Pop Goes Teresa

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Is My Writing Worth the Price of One Large Latte a Month?

Published February 25, 2014 by Teresa

I’ve always been very proud of the writing that I do here at The Experience. Sure, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of being published at other, fancy-schmancy outlets. But I’ve had some of the best, most intelligent conversations about pop culture here when, for example, I’ve talked about whether or not Katniss Everdeen is a ‘character of color’, or why Camille Paglia was very, very wrong about Lady Gaga, or how an awesome episode of Girls forces viewers to recognize the difference between what TV has taught us people are attracted to and what people in real life are actually attracted to.

I would love to write pieces like that more often. But as I’ve moved slowly but steadily into a more firmly freelance lifestyle, I’ve had less and less time to devote to writing I do for free. Too many scripts to write, paid blog posts to edit, essays and articles to submit. It’s all I can do to throw up a blog post giving you an update on what I’m up to! But I love doing it. And even though I consider myself more of a fiction than a non-fiction writer, I think my non-fiction work is also really valuable. But in order for me to be able to continue to be able to do it, it needs to be made sustainable.

This is where Beacon comes in. 

Beacon is a great site for non-fiction writers and journalists where readers can subscribe directly to writers whose work they love, supporting them financially for the work they enjoy. What’s better is that for a teensy subscription fee ($5/month, a little more than one large latte a month), a reader can access not only the work of the writer they’ve subscribed to, but also ALL of the writers on Beacon – amazing writers with fancy pedigrees out the ying-yang from all over the world who’ve written for everything from the New York Times and Al Jazeera to Vice and Jezebel. Better still, Beacon’s business model puts writers first. For every subscription a writer receives, the writer gets 70% and Beacon gets 30%, and it’s direct deposit, so there’s no invoicing Beacon once a month and hoping they pay you in thirty days. Every month, the writers automatically get the money owed to them from their subscribers. Done and done.

I tell you all this, because it’s so rare that writers are put first. This site is damn near miraculous. :)

I also tell you all this, because Beacon has invited me to be one of their writers! That’s right – I’ve been accepted into Beacon’s roster, and now Beacon will be the home for all my best pop culture writing.

Beacon launches it’s writers via subscription drives, or “Projects,” that are similar to crowdfunding campaigns. I’ll be launching a project on March 3rd, and when that day comes, I ask that if you enjoy what you’ve been reading here, or are currently “Liking” my fan page on Facebook, or if you enjoy the writing of mine you’ve seen in other publications, that you subscribe to me for only $5 a month.

Once I begin writing for Beacon, that will be the exclusive home of my pop culture criticism. I’ll still be writing here at The Teresa Jusino Experience, but the posts here will strictly be personal updates. :)

So if you don’t want to miss out – subscribe to me at Beacon! I’ll be reminding you all week via social media, so don’t you worry.

See you all on March 3rd! And thank you so much for your support thus far!

Clean-Up, Catch-Up, and Intros

Published May 10, 2012 by Teresa

Hey there, loyal readers! (all ten of you) You might have noticed that I’ve been a little ayzy-lay in the ogging-blay epartment-day. The past month’s been a little insane. Lots that I’ve tried to accomplish (but haven’t), financial insecurities, and by the way, I’m moving again! :) My third time in nine months. Nothing horrible, mind you. Just time for me to move on. At this rate, I’ll have had quite the grand tour of Los Angeles before my L.A. Year One comes to a close!

However, even though I haven’t been posting much of substance this past month (save my response to Moviefone and this post about Girls), I’ve been sprucing the place up little by little. You might have noticed some new tabs up top – like **MERCHANDISE** and **PRESS** and **SPEAKING.** Check them out!

Also, I’m hoping to get back to some regular features here. Some new, some that I’ve done before and miss doing. I’m hoping to do more with the following old features:

Pop Goes Teresa – wherein I talk about pop music intelligently, because I don’t automatically equate “pop” with “bad” or “unimportant.” (check out one of my posts on Lady Gaga)

Teresa’s Bookshelf – wherein I review books I’ve read and make recommendations! (check out my most recent reviews HERE)

The Fray Project – wherein I challenge myself to be better. Yes, I’m still doing this, and starting next week, I’m getting back into the swing of daily posting on that. (Read all about the project HERE)

There will also be a new feature I’m calling MINORITY REPORT, wherein I will highlight awesome work/projects/progress made by women, racial/ethnic minorities, and LGBT folks in the media. There will be some critical stuff, too, but it’s important to me not only to complain about what’s wrong, but celebrate what’s right. This will be my space for that. And when I say “media,” I mean TV, Film, and Comics. :)

I also plan on doing more at my other blogs, The Gender Blender and Geek Girl Traveler, and I will be linking all that content here as it posts.

