American Impotence, column by Mario Spinetti
Pop has never been so un-sexy! As an independent popper and an avid fan of the genre, I’d like to discuss pop sexuality — what it means, how to spot it, and what to demand of Generation AI (American Idol), as we push the turn of the decade. Sex in music is hardly ever where you’d expect to find it, and nowhere near where American Idol is looking. Something about the cable wrapped around my neck. The strain on my back as I tighten the screw. The fleeting melody that I seize by the ankles, and pin to my chest. This battle of knowing, and not knowing; writing, and recording music — this process — is sex. Good sex. Life-changing sex. Everything else is just the morning after.
Personal Journal Entry Summer 2007
The sex appeal of a pop artist is based on what you’d want from them in bed. It’s about talent and, at least, the promise of longevity, if not the real thing. Generation AI may have talent, but with its emphasis on overnight success, it lacks longevity, or even the promise thereof. Longevity in pop is fueled by the idea that you can’t continue to be successful if you don’t have your finger on the mainstream pulse. It’s defined by a marked interest in one’s environment, and because of that, relates directly to process, which is an artist’s instinct to evolve, and better understand his or her relation to the immediate moment and space.
American Idol contestants audition believing they’ve already arrived. “I’m the next American Idol,” they boast. Concerned with votes, they seek validation that they’ve already made it, in the form of a crown and contract that says their hard work is over. They forget that pop is nothing if not a grand romance between artist and audience, and that process is its gesture of camaraderie. It’s the only gesture that says an artist is still living in the same world as his or her audience. As soon as an artist claims to have arrived, whether explicitly or subliminally, they lose sight of process, and become un-sexed. Their work will either become recycled, like Maroon 5’s self-caricaturing LP It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, or unrealized, like Fantasia’s premature debut Free Yourself.
The problem with Generation AI is the blind pride it bestows in its “artists” and the valor it associates with their loss of process. Because of the Internet and independent distribution, major record labels, on the verge of destruction, desperately play it safe. They sign American Idol contestants based on proven fan bases, and resign bands like Maroon 5 based on reliable sounds and images. None of it has anything to do with quality of work. What proliferates the mainstream, as a result, are inexperienced non-artists and watered-down former artists, both of which leave pop sexless and sterile, yet, still, royally received.
So what do we have to watch out for? Well, major labels weren’t always such terrible barometers of “sexy” pop artists. They were actually pretty damn good at it up until about the turn of the millennium. Technological circumstance has made it such that they no longer have the foundation to take risks, and accordingly, have to die out, sooner rather than later. This leaves decision making up to you, the audience, for the first time in history. It’s important that you not fuck up.
I’ve written this column as a guide to understanding what you should demand of your artists: The dialogue to welcome, and the nonsense not to tolerate. With the power in your hands, don’t let a talented group like Maroon 5 get away with a sub-standard follow-up record. Certainly don’t make it Number 1 on Billboard. Pressure them. Make them do better work. Because they can. As for American Idol, have fun with it! It’s a great show. Just don’t buy the records unless they move you. Life is too short to settle. Remember that pop is a romance, and choose as though your heart depends on it.
- AI – Someone who claims to have arrived artistically, whether explicitly or subliminally, forsaking process in their words, actions, work, or any combination thereof.
- Process – An artist’s instinct to define, evolve, and better understand their relation to the immediate moment and space.
- Longevity – An indefinable artistic commodity only achieved by continued process.
- Pop – The grand romance between artist and audience, initiated by talent and enlightened by process.
By Mario Spinetti