By Risa Sang-urai
I was at the supermarket with friends this week, saving more on the store brand, when I heard the chorus of "Goodbye to You" over the loudspeaker. For those not familiar, "Goodbye to You" is the latest single from teen singer/songwriter Michelle Branch-- the latest piece of disposable pop music. But it electrified my senses and penetrated my emotional register. I found its hooks pushing conversation aside, demanding to be acknowledged, like a girl in front of her steady and his fraternity brothers. It gave me the urge to wail at the top of my lungs into a rolled-up Newsweek. But I pussed out. All I offered was a feeble, "ironic" lip sync.
Such is the life of the music nerd. And I don't mean the nerd who knows Pulp's original name (Arabacus Pulp). I mean the nerd who wallpapered her room with New Kids on the Block pinups she ripped out of BOP Magazine (even the ones of Danny Wood, the Cro-Magnon New Kid). I mean the one who still knows who Danny Wood even was.
I'm digging a hole for myself here. But that is the cost of coming out of the pop closet. I am officially opening myself to the ridicule that comes with backing what's wrong with music, society, humanity, and the entire universe. In a week of countless recommendations of both the Flaming Lips and Tom Waits, I went out and bought Rod Stewart's Greatest Hits. I couldn't help it. I love pop, and not in an ironic or nostalgic way. Even when I dip my finger into other musical pies, I always discover an artist's music long after they've alienated their original fan base. Chalk it up to my finely tuned Pop-dar. Prefab, middle-of-the-road, cheesy-ass music is simply what my body craves.
I savor syrupy lyrics featuring the words "baby" and "crazy" in mass quantities and I wrap predictable chord progressions around me like a warm blanket. If a song is featured in a commercial, its Q-rating goes up in my book.
It was once easier to wear my pop devotion on my sleeve. Going to college during the Lilith Fair-era certainly helped, giving me and my girlfriends a ready-made soundtrack to our misadventures. But as my friends graduated and moved onto the White Stripes and Wilco, I find myself at Village Karaoke, scanning the songbooks for Britney, Whitney, Jewel, and Rod.
Pop is the musical equivalent of flannel pajama bottoms--comfortable, dependable, non-threatening. You may be embarrassed to wear them in public, but in a pinch, they've got your ass covered. As long as girls crush boys they think are too cool for them, I will welcome pop songs into my catalog with open arms.
So, Michelle, the next time I'm in a supermarket and your song comes on, I won't let you down. And to those who snicker, well...Goodbye to You.
Risa Sang-urai performs longform improvisation in New York City. Believe it or not, she is still open to music recommendations of all kinds. firstname.lastname@example.org
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