While I deeply appreciate the difficult (and often unrecognized) efforts of the underground and indie music communities, I think it’s equally important to pay attention to mainstream pop music. It’s being more widely digested and is therefore a barometer of what the mass cultural experience looks like at a given moment—for better or for worse. This is especially true when you consider its impact on non-urban audiences who might not have regular access to edgy, underground artists. While most of the mind-numbing “music” on MTV2 bores me to tears, every once in a while a mainstream artist blindsides me with unexpectedly strong work.
In 2004, it was Green Day that impressed me with their blatantly anti-war rock opera, American Idiot (they also did a couple of rather bold videos, especially this one). This year, it’s looking like Pink may be the artist that deserves high praise for taking a gutsy political stance. I don’t know specifically what instigated this passion for bringing punk-minded feminism to young girls, but “Stupid Girls,” the single from her new album, I’m Not Dead, is a sharp, take-no-prisoners critique of current female gender roles, beauty standards, and consumer culture. No, it’s hardly advanced feminist theory, but a young girl (particularly one who’s stuck in red state hell) absorbing the messages in this video is undoubtedly a very, very good thing.
Conversely, listening to the new Yeah Yeah Yeah’s CD, Show Your Bones, has proved to be a terribly disheartening experience. After a move to L.A. and a few years under the helm of Interscope Records, Karen O and company sound soft, safe (I thought I was listening to Tegan and Sara when I first put the CD in) and uncharacteristically one-dimensional. No one should expect a promising young band to duplicate their debut, but watching a beautifully chaotic, hyper-creative punk trio mutate into something so sedate and toothless is quite jarring—especially when their frontwoman was such a fierce and fearless presence.
While these two records are hardly polar opposites, seeing two artists release highly anticipated records to fans who will probably be divided over their new statements is worth examining, which is exactly what I’ll be doing in a future edition of the Stranger.
To see Pink’s video for “Stupid Girls,” go here.
To see the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s video for their first single, “Golden Lion,” go here (scroll down to the “media” section).