Those who know me, and who have read these posts, know that I am absolutely awful at keeping up with current music. I’ve always held a belief that modern music stopped resonating with me around 2010, for the most part. Back then it wasn’t just with bands like Kings Of Leon and The Killers being in their pomp but it was also when the likes of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry rose to stardom with some absolutely cracking pop tunes. Now I know it is my duty as a grumpy old fart to say that music nowadays just ain’t like it used to be but I don’t think that’s entirely what’s going on here.
Wary of not repeating myself, my go-to has always been to seek out “real” music. By that I mean real instruments, preferably guitars, and singer songwriter combinations. I never took that much to the manufactured pop side of things. For me, I found it difficult to connect with a performance if I knew that the singer could likely just be a gun for hire, put in front of a mic to carry someone else’s message. I do realise this is a little foolish and that even when an artist is accredited as a songwriter they may be contributing the bare minimum for a credit but still, it’s what was running through my head at the time. Around 2008 we saw the rise of the aforementioned Lady Gaga and others who were well and truly part of that pop brigade, but there seemed to be more of an auteur angle to the music being produced. Gaga in particular has always made no bones about how she does her thing her way and if others had a stronger influence on her career she would have wound up just another pop princess. Artists like P!nk and Justin Timberlake also carried this line and brought a respectability to pop that I felt hadn’t been there before. Which brings me to “Dance Monkey”.
Tones And I is a solo female artist from Australia who got her start busking on street corners. Lyrically the song touches on this with she herself saying “…if you replace [the lyric]: ‘dance for me, dance for me’ with ‘sing for me, sing for me,’ it’s pretty literal…”. Yet upon first hearing it, the production and the overall sound initially had me leaning towards the assumption it was the latest track off the pop industry production line. I am working on this inherent ignorance I possess, I swear.
I really don’t know where I get this attitude from. When I was a kid pop music was my bread and butter. Spice Girls, 5ive, Boyzone…that was my music. I think it was when I first started playing guitar that I drew a line. I couldn’t play these pop songs on guitar, I couldn’t get it to sound right. Come to think of it, that’s probably where I developed my obsession with crafting acoustic interpretations of extremely non-acoustic songs. As I’ve grown older and learned a lot from my failings though I’ve come to realise that there’s a heartbeat to every song. It might be different for different people. For me it’s the lyrics.
My brother received the same musical upbringing that I did but we both ended up on very different trajectories. I’ve had heated debates with him in the past about how a lot of his favourite songs also tend to be some of the most lyrically powerful songs ever written in my book. Yet for him the lyrics are secondary. He hears a good song he likes with a catchy hook. If it happens to have good lyrics then so be it. I’m literally the polar opposite. For me it is always lyrics first. It’s what steered me away from metal for a long time, having been a metal fan all through my teenage years. 40 year olds singing about teenage angst just didn’t cut it.
I didn’t allow for the possibility that there might be substance to these pop songs. Sure they’re only about stupid things like make ups and break ups. Well Nially boy…that’s kind’ve the only thing you ever write songs about chief. Bottom line is that there’s a level of snobbery to how I used to view modern popular music that I’m happy to say is slowly but surely being eroded. “Dance Monkey” is hopefully the first of many songs that chips away at that. Once I gave it time the lyrics really spoke to me. It will take me time, but I’ll get there!
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