The definition of “pop” is wonderfully circular: Pop music is music that is popular, and whatever is popular is pop music. The thrilling moments in music history are when that definition expands – when the musical avante garde jumps up the Billboard charts, and a Nirvana or Tupac (or, dare I say, a Hamilton?) changes what pop can be.
Of course, pop isn’t an ever-expanding universe. There are periodic contractions as well, or else violin sonatas would be jostling for space with doo-wop, hip-hop, and everything in between. And while some of these shifts may take years to develop, others are obvious immediately. Take ‘90s boy band New Kids on the Block for example. Their second and third albums, Hangin’ Tough and Step by Step, had both been No. 1 albums in the States. NKOTB were as popular as popular can be. Their next album, Face the Music, climbed all the way up the charts… to number 37. Face the music, indeed.
Here at Consequence of Sound, we are interested in those moments — those tipping points — when the genre changes and fortunes rise and fall. For that reason, every month we’ll be reacting (some might say overreacting) to the latest trends and story lines. Let us acknowledge from the first that a month isn’t very long. The truth may take years to come out, and if all you want is the truth, then you are welcome to wait that long. In the meantime, we’ll be doing our best to understand what’s happening while it’s still happening. And we’ll start our monthly parsing of winners and losers with the trend that has the most immediate potential to change the sound of pop.
Four out of the top 10 best-selling albums in the country are musical soundtracks. Oh, well, ‘tis the Oscar season, you might say. But the Oscars barely made a dent on the Billboard 200 a year ago, and the year before that the soundtracks were much further down the list. As I see it, there are two explanations: First, that the soundtracks this year are unusually compelling and things will be back to normal next year. Second, America has rekindled its ancient love affair with the musical.
La La Land continues to live the Hollywood dream, in that it cost very little to make and is dominating the box office like an honest-to-god sequel. Trolls is up for an Oscar for Best Song, along with the soundtrack to Disney’s Moana. Rounding things out is the stage musical Hamilton, which, granted, is not a movie, but as it rakes in money like a tentpole franchise, you can rest assured that America’s producers are taking note. Going forward, it wouldn’t be surprising if we consumers were force-fed more and more musicals until the revenues dry up or the whole nation collectively bursts into song.
The real hero behind the musical renaissance may be Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer of Hamilton and the Oscar-nominated song from Moana, “How Far I’ll Go”. If Mr. Miranda wins the Oscar this year, he’ll become the youngest person to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony in competitive categories, which together make up the fabled E.G.O.T.
The original version of “How Far I’ll Go” by Auli’i Cravalho is quite lovely (it was nominated for an Oscar, after all), but I’m going to leave you with the official cover by Alessia Cara, our most underrated pop anti-princess and the artist currently doing the most to fill the Lourde-shaped hole in my heart.
Memes, Media, and Migos
In October of 2016, the prolific hip-hop trio Migos released “Bad and Boujee”, the opening lines of which are: “Raindrop, drop top.” The song was a minor hit and looked like it would be quickly forgotten. Then the internet got involved.
All of this extra attention vaulted “Bad and Boujee” to the No. 1 song in the country for a week in January, and Billboard is already predicting that it will regain that spot to start February, too. The lesson here is that if people somewhat like you and somewhat like making fun of you, then there’s nothing you can’t do. Congratulations, memes. Congratulations to the wittiest people on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter — you are truly our new kingmakers. Oh, and also congratulations to Migos, who release approximately 17 billion mixtapes a year. In a sense, Migos got lucky, but it’s much easier to get lucky when you work your ass off.
Photo by Philip Cosores
While America continues to produce younger and younger pop stars wearing less and less clothing, the UK has a strange obsession with artists whose only qualifications are that they are talented. Weird, right? Ed Sheeran has ghost-written for One Direction and Taylor Swift, and despite looking like he has really strong opinions on the best way to roll a joint, he has carved out an enviable solo career. In the last week of January, his single “Castle on the Hill” debuted at No. 6, which would be a career-defining moment for most singers, except that his “Shape of You” debuted at No. 1 in the same week.
Despite the pervasiveness of previous hits like “Photograph” and “Thinking Out Loud”, this is Sheeran’s first No. 1 single in the United States. In response to this unexpected dominance, American record companies are hard at work developing a dancing fetus. Until then, expect to hear a lot more of Mr. Sheeran.
Chris Brown’s first two singles off his upcoming album, and four out of his last five singles altogether, haven’t managed to crack the Top 40. This is concerning because Mr. Brown is 27 years old, which is verging on geriatric for the pop world. But while Brown’s issues may begin with the Billboard charts, we are left hoping that they end on a therapist’s couch and not, as seems increasingly likely, in the boxing ring with Soulja Boy. And here, our younger readers may be asking themselves, “Who or what is Soulja Boy?” This is a good question. Soulja Boy is a rapper closely associated with an internet dance craze called “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” that was relevant as recently as the presidency of George W. Bush. That is, until Soulja Boy baited Chris Brown on Twitter. The boxing match is scheduled to take place in March in Dubai, and has inspired Mike Tyson (Chris Brown’s trainer!?!) to write a diss track full of both punchlines and lines about punches.
That Tyson is on team Brown is unsurprising, since the two men have shown similar values when it comes to the beating of women. But the question remains: Is the boxing match really going to happen? Or is it nothing more than a publicity stunt to help Mr. Brown’s struggling sales? Either way, the whole thing reeks of desperation. A-List pop stars don’t feel threatened by Soulja Boy. A-List pop stars don’t start feuds with Soulja Boy. A-List pop stars don’t know who Soulja Boy is.
Any Animal That Has To Rely on Justin Bieber
First, let’s acknowledge that it’s hard transitioning from teenager to adult, and it’s even harder when money and fame are involved. There aren’t many people who can relate to what pop stars go through, and it’s normal for them to develop strange personalities. But even by the strained standards of pop stars, the evidence continues to pile up that Justin Bieber is a terrible fucking person.
Never mind the time he ordered his bodyguards to assault a photographer or the time he sucker-punched a fan; his latest victim is another in a long string of animals that Mr. Bieber has neglected or abused. The story is that Mr. Bieber had a pet chow puppy for six months before dumping it on his backup dancer because of his “busy schedule.” It turned out that in those six months, he didn’t take the poor pup to a vet. The chow, named Todd, was born with hip dysplasia, and without surgery he would be unable to walk by the time he was a year old; he would have to be put down. Backup dancer CJ Salvador was forced to start a GoFundMe to pay for the $8,000 surgery, and the GoFundMe was thankfully successful. Mr. Bieber did not contribute any money to the surgery, but in case you were wondering, Mr. Bieber makes $8,000 in about the time it took you to read this sentence.
This is the fourth time that Mr. Bieber has unceremoniously dumped a pet. He handed his hamster PAC to a fan after a Christmas show in 2012, saying, “That’s all you … you gotta take care of PAC.” The little rodent died three months later. He also abandoned pet monkey Mally, “frightened and alone,” at Munich customs when he couldn’t produce the proper paperwork. Mally is in good health and being cared for by a German zookeeper. Then there’s Karma the bulldog, who was thrown off a second-floor balcony by Mr. Bieber’s father, according to the dog’s trainer. The dog survived and is being raised by the trainer, who says that the Bieber family never paid him.
The “busy schedules” of other artists like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry haven’t prevented them from obsessing over their own pets, probably because they actually care about their pets. Here’s hoping that Mr. Bieber’s career gets put down before he has a chance to neglect any other animals.