Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tell That Boy to Shut Up

Extremely irksome NY Times pop music critic Kelefa Sanneh went out of his way to really steam my beans yesterday.

Sanneh's basic problem is that he's an overeducated lightweight who can't come to grips with the fact that most of the stuff he likes -- regardless of genre -- is soulless disposable corporate shlock that (in a sane world) should be considered, at best, as guilty pleasures. This leads him to embrace -- usually in lovesick fanboy prose unbecoming of the dignity of a major metropolitan newspaper -- what we in the crit biz refer to as the Murray the K Fallacy, also known as It's What's Happening, Baby! Which is to say that Sanneh believes if something is superficially hep, au courant and selling well that it is also by definition fabulous, emphasis on the first syllable. In other words, pop music is (and should be) nothing more than pink shoes and good looking guys and gals with great haircuts.

Fine. Lord knows there's a place for that, and lord knows I, for one, believe that, say, the Monkees made great records and deserve a slot in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.

Still the review Sanneh just wrote about the new Kelly Clarkson album was really a bit much.

Money quote: "Her biggest hit, Since U Been Gone, has become one of this decade’s defining pop songs: a glorious blast of bubblegum emo."

To comprehend how truly silly that statement is, first watch the video for said decade defining song, easily the finest thing of its kind since Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield".



Then imagine if I had written an equivalent sentence in, let's say, 1966. To wit -- "The Monkees biggest hit, I'm a Believer, has become one of this decade’s defining pop songs: a glorious blast of bubblegum exuberance."

20 comments:

trifecta said...

Everybody is a critic.

Even those who shouldn't be.

Gummo said...

I blame Christgau.

Back in the 70s, when rock music was ODing on drawn-out pretentious blather (from sidelong boogies by Humble Pie to album long wanks by Jethro Tull), Christgau, along with Lenny Kaye, started championing the concept of "pop music" again for the first time in a decade.

Suddenly, it was hip for songs to be short, loud, hook-y and silly. Just in time for the Ramones, the B-52s and all the other great punk pop bands of the mid-to-late 70s.

But what was a revelation then has become a tiresome cliche now, the American Idolization of music -- if it sells, it must be good! Chart position determines quality! Substanceless blather is not only good pop music, it's the ONLY possible good pop music!

Ugh.

steve simels said...

And for some reason, at the Times at least, it's mostly in the music section, where everything is basically great.

There are far more breathless album reviews than breathless film or book reviews, and it's really annoying. Sanneh's the worst of the bunch, but even Pareles (who's humorless to boot) has succumbed to everything-is-significant-ness.

dave™© said...

...the Murray the K Fallacy, also known as It's What's Happening, Baby!

So if he were on, say, "Beverly Hillbillies," would Sanneh be played by Louis Nye in a Beatles' wig and nehru jacket?

Kid Charlemagne said...

Sanneh garnered considerable publicity for an article he wrote in the October 31, 2004 issue of the The New York Times titled "The Rap against Rockism.

The article brought to light to the general public a debate among American and British music critics about rockism, a term Sanneh defined inductively to mean "idolizing the authentic old legend (or underground hero) while mocking the latest pop star; lionizing punk while barely tolerating disco; loving the live show and hating the music video; extolling the growling performer while hating the lip-syncher." Sanneh went on to controversially connect rockism with prejudices against music made by minorities, specifically citing the general disregard for hip hop and disco music among the white, heterosexual mindset of rockists.


This is monumentally stupid.

Kid Charlemagne said...

BTW, I thought they only reviewed Kelly Clarkson CDs in People magazine.

Oops, I'm being "rockist."

steve simels said...

Kid Charlemange:

Yes it is.

You should have seen the piece he wrote in Sunday's Times. Shorter version: Toby Keith and Brad Paisley are both country singers who have funny songs on their new albums but even though they couldn't be more different as artists they have something in common although who knows what it means.

It's the pop music critical version of saying that the new Hillary Clinton video has a hidden meaning because they're eating carrot sticks and onion rings.

Glenn Kenny said...

You know, I used to credit the repellent Sanneh ("K" to his pals) with a modicum of shrewdness, but he appears not to notice that he's thisclose to snapping the back of the hobby horse he's been so smugly riding lo these many years. His tendency to wag a finger at any musical artist who dared question Dear Leader might have seemed ingeniously counterintuitive back in the day, but when he does it now he comes off as the most gnat-like of dead-enders. The marketplace will continue to throw him his preferred brand of tripe—oh, Ashlee Simpson didn't work out as a pop goddess, well never mind, here's Fergie—but this emperor's nakedness just becomes increasingly, and ever more laughably, apparent.

