It’s time to shake off the idea that pop is for girls or can’t be taken seriously. Because men listen to pop music too, says Tom Fordy.
Taylor Swift’s new album Reputation is only just on shelves, but already it’s caused plenty of agro and manufactured media controversy. Taylor has entered her “dark phase”, shedding the skin of her previous personas in the videos Look What You Made Me Do and Ready For It? with all the subtlety of a platinum selling album up the arse.
Of course, the butter-wouldn’t-melt pop princess stage of her career is over, and now she’s onto the bit where everyone wants to tear her down because she’s too popular for her own good.
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Websites have been filled with articles called things like, “Actually, Taylor Swift was shit all along and you’re a fucking idiot for ever liking her”. Meanwhile, she’s been accused of cultural appropriation, having an alt-right agenda, using her lyrics to take lame shots at other singers (fair), and having the temerity to not use her pop-powers for political do-goodery.
It’s all got a bit serious, hasn’t it?
Personally, I liked Taylor’s smart bubblegum popster stuff – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, Shake It Off, Blank Space – which came along just as I was having a bit of an awakening about pop music myself: that musical taste doesn’t need to be entirely serious, but at the same time it’s fine to be serious about liking pop music.
It’s not a very manly thing for a 30-something bloke to admit, is it? That he often sticks Take That Greatest Hits in the cans when he’s walking home from the pub pissed. Or that he can’t wait to bang on his favourite 80s mega mix when he’s out running. Or listens to Little Mix more than is strictly necessarily for someone over the age of 16. Or has a favourite Darius song and listens to it regularly (Colourblind, if you’re asking). Or listens exclusively to the Greatest Christmas Album In The World Ever throughout December. Or that when left to his own devices, he hardly ever listens to what most other men his age would called “proper” music.
But I say it takes a real man to listen to pop.
There’s an idea – proliferated by decades of propaganda-like marketing – that pop is somehow girly, that it’s un-masculine. While other genres – louder, more aggressive, macho types of music like rock, rap, metal, punk, indie – are for boys.
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Sorry, but a pop banger is a pop banger, girly or not. And how much can a man really know about himself if he’s never stuck on some Carly Rae Jepson when the missus and kids are out and danced around like a wally? (As happens frequently in our house.)
I’ve always liked pop music but I spent my late teens and twenties pretending I didn’t. My closest mates knew the truth, but even then I’d palm off my taste in cheesy music as sort of ironic. And I certainly wouldn’t have owned up to the darkest, most pop-tastic recesses of my musical tastes to a stranger; instead, I’d offer up some serious artists to give the illusion of a more discerning cultural palate.
Sure, it’s a good laugh to stick on Club Tropicana or a bit of Erasure when we’re all pissed up at 3am, but you wouldn’t listen to them at home, on your own, sober… would you? Well, yes, I’m ready to admit that I would, because actually my love of cheesy pop music is deeply un-ironic.
I like lots of other music that cynics would find more manly. I love The Beatles and The Clash. The Smiths and Joy Division. Springsteen and Bowie. Al Green and Otis Redding. Johnny Cash and Buddy Holly. Oasis and Pulp. The National and Neutral Milk Hotel. Even a drop of Slipknot – or “Slippers” as I affectionately call them.
But for me, lyrics and hooks in mainstream pop music have always been as moving or powerful as in other, more chin-strokingly acceptable genres.
Not that pop music isn’t absolutely shite at the same time, of course. You only have to watch an episode of X Factor (another not-so-guilty pleasure of mine) to see how soullessly bland and most modern pop is. But when a proper banger comes along – a top notch number like Black Magic by Little Mix, Bad Romance by Lady Gaga, or Shake it Off – it deserves as much appreciation as any piece of well written and produced music.
It’s always felt like a bit of a closet philistine over my taste in music, so coming out to say, “Yes, I love Taylor Swift,” has been a moment of, well, shaking off inhibitions. Honestly, the pop I’ve been listening to recently, without a shred of irony, from 1980s stuff to now, would make some of my musically minded mates’ blood curdle.
I’m not saying you have to dance around to Carly Rae Jepson or other girly tunes to be a real, modern man. It’s nothing to do with getting in touch with your feminine side, or any other reductive ideas on masculinity. In fact, it’s not about music at all; it’s about understanding, embracing, and enjoying the sort of bloke you are. If you can do all that, you’re a real man by proxy, because getting to that stage in your life takes bloody years of shedding all the embarrassment and social unease.
So, what sort of bloke am I? A cheesy one. With a brilliantly shit taste in music.