Wassup Rockers

La Misma Mierda.

I share a work area with two other kids, a guy and a girl. The girl is straight up a Kelly Kapoor, by which I mean that she’s super-friendly and enjoys activities such as clothes-shopping and talking on the phone and watching movies like Pretty Woman. Basically, she’s a normal individual, well-adjusted and content in society. Not that I’m setting myself up as “alternative,” but I see her and I can’t imagine being part of her tribe.

The guy and I have more in common. We “pass” for regular folk (he wears clothes that make him look really square) but we think about our place in the world a bit more. We do have our differences, however. He’s much more likely to question things, not to accept things that are thrown at him, so he’s developed this sort of disdain for the mainstream. I relish every part of popular culture, even the lowbrow, so instead of being dismissive of them the way that he is, I try to think critically about these things.

When it comes to taste, then, the guy and the girl are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and I find myself in the middle.

The girl is the type of person who feels uncomfortable when it’s quiet, so she’ll just think of any topic to make conversation. Today she asked me whether I liked Usher better than Justin Timberlake, and yes, the topic came up randomly.

The guy in our work area basically stated it was all the same shit, and I agreed, except he meant, it was all the same shit (he doesn’t care about Top 40 artists), whereas I meant it was all the same shit. I told her that I don’t see a significant difference in the “pop” genre and the “r&b” genre, and this response was met with disbelief in her part.

“You can’t seriously think that they’re the same.”

I’ve had this argument before but it still pissed me off. I didn’t know how to reply in a way that wouldn’t betray my annoyance. To me, r&b and pop son la misma mierda because historically, the r&b charts were created so that black artists wouldn’t take over the pop charts. It’s like this: when popular music as we know it developed, it was mostly consumed by the baby boomers, who at that point were teens and were just starting to enjoy the fruits of a more leisurely culture. They had money to spare and they started to consume all these pop records. Well, concerned (or should I say, racist) white folks realized that a lot of the really catchy records were performed by black artists, so they felt all threatened in some imagined sexual panic and decided to make a separate hit chart for black artists–the “rhythm & blues” chart. R&b, then, is an arbitrary category, there’s really no difference when compared to pop music. And the HILARIOUS thing is that even though they kicked all these great black artists into a musical genre ghetto, all the money-grubbin’ industry people decided to take these songs and have white artists cover them and even perform in styles similar to the black artists. Hence, why adults in that era were unnerved about Elvis Presley.

Look at the case of “I’m Into Something Good”! One song, different artists. This song was originally performed by a young black woman named Earl-Jean McCrea (you can hear it here), but shortly after Herman’s Hermits re-recorded the track and hit #1 with it! You can hear the HH version here.

Of course I’m talking about really old artists here, long gone from the pop landscape. I also acknowledge that current r&b and pop are miles away from how they sounded originally. But don’t you wonder why r&b is still seen as “black music” and pop is primarily seen more as “white music”? In my understanding, pop and r&b have the same origins in America: gospel, blues, country, folk. To me, it’s all popular music, as in, music that is for the masses, music that is accessible. Ugh… I’m aware that I didn’t explain this efficiently enough, but I don’t know how to make it clear why I have trouble distinguishing between genres. If only I had the gift of rhetoric…

Ultimately, to avoid confrontation and this longass spiel, I told my coworker that I think Usher is a better dancer, but that I like Justin Timberlake more. But that I’m still mad at him for leaving Janet hanging.


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