pop&b

Like any girl who grew up in America, and like any girl who has an older sister she worships, my musical taste has changed, refined, and solidified as I’ve grown older. I had my middle school phase where I listened to anything that was on Top 40 radio, and there are still some things from the 1997-2003 time period that I will always love, defend, and unabashedly listen to, even if I know it’s absolutely terrible. And there are other things that are actually kind of underrated, like the fact that those manufactured pop groups like N Sync and Eden’s Crush were actually very well trained singers, just stuck in the bodies of fakely attractive people and forced to sing really terrible songs.

Anyway. My main genres when I was young were Motown, show tunes, jazz-pop standards, and pop-inflecting R&B. I could count on my sister getting me the latest Mariah Carey, Destiny’s Child, or Alicia Keys CD for each birthday and Chrismukkah. I listened to them extensively, and to this day, even in the age of iPods and playlists and listening to single songs and not albums, if I hear a song off of one of these ladies’ albums I know exactly which song should come next in the track listing.

But then I transferred from the very urban middle school I went to to private school, and then I discovered lots of other music, both that satisfied my ear and that spoke to the major angst I had. Also, it helped that liking music that my classmates liked helped me to fit in, since so much of the way I acted seemed not to do that for me. Through my schoolmates and my penpals and some outside friends and the wonderful Internets, I discovered Say Anything and Stars and Lily Allen and the Decemberists and whoever else was popular. I really do like all of the above, but I know we all were also following trends and over-listening to whomever was popular for the semester. College, as I learned to be comfortable with who I am, was when I took the time to cultivate my music collection, understand my moods, and figure out why it was I am attracted to so many disparate types of music.

Those types all fall under a few umbrellas, though. Pop and R&B are finally starting to come out of the bad place they were in for the last decade, so there is awesome stuff by Don Omar and Beyonce and Solange and Adele and others that is very current but also very retro in its instruments, chords, and styles. Indie “folk” (I know that’s what we call it, but it really can’t be folk since that means old-stuff-passed-down) right now is also awesome, because it combines what I liked in high school of the sad people with guitars and metaphors with the flowy, choral, hippie style of the 1960s and 1970s white people music. People like the Pierces are like modern folks possessed by ABBA and the Mamas and the Papas, the Watson Twins are like bluegrass that’s plugged in, and the Weepies are like the stuff my mom used to play me when I was little but with better voices and lyrics. So while my iPod remains a place of (today, at least) 15682 songs of many, many genres and languages and eras, the stuff I listen to most often is largely in the above categories. I’m generally drawn to either the lyrics or the music, and whichever is the less strong one is just there for the ride and I don’t think too much of it.

So tonight I am procrastinating at going to bed, because I’m really unskilled at sleeping lately, so I logged onto Facebook and saw that my friend had posted a Beyoncé video, “Best Thing I Never Had.” I’d already seen it, but I threw it on anyway and proceeded to switch over to other tabs. But as I was listening, I kept going back to the video and thinking, “Beyonce really wasn’t what made Destiny’s Child great–what they did that nobody can touch was harmonize like nobody’s business–but dayum, the girl knows what she’s doing now!” So I watched another video, and another, and then I remembered the song she sang when she announced that she was preggers with Blue Ivy (ivy is green, so…), and so I decided to see if there was a video yet. Apparently it came out awhile ago and I am just way behind in the game.

The video, put simply, is so throwbacky delicious that it rocks. It reminded me a ton of Mariah Carey’s “Honey” video, which is probably my favorite music video EVAR. The sound and look is so obviously inspired by the days when Mariah Carey invented the convention of pretty pop stars hanging out with “thug” rappers (who were probably presidents of the chess club or at least honors students or otherwise secret geniuses) and dancing in swimsuit-like contraptions. And somehow, even though the video takes place in a dance studio, it makes me think of my absolute favorite trope of music videos (favorite because of its nearly inexplicable reasoning and hilarious irony of sociological implications of lots of brown people living it up like Donald Trump): yacht videos.

So I’m definitely going to need Beyoncé’s new album, and I’m going to be listening to “Love on Top” and “Countdown” non-stop for awhile. But I think it’s also important to identify why it makes me so happy to see this video. When I was in middle school, this was the kind of singer I wanted to be. I was a lot more shy with music back then, and I was still only a pianist, but I knew that this was the kind of music my voice was good at, and that girls like B and Mariah and Ashanti (linking you to my favorite of each of their videos) were inspiring because they were writing their own music, producing their own music, calling a lot of the shots, and dancing and wearing clothing in a way that screams I’m sexy/I mean business/I’m cute/I’m smart/I can dance without looking like an asshole/I’m not awkward AT ALL that was very inspiring to me. And apparently it still is, because this Beyoncé video (plus her one for “Countdown,” which is like a remake of “Funny Face” and is way better than the actual movie, in which Fred Astaire is a creeper) makes it so evident that she does it for the love of it, and she is having an absolute blast.

I want to be like that–proud of my voice, unconcerned with my body (and I don’t just mean weight, but also how you throw it around in ways that look coordinated and unconcerted), and simply fucking enjoying something because it’s what I love. You can say lots of things about these girls (and I know people did, which is one of the reasons I stopped listening to them–I wasn’t strong enough to stick to my own tastes when I wanted everyone to like me), but they were successful through their own work, largely, and their songs, while “simple,” maybe, are successful because they are catchy with the words and the wordplay and smooth with the melodies and swinging with the harmonies. And that’s where my problem is–my ideal in a music career may be someone more like Beyoncé now, or mid-career Mariah, but the way my brain works and puts ideas and words together, it’s definitely more of a sad girl at a piano or in a long maxi skirt type. Sigh.

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