So, thank you for popping in and giving my words a gander. I hope you’ll come back to hang out and have a chat! I’ve got lots more chatter in store! :)

Pop Goes Teresa: Loving Lady Gaga Part 2 – Camille Paglia and the Death of Reason

Published September 17, 2010 by Teresa

It’s been a while since my first Lady Gaga post!  In it, I promised two more: one about how Gaga is a role model, and one about why she’s important to pop music and the art world.

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while now, in deference to other things that needed doing/writing, but a couple of days ago I came across this article by Camille Paglia called “Lady Gaga and the Death of Sex.” In it, Ms. Paglia pretty much blames Gaga for all of society’s ills.  This article forced me to come up for air enough for me to write part two of this series.

Paglia: Although she presents herself as the clarion voice of all the freaks and misfits of life, there is little evidence that she ever was one. Her upbringing was comfortable and eventually affluent, and she attended the same upscale Manhattan private school as Paris and Nicky Hilton. There is a monumental disconnect between Gaga’s melodramatic self-portrayal as a lonely, rebellious, marginalised artist and the powerful corporate apparatus that bankrolled her makeover and has steamrollered her songs into heavy rotation on radio stations everywhere.

Jusino: Because…there are no such things as misfits in the world of the rich?  Because if your parents make a certain income, you’re exempt from being an outcast?  I think the fact that she was cozying up to performance artists and performing at places like New York’s The Bitter End when she was 16 or 17 while her peers were busy worrying about being trendy and going to parties speaks for itself.  Gaga was never a “marginalized artist.”  It was the art community that welcomed her.  What she was was a marginalized rich girl, who didn’t share the same concerns and goals as many of her peers.  That’s what set her apart and made her a misfit.  It was her drive that allowed her to seek solace elsewhere.  Let’s not forget, Paris Hilton has corporate money backing her up, too.  She also tried making an album, remember?  You don’t?  Exactly. The point is, it’s easy to say that Gaga’s success is entirely due to her social status, but that’s just not the case.  Just as her talent and ambition set her apart from her peers in high school, they were also the things that allowed her to play the piano at 4, that got her into Tisch at NYU, that pushed her to forgo college and pursue the life of a performer instead, and that allowed her artistic vision for herself to get bigger and bigger.  The “disconnect” between her misfithood and her family’s finances is not so “monumental” as Paglia would have you believe.

Paglia: Lady Gaga is a manufactured personality, and a recent one at that. Photos of Stefani Germanotta just a few years ago show a bubbly brunette with a glowing complexion. The Gaga of world fame, however, with her heavy wigs and giant sunglasses (rudely worn during interviews) looks either simperingly doll-like or ghoulish, without a trace of spontaneity. Every public appearance, even absurdly at airports where most celebrities want to pass incognito, has been lavishly scripted in advance with a flamboyant outfit and bizarre hairdo assembled by an invisible company of elves.

Jusino: What Ms. Paglia fails to acknowledge is that the personality is manufactured by Gaga.  Those airport moments are scripted…by Gaga.  That’s the difference between a corporate pop star and an artist.  She’s no Justin Bieber, given careful, sanitized talking points by a publicist for the teen magazines.  She is someone who, according to an interview she did with Rolling Stone, studies pop culture like an academic, going over magazine articles with a highlighter, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and using that study to carve out her place in it.  She has turned her whole life into a performance art piece, and will rarely leave the house not as Lady Gaga.  And what is wrong with that?  What’s the inherent value of going incognito at an airport?  If a celebrity wants to maintain privacy, that is of course their right, but Paglia assumes that that is the only respectable way to be.  I think a lot of people do, which seems terribly hypocritical to me.  We want our celebrities to be accessible and buy all the magazines with their pictures in them, but then we criticize celebrities if they enjoy it too much.  Or, in the case of Lady Gaga, when they manipulate that fascination for their own ends.

Paglia: Furthermore, despite showing acres of pallid flesh in the fetish-bondage garb of urban prostitution, Gaga isn’t sexy at all – she’s like a gangly marionette or plasticised android. How could a figure so calculated and artificial, so clinical and strangely antiseptic, so stripped of genuine eroticism have become the icon of her generation?

