Columnist: Rock and Pop need to kiss and make up

Kou Thao

Toward the end of the 1990s, when Britney Spears, *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys and all their rip-offs were at the height of their popularity, folks would go out of their way to disparage these artists.

My social group of the past was one of the worst offenders. In fact, I think some of my friends were obsessed with their animosity toward those artists.

For example, around the time of the release of Spears’ second album, I was sitting at a table with a group of friends.

We were all relatively silent, focusing on some intense homework assignment that was due in moments, when suddenly a friend of mine blurted out, “Did someone just say ‘Britney Spears?'” We all shook our heads. “Good,” he said. “Britney sucks.”

But what we rascally rock fans did not realize at the time was that the relationship between cheesy pop artists and fantastic rock bands is similar to that of good and evil – one’s existence is necessary for the other to exist. In addition, the presence of rancid groups like 98 Degrees and the Backstreet Boys offer rock bands the opportunity to improve their talents.

To better understand this, take a look at the early 1990s.

Groups like the New Kids on the Block, in addition to horrendous pop hair-metal bands and the increased popularity of rap, all challenged rock bands as the premiere listening experience in the ears of the listening and buying public.

In response to all that ruckus, bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins and Alice in Chains saw their chance to return mainstream music to a more pure listenable experience.

Nirvana, specifically, castrated the oversexed, falsely emotional hair-metal bands, offering up a frighteningly raw – and authentic – emotional experience.

For about five or six years, the aforementioned bands and their peers reigned supreme over the music business. Certainly rap/hip-hop was becoming a powerful force in music, but it still had some ground to break at that point.

Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994, which resulted in the band effectively rendered inoperable, gave birth to many copycat bands such as Bush, Silverchair and Local H.

This was a problem because the proliferation of copycats saturated the music world with derivative, manufactured alt-rock.

In addition, the experimentations of the Pumpkins failed to keep people interested in the band’s music.

To add insult to a bruised “alternative” scene, Pearl Jam had returned to relative obscurity and even a headstrong band like Soundgarden had disbanded.

By 1998, the “grunge/alternative” extravaganza that had infiltrated the homes of so many around the world was essentially dead.

That revolution had reigned unchecked for so long in the mid-1990s that the whole scene became a sick parody of itself.

The pendulum swung in response to that. Pop and hip-hop acts saw the opportunity for cashing in on the demise of their oppressors and attacked harshly.

It wasn’t too long before quality rock was a rarity. In place of omnipotent “alternative” bands was a series of rap-rock concoctions, conglomerations of fecal residue that functioned as fillers between sets from popular boy band and teen-pop sensations.

Rock and pop had switched roles – rock had become a whimpering subservient with a ball gag in its mouth and pop was standing strong with an enormous whip.

Apparently, those involved in pop acts hadn’t paid much attention to the past, because pop music became derivative and saturated just as “alternative” had before it.

Today, the boy bands are idle and the teen-pop princesses are exchanging money shots for record sales.

The lesson they must learn is that both need to coexist with equal priority.

When the genres take on a domination-subservience dynamic, the genre in the domination role always will get to the point of resting on its laurels and becoming a pale derivation of its initial beauty.

But if they share equal influence, the race for the top will give birth to some amazingly creative music, not to mention save humankind from having to use disturbing adjectives to describe their mainstream listening experiences.

Vehling is a senior print journalism major and online editor of The Spectator. The Tastemaker is a weekly entertainment column that appears every Thursday.