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Why today's vanilla pop is a sign of more genteel times

By Rosie Millard

Published 21/04/2015

Inoffensive: Taylor Swift
Inoffensive: Taylor Swift

Pop songs today are drivel. Discuss. Well, of course they are. Because, as everyone knows, contemporary music is not half as groovy as the stuff you grew up dancing to; things you encounter early in your life have a fundamental stake in the creation of your personality. Damon Albarn, whose own creations with Blur must surely have marked the coming-of-age of thousands, has, however, gone a step further.

In what has been deemed a blow to the so-called "selfie" generation, Albarn has lashed out at the inability of modern pop stars to write about social issues and politics. Criticising former boyfriends and wallowing in self-pity seems to be the order of the day these days.

It wasn't like that when he was young, grumbles Albarn. "I grew up with bands like the Specials and the Clash," he told a Sunday newspaper. "Even bands like Madness had social commentary in their really amazing pop songs." Whereas modern-day musicians are "talking platitudes now and … it's not interesting to me".

I read Albarn's comments somewhat blearily on the morning after my 50th birthday party. At one point, the DJ moved on from Britney and started allowing us oldies to flex some muscle, courtesy of The Specials. We all knew the words to Too Much Too Young, of course. "Call me immature, call me a poser/I'd love to spread manure in your bed of roses. Don't want to be rich, don't want to be famous/But I'd really hate to have the same name as you," we yelled in hellish unison, before lurching into The Jam's equally iconic Going Underground and Down in the Tube Station at Midnight.

Yes, those songs were political, yes, they were clever and socially sharp - and they also were what focus groups these days might call "outward facing".

You were never going to see Paul Weller taking part in a selfie. He was too busy singing about the smell of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs and too many Right-wing meetings. Down in the Tube station. At, er, midnight.

Yet, come on Damon, let's not be so rose-tinted about it. For every pointed output from Weller, or Suggs, there was also quite a lot of rubbish back in those days. Well, not utter rubbish, but perhaps not anthemically political.

I am a proud owner of a triple CD which goes by the triumphant name of Yacht Rock. And within its tracks are quite a few that also criticise former loves and wallow in self-pity.

Even Supertramp's Breakfast in America is pretty sorry for itself, as evinced by the opening line; namely "Take a look at my girlfriend. She's the only one I've got".

Perhaps the candyfloss approach favoured by the Sam Smiths and the Taylor Swifts of these days might be because they don't want to show their political colours for fear of being preyed on by politicians. (Remember the horror days of Cool Britannia, when Tony Blair hung out with popsters).

Or perhaps the trouble is that politics is now so fundamentally central - one might say rather yacht rockish - with our leaders so desperate to be part of the selfie generation and so resistant, even during an election, to slamming down a ferocious gauntlet, that pop singers don't really know where the barricades are in order to storm them.

(Unless you are going to write an angry song about Nigel Farage and I don't really see that idea spiralling up the charts).

Belfast Telegraph

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