Gaga has borrowed so heavily from Madonna (as in her latest video-Alejandro) that it must be asked, at what point does homage become theft? However, the main point is that the young Madonna was on fire. She was indeed the imperious Marlene Dietrich’s true heir. For Gaga, sex is mainly decor and surface; she’s like a laminated piece of ersatz rococo furniture. Alarmingly, Generation Gaga can’t tell the difference. Is it the death of sex? Perhaps the symbolic status that sex had for a century has gone kaput; that blazing trajectory is over…

Jusino: I find it interesting that Paglia criticizes Lady Gaga for not being a pop star the way she thinks a pop star should be.  She calls her asexual as if that’s a bad thing.  She sounds like a male chauvanist, demeaning a talented musician for “not being hot enough.”  All that remains is for Ms. Paglia to start screaming “SHOW US YOUR TITS!”  It doesn’t take talent to be a pop star who’s sexually appealing in the teeny-bopper, non-threatening way that you’re used to.  But Gaga has said in numerous interviews that the covers of her albums and many of her photos are deliberately asexual, because she wants young girls to know that you don’t HAVE to sell yourself as cheesecake to be a pop star.  And when she chooses to wear less clothing and be more sexual, she is sexual in a powerful way that she OWNS.  It’s not about kowtowing and hoping men find her sexy.  It’s about knowing that she’s sexy and just BEING it.

And yes, I think this does point to a shift in how “Generation Gaga” is relating to sex, but it’s certainly not the “death” of it.  Today’s young women aren’t afraid to not only ask for sex, but demand it.  Women think of their sexuality not only in terms of men, but in terms of themselves and in terms of each other.  They express their sexuality not just as a means to an end (ie: attracting a man to get married and have a baby), but for its own sake.  Because it’s something of which they should be proud.  Because it’s one of many things that makes them powerful.   Gaga is a role model, because she encourages sexuality without making it about pleasing others.  Your sexuality is something that’s yours – to cherish, flaunt, or keep to yourself as you see fit.  It’s interesting that a feminist like Camille Paglia can’t appreciate that about Gaga.  Would she rather Gaga just put on the “innocent yet devilish” act that made Britney Spears famous?  And did Ms. Paglia have a problem with “Oops, I Did it Again?”

Paglia: Peeping dourly through all that is Gaga’s limited range of facial expressions. Her videos repeatedly thrust that blank, lugubrious face at the camera and us; it’s creepy and coercive. Marlene and Madonna gave the impression, true or false, of being pansexual. Gaga, for all her writhing and posturing, is asexual. Going off to the gym in broad daylight, as Gaga recently did, dressed in a black bustier, fishnet stockings and stiletto heels isn’t sexy – it’s sexually dysfunctional.

Jusino: This paragraph just made me angry.  I have nothing much to say about it except how dare you, Ms. Paglia.  You don’t like Lady Gaga’s face, so she doesn’t deserve success?  She’s not pansexual enough for you, so that means she’s inauthentic?  Wearing costumes whenever you damn well please is a sign of sexual dysfunction?!  Judging a woman’s worth based on how appealing she is/isn’t sexually?  Again, how dare you.

Paglia: Compare Gaga’s insipid songs, with their nursery-rhyme nonsense syllables, to the title and hypnotic refrain of the first Madonna song and video to bring her attention on MTV, Burning Up, with its elemental fire imagery and its then-shocking offer of fellatio.

Jusino: I don’t think Paglia has actually listened to a Lady Gaga song all the way through.  She, as is the way of most people who deem themselves above pop culture, thinks she’s gleaned all there is to be gleaned after a superficial listen and hasn’t gotten past the “nursery-rhyme nonsense syllables” to listen to the actual lyrics.  “Poker Face” – about expressing the fact that she fantasizes about women, while reassuring her boyfriend that she still loves him.  “The Fame” -actually, a song about how superficial fame is.  “We live for the fame” is followed by “isn’t it a shame?”  “Telephone” - well, you read about that in my last article.  “Bad Romance” – is about wanting a passionate relationship from someone who, up until now, has only been a friend. “Alejandro”- about a straight woman wanting the guy who says he loves her to be true to himself and go after the guys he wants instead.  These are not insipid themes and topics, and if Paglia isn’t willing to do the work to listen past the dance beat, that’s her problem.