Gummo said...

Oh, the "people who hate disco [later rap] are racist" thing predates this guy.

It goes all the way back to the late 70s. Hating disco also meant you hated gay people. I remember Kopkind in the Voice wrote a long long tortured article about how disco was the revolutionary music of the 70s, not punk, notwithstanding the fact that disco reinforced every consumerist trope that any truly revolutionary artistic movement would have firmly rejected.

Culture of Tr√úth said...

Well, it would be more accurate.

dood "Since U Been Gone" isn't even one of kelly clarkson's defining songs...

NYMary said...


It's the pop music critical version of saying that the new Hillary Clinton video has a hidden meaning because they're eating carrot sticks and onion rings.


But that would be ridicu....

Never mind.

Peter said...

The "Murray the K Fallacy"? Get over yourself. Kaufman was responsible for spotting more trends -- before they emerged -- than any other person (at the time) in the music business. He championed Bobby Darin for years before his first hit (which Kaufman co-wrote with Darin -- "Splish Splash"), he refused to play the "A" side of the record that Dionne Warwick thought was her last best chance to succeed (instead, he played the "B" side -- "Walk On By"), he initiated the effort to bring the Rolling Stones to America and recommended that they cover "The Last Time," which became their first #1 hit in the States).... So, please, get your facts straight -- you in the "crit biz" -- before you touch the keyboard.

steve simels said...

Peter said...

The "Murray the K Fallacy"? Get over yourself.


Lighten up. I'm a Murray fan from way back; naming a logical fallacy after him -- based on his catchphrase -- is an ironic tribute, okay?

Sheesh.....

steve simels said...

he initiated the effort to bring the Rolling Stones to America and recommended that they cover "The Last Time," which became their first #1 hit in the States)....

Actually no. Murray recommended they cover the Valentino's "It's All Over Now."

"The Last Time" was not a cover -- it was a Jagger/Richards original.

You're thinking of "Time is On My Side" which was an r&b cover.

mcpart said...

I love the Monkees, that Kelly Clarkson song really isn't that bad, the Times music coverage is gag-inducing and Peter needs to back away from the keyboard for a spell.

Now Ed Rudy -- he was influential!

steve simels said...

mcpart:

I wasn't saying that the Clarkson song was necessarily awful, just that the odious Sanneh was trying to find significance in it where none existed.

At worst, it's a Pat Benatar record; at best a Monkees track. Either way it's not a major work of American art....

Peter said...

Yes, it was "It's All Over Now" that Murray suggested that the Stones record. My mistake. But mcpart's suggestion about Ed Rudy, well... what besides the Beatles connection can he put on his resume? If steve simels is, indeed, a fan, here are some tidbits to consider. Kaufman's glory (if you can call it that) had more to do with what he did before the British invasion than after. In a segregated time (before play lists), he emphasized black artists' recordings over the white cover versions, and his shows at the Brooklyn Fox brought together in one unified crowd every racial and cultural group in New York City. He led the National Council of Disk Jockeys to spearhead relief efforts for Hungary following its mid-50s revolution (and to counter the negative image of rock 'n' roll), enlisted the Ronettes as The Murray the K Dancing Girls before they had a hit, moved Bobby Vinton from the bandleader's podium to the microphone to give him his first break as a singer, used The Young Rascals as his house band at personal appearances before they had a record deal, and introduced American kids to Cream and the Who in their first U.S. appearances. And that's no logical fallacy, ironic or not.

mcpart said...

I was just joshing about Ed Rudy.

I remember all those great commercials he had during the Uncle Floyd Show where he would sell his album of interviews with the Beatles. He's still selling them online evidently.

"Hi, I'm Ed Rudy..."

I still haven't made up my mind about the pop vs. rock debate. For instance, where would you put the Ronettes or the Supremes or "Uptown Top Ranking" or...

---johnny mac

steve simels said...

Peter:

You don't have to convince me about Murray. I'm old enough to remember all that stuff, okay?

In fact, one of the great regrets of my life is that I couldn't afford a ticket to that week of shows with Cream and the Who.

Also featuring the Detroit Wheels and the Blues Project (my favorite band at the time).

And Murray was really great on WOR-FM, the first progressive rock station in NYC, during the summer of 67. I still have a tape I recorded of an exclusive hour long interview he did with George Harrison in June or July.

NYMary said...

Looks like it's not just the music section, steve.

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/blogs/wolcott/2007/06/tears-of-a-clow.html