Death to “real music”
On Saturday night in Kiev, Salvador Sobral won the Eurovision Song Contest — the campest, most over-the-top music contest in the world — for Portugal with his ballad Amar Pelos Dois. The love song stole the title from the previous favourite, Occidentalli’s Karma by Italy’s Francesco Gabbani, and gained popularity rapidly amongst the Eurovision community.
Upon winning the contest, Salvador told the crowd: “We live in a world of disposable music, fast food music without content and I think this can be a victory for music that means something. Music is not fireworks, music is feeling.. bring music back which is what matters.”
Salvador said this at Eurovision. A contest where a rap yodel mash-up is considered normal. A man duetting with himself is standard. A dude in a horse’s head standing on a ladder is a bit odd, but not unsurprising.
So understandably, this little speech from the undeniably talented Mr Sobral went down like a lead balloon. Sweden’s entry Robin Bengsston fired back on Instagram to say that “fast food music” can be the best thing in the world.
Of course, it’s not only the Portuguese Eurovision winner that has brought out the “real music” card on stage. Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys accepted a BRIT Award in 2014 with a drawling speech about how rock ’n’ roll will never die. And if you’ve ever spoken to any man ever who has gone to see Iron Maiden/Radiohead/Father John Misty (depending on their tastes) you’ve probably heard a spiel about how pop music is ruining the industry and nobody knows good music anymore and One Direction don’t even play their own instruments, wah wah wah.
The term “real music” boils my blood like no other. As a teenager who was really into rock music, I spent most of my time with people who loved “emo” bands like My Chemical Romance and Panic! At The Disco, before progressing on to bands like Iron Maiden, Rammstein and Deftones. With these bands seems to come a group of fans (usually male) that reckon everything else is terrible — particularly pop. I recall one friend calling all rap and hip-hop music terrible. Not a single artist he’d heard, just the genre in general. And anyone who believed otherwise was clearly an idiot. They’d often choose their friends on whether their musical tastes were pure enough. One rogue Backstreet Boys song on your iPod and you’d be excommunicated.
This progressed to the indie set when I began to ease into that music scene — actually, people get even more self-righteous about white indie musicians. Even people I know who love a dance get all tetchy when a band doesn’t play their own instruments. “How do you like her?” I’ve been asked when I say how great Carly Rae Jepsen is— who, by the way, is self-proclaimed pop and is owner of one of the best albums of any genre of the last decade.
In many circles, music is not “real” if the artist is not playing their own instrument. Music is also considered not real if teenage girls like them, as a general rule. One Direction? Not real. Bieber? Pfft, not real.
But then, how does that marker work against the Beatles? Their main fanbase was teenage girls. Beatlemania was essentially the Directioner fandom fifty years earlier. Yes, they played their own instruments and wrote some of the greatest songs in history. But they were pop. Pop music is popular music, and Can’t Buy Me Love, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, etc? Pop to the bone.
If you take the instrument thing to be a measure of “real music”, then Justin Bieber — a genuinely great drummer — is as real as it gets. Harry Styles plays guitar. Niall Horan plays guitar. Taylor Swift plays guitar, and writes her own music — is she fake because she’s singing about boys while wearing a nice dress?
But let’s say someone hasn’t written their own song, and has a girly fanbase, and didn’t play an instrument on their music — take Whitney Houston. She didn’t write I Will Always Love You, she certainly didn’t play any music on it. Is she as fake as it gets?
Or Britney Spears. She’s one of the biggest stars on the planet. Her music makes me, and millions of others, genuinely happy. She has sung some of the most memorable tunes ever produced- way more memorable than a lot of indie and rock stuff that is considered “real”. Then should we be ridiculed for liking her?
The fact is, all music is real. There is nothing that can make music fake. I’m not a big fan of Ed Sheeran, but the fact that he’s selling out arenas in seconds and populating the top ten by himself proves that he has a lot of fans. His music means something to a lot of people. And who am I to take that away?
And back in the day, when the Jonas Brothers were on the scene, I never got it (at the beginning, anyway — Nick Jonas is a king of Tunes with a capital T). But they meant the world to a lot of fans, and produced some solid songs to dance to. Go forth and listen to your hearts’ content, I say.
I love One Direction, I love Iron Maiden, I love Radiohead, I love Babymetal, I love Haim, I love Lorde, I love Arctic Monkeys, I love Sleater Kinney, I love Deftones, I love Carly Rae Jepsen, I love My Chemical Romance, I love M83, I love Eurovision, I love Kendrick Lamar, I love Steps, I love Nicki Minaj, I love a lot of the charts and nearly every boyband to ever have been recorded.
Whether any of those people wrote their songs, played an instrument or wore jeans instead of a sequinned leotard, doesn’t make them any less real than music you consider as such. If someone sings about being hungover, wearing glitter on their face and catching bras being flung from the crowd, that’s real music. If they’ve sat on a stool and got up for a key change, that’s real music. And if a teenage girl loves it, that’s real music.
So death to “real music” — treat yourself to the musical equivalent of a hamburger off the Poundsaver menu and enjoy.