Popjustice is an internet pop thing that sometimes crosses over into real life.
Popjustice started life in the year 2000 and took its first steps to becoming what you see today at the end of 2002 with the arrival of the front page blog – The Briefing.
Our first Briefing post was very upset about the lack of success experienced by S Club Juniors’ cover of ‘Puppy Love’. Eleven years later that cover is rightly seen as a classic of our times, and Popjustice continues its mission to give pop precisely the level of respect it deserves. Sometimes it deserves very little.
Popjustice is about loving pop and shouting it from the rooftops. If anyone tells you their favourite pop tune is a guilty pleasure tell them to fuck off. Guilty pleasures have no place on Popjustice.
Some of the people who come to Popjustice don’t really like pop music and just like the way we write about it. Others don’t care for the words and just like the pop we feature. Some people like both and if you’re one of them HELLO TO YOU.
Popjustice is here for everyone who knows that pop music can be at its most important when it’s being stupid and at its most stupid when it’s trying to be important.
We love it when people make pop look easy, but we don’t like it when they look like they’re not trying.
We know that terrible popstars can make brilliant pop songs and, yes, brilliant popstars can make terrible pop songs.
We like popstars to be honest and we like popstars to make it all up. We like popstars to make it all up as they go along, and we like popstars to have a plan.
At Popjustice we know that a pop song doesn’t have to sell to be brilliant, and a pop song doesn’t have to flop to be awful.
We know it is possible to critique a popstar without hating them, to praise the same popstar without calling for their public execution.
We love popstars who take pop too seriously and popstars who treat the whole thing like a series of happy accidents.
We love Lady Gaga for being closely involved with her career to a degree that would send most of her peers insane, but we also love Britney for being a Britney sort of popstar. We don’t have much patience with people who criticise Lady Gaga for not dancing like Britney or Britney for not writing like Lady Gaga, because we know that the trick with pop is to define your own terms then succeed or fail against those, not to measure your worth against your contemporaries.
While we’re on the topic, Lady Gaga thinks her songs are brilliant because she wrote them. We think they’re brilliant because they’re brilliant. She thinks her shows are sold out because she saved the gays. We think they’re sold out because she’s a good popstar (and her songs are brilliant). We don’t really want to read people banging on about how Lady Gaga is of interest simply because she is ‘a phenomenon’ or ‘a fascinating example of the modern popstar’ or any of that other fence-sitting bellendery you might find in your average broadsheet profile written by and for people who aren’t really interested in the matter at hand. In this specific instance Lady Gaga is of interest firstly because of the amazing pop tunes she appeared with – any old twat can wear a funny hat and demand the world’s attention but it’s ‘Just Dance’ and ‘Poker Face’ that made anyone pay attention. Music doesn’t always come first, obviously, but you can fuck off if you’re saying it’s irrelevant. Well, it’s never irrelevant to Popjustice anyway. Lady Gaga isn’t popular simply because she’s ‘interesting’ – she’s popular and she’s interesting because she makes brilliant pop music, and knows how to sell it.
We try as much as possible to step back from fan-on-fan hysteria built on the unnecessary pitting of one (usually female) artist against another.
We won’t deny that many of our favourite artists, from Abba, The Magnetic Fields and Pet Shop Boys to Take That, Example and Robyn have all got well stuck in (music biz term) when it comes to songwriting, and if you think about it like that you start to think about how great it is to hear a track when you know there’s a strong emotional connection between the performer and the song itself. And then you think about about all the great songs that people have sung without even having a clue who wrote them, let alone what they’re about, and suddenly none of that really matters.
Wailing about The Wanted not writing their best songs is a bit like complaining that a carrot is not a balloon, but while we don’t really mind if people write their songs or not, we don’t like it when they don’t but say they do, or when they don’t even bother to think about the songs they’re singing. Will we ever use that dreaded phrase, that last refuge of the alternative twat, “but they don’t even write their own material”? No, but we might occasionally come close: it gets our goat when the cred brigade conveniently ignores, say, the fact that The Artist Adele is only partially responsible for writing her biggest hits.
We know pop music is not easy to get right. That’s why we get excited by the triumphs, find ourselves amazed by the successes, are made upset by the failures and get angry with anyone who undervalues the genre and its fans so much that they exploit pop by try to get away with what they know is rubbish.
It’s impossible to sustain any belief in the concept of The Record Buying Public being ‘right’ when they like a song you consider good, then ‘wrong’ when they like something awful, so it simply makes no sense to feel somehow vindicated when a great song gets to Number One, if – as is usually the case – 80% of its
sales are to people who also buy awful music. It makes no sense at all. For this reason we feel a thrill when one of our favourite songs hits Number One and a wave of sadness when another favourite song misses the Top 40, but we try our best to ignore chart position-based distraction when we think about other areas of pop. Life is a lot easier – and there’s a lot more to concentrate on – when you learn to stop worrying about Beyoncé’s latest chart position.