Lastly, re: Madonna – yes, she IS a feminist icon.  She has a body of work and a career that can’t be rivaled.  But let’s remember that her first single was “Holiday”, a song that’s about, um, going on vacation.  And, um, how that’s awesome.  Were those lyrics insipid?

Ms. Paglia seems to long for a kind of pop star that has outlived its usefulness.  Lady Gaga is a role model for young women precisely for every reason she gives to try and tear her down.  Perhaps you should just stay out of the way.  The next wave of feminism knows what it wants and what it’s doing.

Pop Goes Teresa: Loving Lady Gaga, Part One – Telephone

Published March 12, 2010 by Teresa

It feels like I’ve spent the better part of a year, in one way or another, defending Lady Gaga to my friends.  It’s very easy to look at Gaga and see the superficial trappings – the seeming emphasis on material wealth, the crazy fashions, the dancepop – as “part of the problem” in the music industry.   However, it seems obvious to me that, whether broken down into individual elements or taken as a whole, Lady Gaga is single-handedly saving the music industry.  I don’t just mean financially – ie: she’s making the music industry a lot of money – but artistically, too.  She’s showing us, reminding us, what’s possible with pop, and with every song and video she demonstrates the power of that.  I plan to examine the Lady Gaga phenomenon in a 3-part series, the first part of which will look at her through the lens of her latest single, “Telephone.”

“Telephone”, featuring Beyonce, is the latest single off her second album, The Fame Monster.  It came out at around the same time as her other duet with Beyonce, the Beyonce song, “Videophone.”  Listening to the two side-by-side, and now being able to watch both videos (the video for “Telephone” premiered yesterday. “Videophone” has been out for a while), it’s clear that “Telephone” is the superior of the two:

1) Let’s start with the titles.  Remember the Britney Spears gem, “E-Mail My Heart?”  Yeah, I barely do either.  It was never a single, but it was a track on her first album, …Baby, One More Time.  When I first got that album, I thought the song was stupid then.  Why?  Songs that latch onto technology too quickly are dating themselves.  Not only are they dating themselves, but technology isn’t terribly romantic or emotional in a song, even a “cheesy pop song.”  “Videophone” suffers, in part, because its title tethers it to a specific place and time, and is only relevant to a specific type of person.    However, everyone uses telephones, and has for quite some time.  This song could be from the 80s, is current, and it has a long shelf-life.

2) Now, let’s talk musicianship.  “Videophone” has a great dance beat.  It also has a ridiculously long intro with nothing but a slow beat peppered with Beyonce moaning “Uh-uhhhhh….” for what feels like an eternity.  By the time she gets to “Shorty, wha’cho name is?” and the beat kicks in, I’ve stopped caring.  “Telephone” also starts off with a slower beat, but Gaga’s vocals are more immediate.  She’s also done something really interesting.  She, like Cher did with “Believe” in 1998, is using auto-tune in an artistic way, enhancing the song, which is what auto-tune is for, not making up for faulty vocals.  In Cher’s case, she was dabbling in an electronic style that was new for her, and the use of auto-tune seemed to be emphasizing the fact that she was doing something different.  It was a choice, not a default or a crutch.  In “Telephone”, it’s clear that Gaga’s voice doesn’t need covering up, and the auto-tune kicks in exactly when it’s supposed to – when the phone call is breaking up.  It’s a song that’s being listened to over the phone at a party, and auto-tune is used as an enhancement to the storytelling.  T-Pain and Obama it is not.  :)  There’s also variation in “Telephone,” and the song goes from driving dance beat, to tinkling piano and melody and back.  There’s a hook, there are verses, there’s a bridge…it’s a crafted song.  “Videophone” doesn’t seem to know where it’s going, so it meanders,  saying words over a monotonous beat and murmuring the word videophone as a makeshift chorus in the hopes that it will have turned out to be a song when it’s all over.  The best part is the Lady Gaga part, which she wrote.  “I’ll be your Jean, you’ll be my Brando” indeed.  And can we talk about the fact that she’s referencing Marlon Brando to people possibly not old enough to know who Marlon Brando really is?

