Friday was the most important day for music in 2015. There were big releases. There was boy band tension. There were alt sensations. There was a lot going on! It was a great day to be a fan of contemporary music.
(And, yes, part of this is because of the attacks on Paris—but that is a completely separate story.)
Did anyone win the day? Yes, there was a clear winner: pop music. Regardless of the genre of the big or small releases, pop music won. First, Justin Bieber’s Purpose was a giant winner. He successfully revamped himself by going sensitive bro and collaborating some legit people like Diplo and Skrillex. Say what you will about all this but Biebs created some fucking legit songs.
Comparatively, One Direction—Bieber’s biggest competition—gave us more of the same, which is sad-boy sensitive pop. Yes, it’s a bit redundant and passé but that’s pop for you. That’s what you get from one of the biggest bands in the world who happen to be quickly crumbling at their own hands.
For the alternative productions, there were two major releases: Grimes’ Art Angels, her first release in three years, and Oneohtrix Point Never’s Garden Of Delete. The irony of these releases is that they were the antithesis of alt: they were confident attempts at being pop and played by pop rules with multiple singles released in advance of the release date. Counter culture and pop culture are intertwining themselves.
Art Angels was new for Grimes because it was so safe, the oddity rubbed down to something so slick. The album contains a collaboration with Janelle Monae, a few “country” sounding songs, and a glossy rethinking of an otherwise lo-fi and wonderful release. You can’t help but be reminded: actuallygrimes actually collaborated with Rihanna and actuallygrimes has finally caught up with her fellow pop It Girls. She is no longer alt. She’s a pop star.
0PN did something similar, albeit in a way that sidesteps stardom and maintains his weirdo integrity (which, like Grimes, is exactly what mainstream music culture is looking for). First, the album is inspired by his touring with Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden. It also includes his first entree into lyrical (“lyrical”) songs which tosses himself among post-auto-tune pop people. “I want the kid that works at the mall to like this record,”he told Vulture earlier this year. The album feels like this too: it’s gritty and rock and like something non-electronic nerds can get into, an irony that falls into his irony of ironies. He successfully went full NIN. Giant men will wear his logo skewering shirts and feel edgy. He’a the new Tool.
James Ferraro’s new LA skewering record also came out Friday and there is a distinct Hollywood connection—and a critique of Hollywood is a critique of pop. It’s dystopian pop and kind of like the R&B death album 0PN could have made if he was more serious. Moreover, the best release from Friday—Bing & Ruth‘s dark ambient sequel City Lake—had it’s own pop tendencies. Bing & Ruth’s David Moore created something that was less brooding and actually cheery. This was accomplished by including light piano in his eleven piece ensemble, making something a bit more accessible and happy. No, you would never put Moore’s record in the same category as Bieber’s record but this happier effort is absolutely within the theme of Friday’s releases: it has pop tendencies.
This is an undoubtedly interesting state of musical affairs. Pop won! It’s also a marking of time, that all these artists have grown up some with the Internet taking them out of obscurity. They’re getting that cash in the best way possible: by making pop music. I guess we should have seen it all coming since Missy Elliott made her comeback the day before all these albums came out. We should have known pop was popping.
Pop rules everything around me, I guess.