Guilty pleasures, ‘so bad it’s good’, ‘alright for a pop song’, ‘screaming fans love it’: these are all phrases people use to distance themselves from pop. Popjustice believes that you shouldn’t grow out of pop music the moment you hit puberty and you shouldn’t grow back into pop music the moment you discover irony.
We also believe that pop music is not a children’s genre, so we despair at out of touch knob-jockeys (MIKE STOCK) who criticise popstars for making videos for (or aiming themselves at) adults. Pop music is often – usually, in fact – enjoyed by kids, but most of the good stuff is not made for them. In fact we reckon some of the worst pop music is made specifically for children, or for gays, or for housewives, or for students, or for straight thirtysomethings; for any demographic patronisingly targeted by songwriters, producers and major label marketing departments. If your first consideration when writing a song is to think about demographics, we’re sorry but you are a dick. Similarly, if you’re only writing a song for your existing fanbase you are on very thin ice indeed.
We know what we like.
Popstars who say “pop just means popular” don’t really get it. And forget singing, writing, dancing or any of the other stuff: ‘getting it’ is one of the most important abilities of the modern popstar. It can’t be taught so it can’t be learned. You either get it or you don’t. It’s not about being well read, it’s not about whether you’re bright or not. Artists who, in the history of Popjustice, have ‘got it’ include Lily Allen, Marina & The Diamonds, Shakira, Nicola Roberts, Calvin Harris, Robbie Williams, Sia, Sky Ferreira, The Sound Of Arrows and Adele. People who don’t get it include Britney Spears, Leona Lewis, Cher Lloyd and Duffy. The most dangerous sort of popstar is one who thinks they get it when they don’t. In this category you will find Jessie J. If your favourite popstar doesn’t get it that doesn’t matter, they can still be amazing.
You can be a fan of The Saturdays without liking everything they’ve done. In fact, we’d say you’re not a true fan of any act if you’re so blinkered that you praise even their rubbish. You are enabling popstar shit. So you can look at all the Saturdays songs in your iTunes library, you can go ‘this one’s great, that one’s great, I love that one, the rest is shit’ but even though you’ve done that you can still say you like The Saturdays.
A genre’s popularity at one point in history does not automatically mean that a genre or way of presenting pop music is by rights relevant in every other era of pop. We are thinking of boybands here. Made sense in the 1990s, didn’t make sense in 2000s, make sense again in the 2010s.
There is a lot to be said for an underground approach to mainstream music and there is a lot to be said for a mainstream approach to underground music.
We know that pop is made great by the popstars who say yes, but pop is made vital by the popstars who say no.
We know that when we interview popstars we are just the latest in a line of dozens of people they have to endure meeting in the course of promoting their music. We know they don’t really like being interviewed, and why would they when most pop interviews involve questions dredged up from Wikipedia entries, nonsense questions about last week’s nonsense lies, and relentless probing about which boys they want to get off with. Female popstars don’t get it much easier. We try to talk to popstars about stuff they don’t get to talk about everywhere else, and we try to talk to them in a way that other people don’t always talk to them. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes when it doesn’t work that’s our fault. Sometimes, on the other hand, it is painfully obvious that shoddy media training has completely sucked the spunk out of the modern pop community, and not in the good way. Sometimes, during the course of an interview, a superstar can emerge. Sometimes they’re just a bit funnier than you thought they’d be. Sometimes we ask them questions about horses and we find out more about what they’re really like than if we’d asked them a million questions about their new single.
We can do without most of the Monsters/Crazy Cats nonsense, to be honest, particularly when it originates not with fans but in a marketing meeting at a popstar’s label. Any popstar naming their fanbase before that fanbase even totals triple figures is having an elaborate wank. Fanbases should find their own identities. We’ll let Marina & The Diamonds off on this occasion,
Just as pop is at its best when it’s both completely meaningful and utterly trivial, so Popjustice is about caring a lot and caring a little, sometimes both at the same time.
We care about the best music from past generations, but we know most of it should stay there, which also means that we’re not too bothered about how pop in the here and now will sound in twenty years. Every generation has its own idea about pop’s greatest era, but pop itself is mostly about the here and now, even if it draws directly from the there and then.
In the spring of 2010 we asked our Twitter followers why they liked Popjustice. Here’s what happened.
Sometimes, we feel that this present pop moment is all that matters. Pop is in a constant state of nowness. But we understand that pop music changes month to month and year to year and generation to generation, and we know that it is possible and important to view this entire history from above in order to find out a little bit more about what is happening in pop today. Things that were right once are wrong now, and wrongness from pop history seems great in pop present moment. The economist John Maynard Keynes once responded to criticism that he’d shifted his stance on economic policy with this statement: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Which was his way of saying, “oh fuck off”. When pop changes, we change our minds. What do you do?
