“Praising the Radio Songs,” Part V
The Wanted, “Glad You Came”
The Wanted are one of the more accepted current pop groups to like, if only because they’ve been woven into this “boy bands are back!” narrative. Now that enough time has passed since the last wave of boy bands, people are looking back, saying “hey the music wasn’t that bad” and, well, people will like what they like etc etc.
I have no horse in this race but the Wanted > One Direction, if only because you can hear the British accents in their songs. One Direction seem like just another faceless boy band, directed almost exclusively toward teenage girls, and I am not a teenage girl, and I don’t like any of their singles as much as this one Wanted song.
Keeping in mind the flimsy boy-bands-are-back narrative, I don’t like pieces like this; not because I fundamentally disagree with its thesis, but it’s written from a perspective that views pop as a singular, monolithic entity, and “the soar” as a defining trope of pop music, as if it’s the last in an endless string of sounds and we’ll never recover from this disastrous deed. (Though to be fair this essay is from last year.) This is derived from the same wrong-headed thinking that suggests a unifying force in pop, as if one sound can ever completely dominate, as opposed to being a mere uptick in what is considered profitable. It doesn’t make these things “right,” but it does lessen the culpability of pop’s alleged responsibility to the progression of music, meaning toward the culture at large, blah blah blah.
Though the maximal EDM sound is as prominent in pop as Lex Luger’s maximal production in rap, the greatest new development in pop, pushed along by YouTube views and Spotify and streams and so forth, is the collapse of the mono-culture. It doesn’t feel like what would formerly be considered major trends are as major as they once were. What irks me about the linked piece is it acknowledges this in the most dismissive way possible, by presuming these additional sources drown out any possibility for music to differ from its current mainstream template, which is funny considering the surprise success of Adele, Gotye, Fun, Foster the People, the continued popularity of a shape-shifter like Usher, etc, etc. (Again this was written before those groups [sans Adele] became popular, but their success invalidates its theory further, like when the guy who didn’t sign the Beatles said “guitar music is over.”)
If anything these additional sources open up the ability for different sounds to become in vogue. If you hate the bombastic overpowering songs on the radio, consider it as the last throes of a dying sound; even the Black Eyed Peas (truly the worst pop group of the last decade) have decided to hang it up for awhile.
But this continued assumption pop is one big, lumbering creature, instead of a thousand sounds coming together at any one time (though you could say the same thing about any genre), which occasionally leads to certain sounds being popular (some worse than others), sometimes for too long a period of time, is a fallacy. It’s an outdated assumption that, intentionally or not, implicates the writer has only a passing familiarity with radio music. All the nods to those briefly popular “death of hip-hop” pieces feel shoe-horned in (again with the mistaken assumption of one-sound-per-genre), and it ends with the beyond-fucking-tired implication that pop is where amoral superficiality thrives—because, don’t you know, the global economy is in recession, and here’s Jessie J singing about “money money money.”
In every one of these examples is a nugget of well-meaning, almost-accurate truth. But it suffers from a condescending tone, the thing writers do where they say “I’m gonna write about this thing I kinda don’t really know about, carefully pick examples, and write from that perspective”—the worst kind of deductive reasoning. If this series of writing between David and I sets out to do anything, it’s to suggest a) pop isn’t nearly as bad as you think, and b) even the most superficial, indefensible (my original suggestion for its title was “In Defense of the Indefensible Pop Song,” which David rightly vetoed as too negative) songs have their merits when taken on their own terms. (Again, this is true of all genres, though.)
You never have to like anything; but pop music is a too-convenient whipping boy for the alleged failing of a monoculture, of a larger culture unwilling to deal with social realities, a thirst for superficial pleasures, anti-intellectualism, a manifestation of “social anxiety” or some shit, groupthink. These are all valid arguments but pop too often takes the hit when it’s just a cog (and the songs themselves are smaller cogs of this one cog) in the culture-machine. Not to belabor the point but I actually like the first grafs of the Quietus piece. There’s something bothersome about the way a soaring chorus restructures the natural rhythm of a song, which indicates a failure to understand the basic principles of songwriting in pursuit of a trendy sound, but then it loses its focus halfway through.
I have some things to say about this song, but the stuff above is better use of your time to read* than me saying this song is pretty awesome.
I don’t know the name of any of these guys in The Wanted, but the fact there is more than one of them makes this average EDM Pop song a lot more stand-able, because I’ve started noticing that more voice can improve these songs. One overblown voice on top of rave synths can work, but a gaggle of voices gives these songs a lot more personality.
As for the lyrics, BEATS, and all of that other stuff that makes this a song. It solidly thumps at a 4/4 pace, the lyrics seems to be about having a good time, and is barely over three minutes long (perfect pop length). The video is full of attractive people doing attractive people things, which I’m guessing is drinking, hooking up, going to the beach, and various other things young people enjoy doing (Pillow fights!). It’s officially summer and this song is meant to soundtrack this particular time, so hopefully if it does soundtrack your life it’s blaring loudly, as this song does sound pretty amazing when it causes your eardrums to ring.
*In regards to me objecting to the name “In the defense of…”. I want to say that I hate “Defense” pieces, because a “Defense” piece is a lazy to frame a topic. Come up with a different phrase, because unless you are lawyer or a Carolina Panther defensive player, I don’t need to know why you are defending something. I care why you like (or don’t) just go with that.