Rocking Out to Pop Music and Not Feeling Guilty

Brandon Lueken defends his offensive love of pop music against the legions of his peers, who tell him he should know better.

The song comes on again, and I find myself posing in front of my mirror like a rock star in a music video. The dim Christmas lights from my window cast the whole scene in soft multicolored light, enough where I can see myself mouth the lyrics streaming out of my hideously over-sized head phones. Pouting at my mirror, I watch myself say “I kissed a girl/and I liked it/the taste of her cherry chapstick.”

This is shortly followed by a lightning bolt of self-awareness. What the hell is wrong with me?

I am singing the obnoxious Kate Perry hit “I Kissed a Girl,” and I don’t really feel all that bad. Yes, I am plenty aware that this song is utter bubblegum tripe manufactured by robot-like pop starlets, themselves churned out by massive record studios. I know that the record companies rely on the mass-produced images of girls like Kate Perry to pressure insecure teenage girls into buying the latest star-endorsed products. There’s also some distinct evidence these pop idols push young girls into possibly dangerous dieting activity, not to mention exploiting women’s sexuality at a point in time when most of the girls don’t have a full grasp on their bodies. I know many of these troubled teenagers are the same ones who grew up to become the people in college that I couldn’t strand, who spent their Friday and Saturday nights drunkenly bumping and grinding in some dark and sweaty basement of a frat house. When asked why they do this every week—to music I well know helped make them the vapid air heads they are—they respond with a hair flip and “cause I just gotta dance!”

I know theoretically there is better music out there. But I haven’t found it.

Living in Seattle, a place where the Mayor is actively trying to make a haven for burgeoning musicians, you’d think there would be some great local bands for me to go and try out. You’d have a good point, and I would take you up on that offer, if I had any inkling about music. I know next to nothing about music. I know the words: notes, chords, rhythm, and tempo, but I have little idea what they actually mean (I blame a lack of formal music education).

It all boils down to the same thing anyways—what I don’t like and what I do like. Like any music-loving person, I like music that invokes a certain feeling, that carries me away with it. I have music that I use specifically when writing, that I use for hanging out for friends, for walking, for parties, and then for novelty. But there is a vast difference between Brandon the music idiot and the rest of my peers.

Largely, I’ve found that people my age who are really in to music also happen to be hipsters, and as such, many of them listen to hipster music, which is too often either lo-fi whining or douche rock to my ears (how can ten different bands have the exact same vocals?). In their attempt to convert me to their Pabst Blue Ribbon-drinking ways, I get recommended artists that “will really change your life, man.”

No, Sigur Ros did not change my life, it gave me a headache. While I found much of the soundtrack of Garden State pleasant, trying to listen to a whole album of the Shins or Iron and Wine just made me jittery. The “lets talk about feelings” singer-songwriter types? I like Glen Hansard, and that is mostly because he made a movie. The Moldy Peaches? Mouldering lyrics, say I.

I want something that rocks and rocks unabashedly. Bouncing up and down in an awkward shimmy in your skinny jeans with your god damned over-sized sun glasses while a acoustic guitar-playing beardo whispers into a microphone is not rocking out. That’s what passes as energy in some places, and that is why I will always hate what the hipsters have done to music.

For every decade, music helped define social movements and subcultures. The counterculture movement of the ’60s and ’70s was underscored by the pioneering of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Pink Floyd. As that movement floundered with Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War, the rise of escapist music like glam, disco, and punk all gained traction. Through the ’80s, as the American public tried to shake off the Soviet Union, they turned to new wave, the burgeoning electronica scene, and hair metal. There’s usually a scene for everybody, no matter what you’re in to.

What do we have for this decade? Traditional rockers leave me bland—U2 doesn’t blow me away and neither does Dave Grohl anymore. Much of hard rock is filled with maudlin angst, and electronica has yet to find that nice balance of seriousness and fun. I pine for music that doesn’t seem to exist, that articulates my current life experiences in a meaningful fashion but is also musically accomplished. Apparently, this is too much to ask, and instead, I tread down the dark path of pop music.

I like pop music like I like fast food. I know it’s bad for me, but I have a hard time resisting. The music is honest in its transparency. “I Kissed a Girl” is obviously a song glorifying bisexual experimentation, mainly aimed at pushing an envelope that doesn’t really exist anymore. With pop music, I do not have to interpret what the three minutes of Tibetan throat singing symbolizes to the artist’s creative vision, as per compared to the rest of an album filled with break up songs, because there is none. There is just three and a half minutes of a steady, catchy beat and an infectious chorus.

It’s not deep, it’s not new, but it’s enjoyable. And I’ll keep doing it until someone finally turns me on to the music that will really change my life, man.

Brandon Lueken is a graduate from the University of Puget Sound with a Bachelor's Degree in English. He has done many things, including editing his college newspaper, writing and directing a short play, angering large groups of people en masse, and acting as both the good and the bad shoulder angel. One day, Brandon hopes to give people their dreams, but whether this is literal or figurative, no one knows.