Is ‘Purposeful Pop’ really a thing?
– by Jessica Blackley
Katy Perry affably described her new disco boppy single ‘Chained to the Rhythm’ as, “Purposeful Pop” on the red carpet of the 59th Grammy Awards. Sounds absurd? Well, maybe not. “Stumbling around like a wasted zombie” and “Happily numb, so comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble” are pretty hard hitting lyrics for Perry. Whether you’re a fan or not of artists using their music and platform to communicate such messages, you can’t deny that it has a purpose. And the Grammys sure communicated the fact that music, art and culture have the power to create conversation and encourage unity today in such a divided world. And what needs to change.
The biggest songs and music videos since 1st of October 2015 till 30th September 2016 (the eligibility period of being nominated) all (deliberately or not) seemed to follow this movement.
From Beyonce releasing Lemonade, an album of emotional discord yet with enough attitude and empowerment to fill Levi’s Stadium, to Adele’s melodic 25, a vulnerable and honest reflection on life and heartbreak and Chance the Rapper defying odds, becoming the first Independent artist to win a Grammy, it was an electric night of raw talent and passion on display.
The devastating loss of Prince and George Michael is still felt throughout the world. Purple Rain was noticeably not included in Bruno Mars and The Time’s tribute to the royal man of music. I believe it was their intention to simply kick their heels up and celebrate this musical genius and enigmatic performer. And that they did. Mars effortlessly mirrored his on-stage mannerisms and honoured a man that shaped music forever. Adele and Hans Zimmer created a beautiful rendition of George Michael’s single, “Fastlove, Pt.1” that revealed how truly devastating and emotional his lyrics were, previously masked by the quick tempo of the original. As we were given the opportunity to reflect on their extraordinary lives, we realise more than ever how much these two artists were participants in this “Purposeful Pop” movement. With Prince challenging the world’s standards and expectations of sexuality, beauty and what it meant to be man, and George Michael giving a voice to millions of gay men around the world, they were undeniably huge forces in allowing artists and musicians to have the freedom to live their life through music and give a purpose to the pain.
Without laws encouraging protection for music, pop’s purpose can suffer, and so can the thousands of producers and songwriters behind the scenes. Last November, the Recording Academy’s National Advocacy Committee submitted a letter to then President-elect Donald Trump to, “support reform of outdated laws and oppose any regulation that would diminish the value of these creators’ hard work and property rights”. Neil Portnow, the President of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences joined the conversation on the night. “In times of triumph and tragedy, we turn to song and the abiding power of music to lift our spirits, sooth our souls and remind us that everything will be okay”. That we do. This purpose that Katy Perry described that she wants her music to reflect, can’t exist without the big shots at Washington listening to the voices of songwriters, producers, composers and musicians. Some are suffering from outdated laws that were implemented way before streaming even existed, which is causing problems, as explained from a personal viewpoint of a megastar, Taylor Swift when she penned the infamous letter to Apple in 2015.
Let’s not underestimate the huge impact music has on culture. We all have a part to play in ensuring pop stays purposeful. Obviously, the magnetic force of music will always prevail, but at the end of the day, we as citizens should be grateful for the gift of music and the gift these artists work their whole lives striving to give, a smile on our face and a voice to our pain. Let us see the Grammys as a celebration of music, not a perverse reminder of greed and celebrity status, but a reminder that music has changed our lives, in one way or another. Let’s respect the rights of musicians and support their fight for fairer, more relevant music protection laws, both here in Australia and the US, by buying tickets to see independent artists’, purchasing merchandise and responsibly obtaining their creations. If you know a musician, thank them. For they are instruments of joy and purpose.
As President J.F. Kennedy so eloquently said, “The life of the arts is very close to the centre of the nations purpose and is a test of the quality of a nations civilisation.”