We once thought that the idea of pop music ‘going in cycles’ was something mostly peddled by artists and publicists desperate to reinvigorate a dead musical scene to suit whatever they were trying to foist on the world. We still think it’s pretty unhelpful to insist that pop is governed by a predefined cycle or series of cycles, but it does, of course, tend to follow certain patterns. How are these patterns established? Is it some extra-terrestrial power guiding the minds of songwriters and singers towards a certain new direction? Do planets align? Does a spooksome sixth sense exist in the pop community, allowing all involved parties to drift in similar directions? Perhaps it’s something to do with the tides. OF COURSE IT’S FUCKING NOT. When pop changes – when things become pop that weren’t pop before, and things that have been pop for a while cease to sound like pop at all – it’s often because some people have very deliberately sat down and gone, ‘right, this is what happens next’. Does that sound scary and like some sort of secret society? It’s not. It’s just some people changing pop music. Pop music has to change. Christ alive, imagine if it stayed the same forever. Fair enough, it would be better if the future of pop didn’t lie (as it frequently does) in the hands of some supercilious dickwad who’s never bought a Britney album in his life, but perhaps what pop actually needs is not the softly-softly approach you or we might take. Maybe it requires a kick up the arse from someone who doesn’t give enough of a shit to handle with care.
We only recently came to realise and accept that our favourite popstars probably do not like our favourite pop music. So we understand that girlband members, for instance, will probably not listen to or particularly like, or be obsessed about in the way we’re obsessed about, other girlbands’ music. It’s even true that many – maybe most – popstars have pretty bad taste in music. That’s not a problem until band members go solo and decide to ‘spread their wings’, although it does seem a bit rich when they plug their new single and expect people to buy music they wouldn’t necessarily buy themselves. We are not sure what it says about the way they view their fans. “I wouldn’t buy this shit but you should,” seems to sometimes be the suggestion. Anyway, it’s those other influences – particularly for songwriters and producers who end up making music that sits alongside stuff they wouldn’t necessarily like if they heard on the radio – that keeps pop interesting, keeps pop moving forward, keeps taking it in directions it would never have gone if, for example, Katy Perry hadn’t spend a summer back in high school listening to Radiohead.
If all you do is sit around listening to nobody but Girls Aloud four years after they last released an album, and if you’re doing that you need to get out more. Pop is happening and you’re missing out.
To start off with Popjustice was a bit defensive of pop’s territory. We used to get overexcited about how boring indie music was, and we would bang on about how amazing pop music was in contrast. As time has passed, while we would still struggle to care less if Bon Iver never made another record, the idea of pop versus indie seems like something that should be left behind in the debris of the last millennium. Indie fans may need to imagine pop music as an ‘enemy’ in order for their cherished ‘alternative tunes’ to be an alternative to something, but pop music does not require indie to be bad in order to be great. To be a fan of pop – this massive, brilliant metagenre that picks the best bits of everything else anyway – your horizons are already broader than you might think. Ultimately pop is not a different genre to all those other ones – it is a lightning rod that grabs the best bits of other styles and makes them brilliant. Having said all this, we do know that pop music at its best is better than the best alternative music. At the other end of the spectrum we are not sure whether the worst alternative music is also worse than the worst pop music. We suspect that the very worst pop music we will ever hear is probably worse than the worst alternative music. With pop the stakes are far, far higher, the extremes far, far more exhilarating. There is nothing greater than great pop, and nothing more dismal than bad pop.
While we might be prepared to let The World Of Alternative Music go about its business, we are still quite aware that an obsession with credibility can harm amazing pop. There are certainly problems when people who don’t really have any emotional investment in pop start wading in. You probably hear a lot from certain quarters about how an artist ‘fucks with’ or ‘subverts’ pop. If you only love pop music that breaks the rules you don’t really love pop music, you’re just trying to impose irrelevant boundaries on a genre that’s quite happy with its own values thanks very much. Pop does a pretty good job of defining its own agenda – a One Direction single sets out to do something quite different from a Scissor Sisters track, for instance, and the two acts co-exist brilliantly. Marina & The Diamonds hopes to be a different sort of artist to Joe McEldery. Not all pop has the same ambitions. But it is all pop. In summary: we like pop to be credible in the sense that you can believe in it, and in the sense that it should exist and succeed on its own terms. Beyond that, normal notions of credibility do not apply.
