Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sasha Frere-Jones on American and English Pop

The New Yorker's pop-music critic Sasha Frere-Jones has some fascinating insights on why certain popular music in the U.S. and U.K. doesn't see to translate across the ocean. He was interviewed, Q&A-style, for an online-only feature on the New Yorker's website last June.

He says that genres like reggaetón (a Puerto Rican blend of hip hop, reggae, and I-don't-know-what that's big in New York, if not elsewhere.) and country are too American to make more than a token appearance on British charts.

Likewise, the uniquely British U.K. hip hop genre called grime, (Dizzee Rascal is its current king) doesn't make any significant showing in American charts. Obvious British accents are one way to stay out of the American pop charts.

Frere-Jones says America, unlike Britain, is no longer receptive to "frothy chart-pop, usually sung by young women and written by teams of professionals." He sees a backlash against music like that done by the Spice Girls, the Backstreet Boys, and Britney Spears:
"This is simply a spinoff of the backlash against feminism and any culture perceived as having a kind of gay sensibility that isn’t campy and schticky, and thus safe. (Robbie Williams’s sexuality is way too complicated for the current American cultural moment.)"
He says we really missed out on stuff like Girls Aloud and Rachel Stevens, whoever they are.

On the subject of Coldplay, a band that has actually done fairly well here, he talks about imitators, bands like Keane (which earned the brilliant nickname "Warmplay"). I actually have heard of Keane -- their latest album isn't bad. And yet Coldplay does little for me.

Who's the most influential British band in America?
"I think the most influential English band here isn’t English—it’s the New York band Interpol, who drew heavily on English post-punk groups such as Joy Division and Echo & the Bunnymen. Bands like She Wants Revenge seem pretty heavily influenced by Interpol, and I get at least a few CDs a month by bands that sound like bad versions of Interpol."
But can you really say that a band is influenced by a band that's influenced by two old bands? Doesn't She Wants Revenge have equal access to Joy Division and Echo & the Bunnymen? Yes, but he seems to mean that SWR sounds like a derivative of a derivative, which isn't necessarily flattering.

The latest derivative band I've listened to is Editors, a UK band that really does sound like an Interpol ripoff. I bought the album, and was sad to find that the single, "Munich," is the only song I like, even a little.


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