3) Now, let’s talk message.  “Videophone” pretty much says, “You’re hot.  I’m hot. And if you like what you see, record me on your videophone, and jerk off to me later.”  Which is a very nice offer, I’m sure.  And there’s no question that Beyonce is hot.  But it’s hard to take that song seriously when comparing it to “Telephone.”  That song’s message is, “I’m out with my friends having a good time.  You had a chance to do something with me earlier, and didn’t take me up on it, so now I’ve moved on.  I’m not your beck and call girl (to quote Pretty Woman) to hang out with at your whim.  Stop calling me, get a life,  and let me enjoy mine.”  A much more powerful, and empowering message, don’t you agree?  If I had a daughter, and I had these two songs to choose from, I’d much rather her take Gaga up on her message; that self-respect is more important than hanging out with or pleasing your boyfriend.

4) Lastly, lets talk videos.  The video for “Videophone” is visually all over the place, and quite honestly feels as though, at least fashion-wise, Beyonce is trying to take a page from the Lady Gaga playbook with much less success.  There’s an amazing chair dance portion in the middle (surprisingly, with Gaga at her most demure-looking), but other than that the video is just scenes of a costumed Beyonce lumped together.  There’s no concept that goes further than “Glimpses Into a Peep Show On Crack.”  Not so with the new video for “Telephone.”  This video is a complete short film with an actual narrative, which is inspired by both Quentin Tarantino (complete with an appearance by the Pussy Wagon from Kill Bill) and the film Thelma & Louise.  It’s brash, visually interesting, has a fun, compelling story, and uses Tyrese Gibson in the only way any film should.  As a set-piece who doesn’t say words.

Check out the video for “Telephone” below.  In Parts 2 and 3 of this series, I’ll be talking about why Gaga makes a great role model, and why she is important to pop music, and art in general.

Pop Goes Teresa: The Politics of “Party In the USA”

Published January 14, 2010 by Teresa

SOUNDTRACK FOR THIS POST: Miley Cyrus, Party In the USA.

I’d never really listened to a Miley Cyrus song before, but the video for this one hit Twitter and Facebook like a brush fire and soon spread everywhere.  I watched the video, and immediately fell in love with the track and gained a new respect for Cyrus, who was way more performance savvy than I had given her credit for.  Granted, she plays with her hair too damn much, but the girl knows how to strut in a group and work a microphone and a crowd.  I also dig her slightly husky vocals.  She’s a nice alternative to the melisma-addled pop we’ve gotten used to.  With good material, she shines as a performer.  And while you can hear the use of Auto-Tune on the recorded track, as you can see in this live performance of Party In the USA from the Teen Choice Awards, Cyrus doesn’t need it and can actually sing just fine without it.

What I love about the song itself is that it tells a universal story.  Fish Out of Water finds comfort through music.  That’s the one-sentence synopsis.  I’m sure just about everyone has experienced something like that, feeling uncomfortable somewhere only to have someone turn a radio on, or they put their iPod on, and relax by listening to their favorite song.  It’s not a complex story, but it’s a true one.

What kicks the song up a notch are actually the lyrics that it’s easiest to make fun of.  You know the ones.  Noddin’ my head like “Yeeeah…”/Movin’ my hips like “Yeeeah…” They are actually the beginning of this song being something more.  Those lyrics actually made me think of the Madonna song, What It Feels Like For A Girl, in how well they capture just that.  Because every girl and every woman knows what that feels like.  Moving your hips like yeah.  Try it right now, ladies.  Stand up where you are, and circle your hips all the way around, slowly.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

*reads her magazine* (If you don’t get that reference, watch the Doorbell sketch from SNL immediatement!)

That felt good, didn’t it?  Now guys, you try it.  Go ahead!  It won’t hurt, I promise.  You’re probably alone right now, and even if you’re at your office or something no one’s looking at you.  Just do it one time.  Stand up, and slooooooowly circle your hips all the way around.  You hated that, didn’t you?  Not only did you not feel anything, but even if you’re in a room alone you looked over both your shoulders to make sure no one saw you do that, right?  Of course, right.

The point is, a girl or a woman moves her hips, and it feels good, even if she can’t explain why in that moment.  But when a woman hears the lyric Movin’ my hips like “Yeeeah…”, she knows exactly what that means and what that feels like without further explanation.  Party In the USA captures a simple, but unique female experience.  Guys will never really know what that’s like.  They might be able to nod their heads like “Yeeeah…”, but they will never move their hips like “Yeeeah…”  I almost feel sorry for them.

What really won me over the more I listened to the song, though, was the lyric just before the first chorus: And a Jay-Z song was on.

