Katy Perry vs Taylor Swift vs Tove Lo vs Lorde

I’m a huge fan of all sorts of music. Maybe not surprising given that I formally studied it for longer than anything else, including history and writing. I like almost everything – especially jazz of all genres, but also classical (meaning medieval, baroque, classical, romantic, modern orchestral and so on), all styles of rock, metal, grunge, synth-pop, techno, operatic metal, prog rock, folk and lots of other stuff.

I have no pictures relating to anybody in this post, so here’s a pic of me practising the old Richard Berry standard ‘Louie Louie’, or possibly the ‘Futurama’ theme song, which used virtually the same chord progression, as did Pierre Henry’s ‘Psyche Rock’, and if you play the progression backwards you get Enya’s ‘Orinoco Flow’.

Well, I draw the line at country. And western. Neither appeals. Anyway, I thought I’d check out some of the stuff that’s come out in the past couple of weeks. So I can compare apples with apples I checked out some prominent singer-songwriters in the same genre. One relentless blat of You Tube later and…

  1. Taylor Swift – Look What You Made Me Do. By the time I got to it, 40 million other people had watched the You Tube video.  The whole thing was amazingly slick and very competently done. But the music had been tweezed to the point where it didn’t have any life.
  2. Katy Perry – Swish Swish. Nice quirky video and a catchy song also previously viewed by about 40 million others. Exactly the same genre and general sound-styling as Swift’s. Slick, tightly arranged, wonderfully produced and competent, but also engineered to the point of being musically lifeless.
  3. Tove Lo – Fire Fade. Not so much a song as a 21-minute short film with grunge synth-pop soundtrack. Provocative, thought-inducing and innovative, lots of human edge. The human side was there in the SFX too – I am pretty sure she used the same analog techniques as Kubrick in 2001.
  4. Lorde – Perfect Places. David Bowie described Lorde’s work as the music of the future. Too right. Perfect Places is a great song. We should all listen to more of Lorde’s music. (You know she’s a New Zealander? And yeah, everybody knows about NZ scenery and hobbits and things, but did I mention that NZ also built its own satellite launcher? And Kiwis invented the jet boat, gave women the vote for the first time, had the first cradle-to-grave-welfare system, pioneered plastic surgery, split the atom for the first time, helped invent sonar, ran JPL and climbed Mount Everest. Soon, all going well, the NZ satellite launcher will send a US-built lander to the Moon. Just saying. Disclaimer: I am also a New Zealander. Ahem.)

I picked these four for good reason – they’re all in the same overall genre. To me the American stuff was product. Nothing wrong with that, but I missed the slight mis-rhythm and imperfection of sound that betrays a live musician – which can certainly be captured in the studio if desired, even with synthesisers. The music that resonated for me was from Sweden and New Zealand, because it had that sense of life to it. And yeah, I know both were also constructed, tweaked and designed to engage a commercial audience, but that’s not what I mean.

Any thoughts? Music means different things to everybody, so hopefully everybody’ll have different views – and it’s all good, because what counts is what any piece of music means to you. We don’t have to share that specific like – what we share is the common experience of enjoying and emotionally responding to the particular music that means something to us. And I think that this shared emotion, irrespective of personal preference, is what reveals the power of music in all its forms .

Is there any music that’s captured your imagination lately? What fires you up musically?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2017



7 thoughts on “Katy Perry vs Taylor Swift vs Tove Lo vs Lorde

  1. I know what you mean about polishing the life out of music. Those endless electronic loops and repeated sounds of some 90s tracks bored me to tears because there was no soul to them. And what’s with pirating slices of good old songs and sliding them in amongst raucous recent concoctions? (“Are you still there, tree people? I’m playin’ for you too.”) All that being said, I’d still prefer listening to soulless, polished muzak than anything country!

    1. There’s no substitute for actually sitting down at an instrument and playing the notes. What intrigues me is the way that technology’s shaped things – the ’emotional sterilisation’ of music has come, essentially, via the ability to digitally manipulate sound in ways that you couldn’t in analog days. It’s opened up a lot of possibilities, I guess, as much as closed off others – you can imagine people grumbling in Mozart’s day about how this new-fangled ‘piano’ thing has really wrecked music, what’s wrong with the harpsichord, and you can’t hear yourself talk over it either.

  2. I’ve never really studied music, but I have to say I don’t have much use for present day popular music, with a few exceptions. I can’t figure out why; it’s something to do with the relentless beat and overall coarseness (of texture, not necessarily language). I mostly relate to what’s termed “classical music” (and thanks for listing some of the specific types). I’ve caught myself thinking everything went downhill after Renaissance polyphony (Palestrina et al.), but also had the same thought about baroque. And then there’s Beethoven, and Schubert’s Lieder… I actually wrote a novel about Schubert’s Winterreise, but since it’s “literary,” and self-pubbed literary novels do poorly (well, so do trad pubbed ones, unless they win an award or at least get short-listed), I haven’t published it… yet. Most of my novels have had some sort of music lurking in the background. Another thing — I’ve heard music is processed by a different part of the brain than other information, which is why you can remember a melody perfectly, but totally forget who wrote it, or what it’s called.

    1. I gather the ‘circuitry’ involved in music is indeed different – there are stories of people who can’t talk after an injury, but who can sing. I kind of had to list some of those earlier genres of music – they all get lumped as ‘classical’ these days, which misses the wide differences between styles as music evolved over time. To me, ‘classical’ is basically the late 18th century – between late baroque and early romantic styles. What I find most fascinating about the way all these styles changed over time is that you can ‘hear’ the changing nature of culture and society – they were reflections of the world they came from; the ornamented and mathematical baroque of the early age of reason; the dark moods of Napoleonic period romantic music, and so on.

  3. When I was writing music I remember a lot of discussion revolved around how to write a hit, not how to write music. The kind of music you’ve referenced here tends to come straight out of the studio with a team of producers laying down the infrastructure of the song before the topline writer comes in and provides, let’s not call it the melody because they wouldn’t use that term, the song’s hook. Then the artist will add their own ‘oh oh oh’ to qualify as a co-writer and be eligible for publishing royalties.

    I still default to rock and metal where real musicians write real compositions and play real instruments really well. And like you, I can’t stand country and western either (unless it’s Johnny Cash).

    1. Yes, it’s all thoroughly constructed (one hesitates to use the word ‘composed’) and engineered. In a way it’s how a lot of commercial music has been done – there seem to be periods when the artists get to write their own stuff, and other times when the studio produces a product that involves the artist. I think the only way out of it these days is to be an independent, but that carries its own issues (mostly financial…)

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