from Jesus is King) (and let’s not overlook the inclusion of Kenny G here, but embrace it and admit that, as ever, the song would have been far better without the inclusion of Kenny G here) (and let us state here and now that while gospel music and Jesus can often lift previously unfocused artists to new heights of passion, Kanye does not sound inspired, does not sound impassioned on most of Jesus is King) (and this remains one of the greatest songs here, mainly for the urgency and repetition in the choral segments here, interspersed with some very nice percussive effects that sound like a door, or coffin, slamming shut) (and let us point out that much of this feels like an unhinged marketing gimmick the way much of Kanye’s work feels like unhinged marketing gimmicks even as you believe he believes he thinks it real) (but usually this does not matter, indeed often this leads to flashes of brilliance, genius) (and let us state those flashes are so far and few between here as to be non-existent) (and let us state that… you’re not reading this now, are you?).

Lyrics are utter crap.

As Kanye has it: it’s a hard road to heaven – but shit, he got a head start now, don’t he?

Let me state here and now, my personal bias.

  1. I do not believe in a God, or Gods – or rather, I do, but I do not believe Christianity has the exclusivity on God, or Gods. I prefer my Gods to live at the bottom of my garden alongside my spirit animal.
  2. I am not a fan of crap music, badly formulated and poorly executed.
  3. I like unfinished, but shit there is unfinished and unfinished. This is not raw or ‘real’. It’s just sloppy.

There are plenty of people who disagree with me, though. Remember folk, it’s a big and scary world out there. Man.

Comments below the YouTube video.

  • This song turned my yeezys into Jesus sandals
  • I like how this is Christian but is still Kanye
  • This whole album is a diss to the DEVIL.
  • Stay strong Ye. I know Hollywood is attacking you. They don’t like all this Jesus talk. We’re praying for you.
  • If God is with you who can be against you? none.
  • Damn….Kanye really going to make gospel music the new wave
  • I was saved by Christ 19 years ago – IT GETS BETTER EVERYDAY – JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!
  • May God give Kanye all the strength he needs a a servant of God. Amen.
  • If the priest ain’t blasting this on Sunday I’ll rage
  • “Who the son sets free is free indeed” hit me hard
  • “If you woke then wake up.”
  • “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” John 15:18
  • This is what Christian grandmas gonna be listening to in 2080
  • As a Christian I love seeing what Jesus is doing in this man’s life. He can make a huge impact.
  • Finally a famous singer that’s stands up for God and hears His call
  • This song gets me pumped up to worship God!!
  • Kanye just went full on Jesus mode and I’m here for it
  • Glory belongs to the Lord alone. He is risen, and his kingdom is at hand.

Some hold that this is “fake Christianity at its finest” but that leads to the rather obvious question… what the fuck is ‘real’ Christianity?

God moves in mysterious ways, and sometimes she’s quite dull as well.

It still shits all over Bob Dylan though.

Jesus is King: the merch stallJESUS_IS_KING_CROSS_CREWNECK_SHOT_1_1100x

You’d have thought they could’ve found a clean pair.

JIK_SOCK_1100x

How NOT to write about music – 120. Victoria Monét

Victoria Monét ass like that

Just got to link to this if only to share this one comment on the Ariana Grande and Victoria Monét video:

Everyone saying its a low budget video but their clothes probably cost more than my house

Also, everything The Guardian says here is true:

Over gorgeous production flourishes like a bathwater-warm brass section and a distorted guitar solo, she sings a witty, equally warm song admiring her own behind – one that has men apparently regarding it not so much with lechery as baffled wonderment

I have no desire to mess with words that clued-in. Except, they ain’t true at all.

But ain’t that music criticism right here: trust, not truth – I trusted the words and they led me to the mother-lode. The music.

They ain’t true. I ain’t regarding her ass with neither lechery nor wonderment cos I ain’t regarding her ass at all, just listening to her ‘warm, witty lyricism’ and the crackly recording with its ‘bathwater-warm brass section’ and ‘distorted guitar solo’, gorgeous immersive warmth. If the pop music gig ever goes belly up she sure got a great future panned out as the new Jane Fonda. Or some crap joke like that. I feel I’m existing in some 2000s film director version of the 1970s, but that’s OK as well. Escapism, remember?

Pop music.