Again, simple.  But the more I thought about it, the more I said to myself, How cool is it that you’ve got this Southern, Christian white girl child of a country star singing about how the only thing that could make her throw her hands up and feel better was a rap song?! I thought that was great!  And, to me, it was this glorious if tiny act of subversion. And I gained even more respect for Miley.

Then, a couple of things happened to ruin that element for me.  First, I started noticing that radio stations would choose that moment before the first chorus to edit in their station identification.  For example: And Z100′s on. That pissed me off!  Because the second time Miley sings the line, it’s And a Britney song was on and radio stations always leave that one alone.  They had no trouble removing the one truly cool thing about the song, but leave in the predictable, palatable line without batting an eyelash.

Secondly, and a bit more worrisome than the first thing, I listened to a radio interview with Miley about the song.  Now, I’m not so naive as to think that Miley writes her own songs.  Very few pop stars do.  That’s fine.  I think that we’ve been bowed down at the altar of the Singer-Songwriter for too long at the expense of the Song Interpreter.  Frank Sinatra never wrote his own music.  Neither did Ella Fitzgerald.  Neither does Mary J. Blige.  And they all kick the shit out of their performances, proving that interpreting and performing a song is a skill in and of itself; one that shouldn’t be scoffed at. However, in this interview, Miley mentioned that she’s never even heard a Jay-Z song.  In addition, according to the radio station I was listening to, the song wasn’t originally written for her.  It was written for Jordin Sparks.  So…the song that mentions a rap song as being the thing that calms and comforts was written for a black performer, and when she didn’t want it was given to a white performer to, as she says in the interview I link to above, “go with [her] clothing line.”  Huh.

So much for subversive.

Still, I like the song, and I think the song has merit for the other reasons I mention above.  And despite what Miley feels about rap (or pop music in general, it seems), there are little white girls all over the country singing along to this song who now see Jay-Z’s music as a possibility.  Anything that exists to broaden someone’s horizons, musically or otherwise, is fine by me!

And now I’m forced to wonder how different Patton would’ve been if George C. Scott had tried nodding his head like “Yeeeah…” or moving his hips like “Yeeeah…”:

BTW – For more thoughts on this song, check out my friend, Michael Menachem’s, review of it over at Billboard Magazine.  Also, if you love music, you should be following Michael at Twitter: @MenoxMusic.  This guy knows from tunes, yo!  Yeah, I’m friends with a reviewer at Billboard.  No, I don’t want a copy of your motherfucking demo.

This Isn’t Burger King! You Shouldn’t Always Have It Your Way!

Published January 12, 2010 by Teresa

SOUNDTRACK FOR THIS POST: QueenRadio GaGa

A little over a year ago, I had a strange hankering for something that I hadn’t wanted in years.  Yet suddenly, there it was, this hankering that evolved into a burning desire gnawing away at me until I had no choice but to satisfy it.

I needed to listen to the radio.

For the past several years, I’ve noticed that the prevailing attitude among my peers has been this weird pride in not listening to the radio.  I’m sure this conversation will be familiar to many of you:

Friend #1: What the hell song is this?

Friend #2: I don’t know.  God, I haven’t listened to the radio in years!

Friend #1: I know!  Neither have I.  I haven’t watched MTV in years, either.

Friend #2: Seriously!  I have no idea what “the kids are listening to” these days.

Friend #1: Whatever. They only play crap nowadays, anyway…

I’ve heard this conversation.  I’ve had this conversation, steeped in a pride in musical ignorance.  I’ve made those general statements about “music today” without really knowing anything about it save the stray notes I’d hear from a passing car, or on some channel or other while flipping with my TV remote.  For several years after college, I relied on my friends for musical recommendations.  Once I discovered Pandora Internet Radio, I thought I’d discovered the best of all worlds!  Here was something like radio with the added bonus of being shaped by my musical tastes!  It recommended new artists that have ended up becoming favorites of mine.  It is something I can reliably leave on all day at work, knowing it will provide me with a steady stream of music.  Great, right?  Pandora was surely the thing that would successfully transition me into being a musically mature adult!

Except that after a while, my stations started becoming repetitive.  With nothing but my limited taste to guide them (and I have a pretty eclectic musical taste!), the same songs and artists kept coming up.  The same problem I ascribed to broadcast radio – “They play the same 5 songs over and over!” – was happening to me here, too.  Suddenly, the advantage I thought internet radio had over broadcast radio wasn’t so clear an advantage.