A few years ago we got involved with the ‘Wonky Pop’ brand that Alphabeat’s then-management company launched. Looking back on that we guess their idea was to create a ‘scene’ around the band to help give them a press angle while they were starting out. They were putting on a tour also featuring acts we liked, like Frankmusik, so it made sense to us that we got involved and DJd at some of the nights. We even went so far as presenting it as a Popjustice tour, though perhaps if we had known we were effectively launching someone else’s pop brand we might not have been quite so happy to help out. Anyway, it didn’t really work out. The idea of selling pop to the indie world, which was the thrust of the ‘movement’, is a whole world of unnecessary shit full of half-apologies. It was a world were excuses were made for pop music. Clearly, pop music never needs an excuse. You either like it or you don’t. And if you don’t like it, you can fuck off.
Here’s one thing it’s important to state: pop music is never good simply because it is pop music. There’s no pop shortage that necessitates the lowering of standards to hit some sort of quota on your iPod’s Recently Added playlist. There’s so much good pop around that it is unnecessary to fetishise the genre to a degree where woeful acts of pop’s past, present or future are held up as somehow listenable simply because they operate within the same genre as people capable of decent tuneage. Just as pop music takes the best bits of other genres and bins off the rest, so pop fans should feel happy to do the same with what’s in the charts, and even the output of acts they like. The Saturdays have never made a perfect album and they never will. Let’s not dwell on the bad album tracks or attempt to artificially elevate them. If we do that, it means less when we like their actually great songs.
“Just a bit of pop fun.” There’s a phrase for you. Scooch is a good example of this. At the turn of the century they sort of made sense in the post-Steps climate; they were tacky and rough around the edges and, compared with the Steps machine they attempted to copy, completely unsophisticated, but there was a bit of a ramshackle charm to the whole thing, and ‘For Sure’ and that other one were great. By the time their Eurovision entry came around several years later it all seemed a bit different. Being a bit shit was part of their act, but you could tell they also wanted to be taken seriously. Their schtick seemed to be something along the lines of it being ‘proud to be pop’ and it being ‘just a bit of fun’. These people who claimed to be flying the flag for pop were actually doing the opposite: they were saying that low quality output was allowed, because it was ‘just’ some silly fun. It wasn’t much fun at all. It was shit on a stick. Claims like “it’s just a bit of cheap pop fun” are usually made in relation to pop music that is trying to be – but is actually not – fun. Most pop reunions and comebacks – Steps, Atomic Kitten, whatever – offer an unconvincing impression of fun. It’s the clown turning up at a kids’ party drunk, taking his £40 at the end of the same miserable routine he’s been doing for twelve years, then going back to his bedsit for a cry, a Pot Noodle and a wank.
If you feel the need to bill yourself as a shameless pop fan you’re probably not a shameless pop fan.
Popjustice is one word with a lower case ‘j’.
We love songs built for single song repeat.
We know pop should be lifechanging and important, but completely disposable if the mood is right, although bad pop often happens when people deliberately try to make it either disposable or lifechangingly important.
We know that in our quest for the next amazing popstar, the whole point of the next Lady Gaga is that they won’t look or sound anything like Lady Gaga. (To be fair, the next Leona Lewis may well look and sound quite a lot like Leona Lewis.)
We know most artists never make a better album than their greatest hits.
We love sad songs you can dance to and happy songs so great they bring you to tears.
Pop is not a bloodsport. We try not to get involved with the current trend for whooping and clapping from the sidelines while popstars are mindlessly torn limb from limb by ‘fans’, cretinous hecklers and an entertainment media that seems locked in a depressing race to the bottom. If this sounds a bit aloof and moody so be it, but we’re here because we love pop, not because we want to see the people who make it kicked into the gutter.
Popjustice tries to fly a flag for great pop music in an era where radio programmers and TV scheduling bigwigs are still embarrassed to like pop music or provide it for their listeners and viewers.
If you don’t have the Pet Shop Boys somewhere in your Top 10 Pop Acts Of All Time In The Known Universe list you need to be asking yourself some serious questions, and if you don’t have that list in your wallet with you at all times you’re doing life wrong.
It’s obvious that relentlessly aggressive marketing and street-teaming taught a generation of music fans to be suspicious of the pop industry, but it’s also meant that pop has to try harder to make itself heard. Pop that doesn’t try at all is rarely worth your time.
We like cheap thrills and expensive videos.
The pop single’s demise is inevitable but still sad.
We believe that pop is not a lifestyle choice.
We reckon £7 is a fair price for an album. £10 used to seem fair. Now it’s £7. It will probably be about a fiver in 2015.
We love great packaging for physical formats, but we buy most of our music digitally.
We know pop music is not a matter of life or death, it’s more important than that.
It’s all about the music and it’s all about everything except the music.
We bathe in the pure, heavenly light of the radio edit.
We look for pop in all the wrong places.
Popjustice is just about pop music.
Pop music is never just pop music.
Pop music is everything.
Pop just is.