Then I realized an even bigger problem, and it connects to that all-too-familiar conversation above.  I realized that I’d been limiting myself to music I know I like.  Friends who think like me were recommending music to me they already had an idea I’d enjoy.  I was listening to my own music collection ad nauseum.  Pandora was using its fancy-schmancy algorithm to spit out songs and artists it knew I would like.  This is a great thing in theory.

Except that I got bored.

I missed something as simple as not knowing what’s coming on next.  I missed being able to turn on music and say “I don’t like that.”  I missed taking a chance on something new and forming a new opinion.  I missed hearing radio personalities who are steeped in this music talk about it.  And I realized that the attitude I had about “what the kids are listening to” was doing nothing but insulating me in a snug (and smug) self-satisfied little cocoon.  This is a difficult realization for a Native New Yorker.  We Native New Yorkers pride ourselves on being open-minded, and we love nothing more than to look down on other people and places that don’t think the way we do and make fun of them.  But…wait…aren’t we then doing the exact…same…thing we criticize them…for doing?

Indeed.

So many people I know, myself included for a long while, stopped listening to the radio because we equated the songs found there with hormone-addled teenagers and our “less sophisticated” brethren in Middle America.  God FORBID we be anything like THEM!  And it is here where I will make a startling confession.

I LOVE POP MUSIC! Whew! That feels so good to say out loud.  I think I’ll say it again.  I.  LOVE.  POP.  MUSIC.  It’s something that, for a while, I felt uncomfortable being honest about.  And so, even when I’d come out and say something as risky as “I like Britney Spears”, it would have to be said with a trace of irony in the voice.  Because no one over the age of 16 actually likes Britney Spears, right?  Or Kelly Clarkson?  Or Lady Gaga?  Or Justin Timberlake?  Or, um, ANY hip-hop?  And it wasn’t just me.  Whenever many of my friends “confess” to enjoying a pop song, it’s always with some sort of qualifier like “It’s a fun, fluffy song!”  or saying that some pop singer or other is a “great performer!”  Both of those statements being code for: I can’t admit that I just like this song, but I can get around that by complimenting an element having nothing to do with the music or lyrics while simultaneously acknowledging that I “know” the song is “actually” bad.

Why do we do that to ourselves?  Why do we punish ourselves for what we like and make ourselves listen to music that bores us just because it’s more critically acclaimed or has more hipster cred?  And why do we dismiss pop music out of hand, as if it doesn’t contribute anything valuable to our culture, as if its lyrics can say nothing to us, or as if its melodies and beats have no artistic value?  Popular music is popular for a reason, and instead of ignoring it out of some false sense of musical superiority, perhaps it would behoove us to examine that reason, those reasons, and become a part of the conversation.  Perhaps if we do participate, pop music will evolve in our image.  Just as you can’t complain about the results of an election in which you haven’t voted, you can’t complain about the state of pop music and make snarky comments if you’ve purposely separated yourself from it.  Let’s remember - Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald sang “pop music.”  The Beatles were “pop music.”  Motown churned out “pop music.”

Pop music can change the world, if you let it.

Since I started listening to the radio again, I’ve heard some now-favorite songs of mine (like Ke$ha’s Tik Tok and Pink’s Sober), I’ve heard an interview that solidified my love of Lady GaGa, I’ve been regularly listening to a morning show I used to listen to all the time when I was younger and didn’t realize I was missing until I heard it again (Elvis Duran and the Z-Morning Zoo!), and I’ve discovered a new radio station that I’ve fallen in love with (101.9 RXP, the only rock station in NY playing NEW rock as well as classic rock) which introduced me to a UK band that might become one of my favorites very soon – Florence and The Machine. I’ve rediscovered the joy that is being part of the musical mainstream.  I know, right?  But willfully distancing yourself from “what the kids are listening to” is just as misguided as a teenager sticking his/her nose up at “old people music” for no reason other than it being outside their experience.  And they’re young, so they understandably don’t have the historical perspective to appreciate anything before their time.

What’s your excuse?  :)

For my part, I’ve decided to start a new feature here at The Teresa Jusino Experience called Pop Goes Teresa, wherein I will attempt to analyze/speak intelligently about a pop song, a pop artist, or trends in pop music.  I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you’ll participate and give me suggestions as to what you’d like to talk/hear about!

I’ve also decided long ago to stop being ashamed of what I like.  That way of thinking is annoying and was giving me an ulcer.  :)

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