time to change the way we view music and the arts

The impossible achieved: Pigeon-holed the “perfect” song


Acceptable music is in the eye, or should I say ear, of the beholder
but, what if “acceptable” has opposing meanings?
(Cit. YourDictionary.com)

How many internet surfers out there have caught a glimpse of the “open letter dialogue” that started between Sinead O’Connor and Miley Cyrus, proceeded to include Amanda Palmer, and now even Sufjan Stevens, over the past couple weeks? The number is probably too many to waste time trying to count and record.

I’m not here to rehash the details of “who said what” in each written account but its clearly not hard to glean from even the briefest of skimmings, that there have been some feathers ruffled and “tough love” type advice given from pretty much all sides. What does reveal itself in the middle of so much lecturing and retorting, is a point that extends past the goings on of Ms. Cyrus, despite how racy those goings on might be.

Once again, the common, everyday functionality of the terrestrial radio has given way to potential for a much bigger conversation:

Between seeing and passing judgement on the actions and songwriting of various musicians, have we as an industry, and as a general consuming public, eroded leeway for the “perfect song” to be anything other than virtually unattainable?
I realize it might seem like I have just jumped to another solar system by neighboring Miley Cyrus next to anything mentioning perfection but this is where things widen.
One of the main sore spots for Cyrus, from a PR perspective, is the controversial tint to many of her publicly observed choices as of late. It is not hard to google her name with words the likes of “lewd,” “racy,” “inappropriate,” “shocking,” “unsettling,” or “breakdown” and find any recent events involving her, only a click or so away. Much of the talk surrounds not her new music but her appearance, talk and physical behavior.
Okay, so let’s call Cyrus overly sexualized and racy for the moment. She is parading around in inappropriate clothes, setting bad examples and making parts of herself public that really should never be seen outside of a bedroom. For shame, yes? Well, yes and maybe no. Perhaps if we’re being fair in the discussion of what makes for appropriate choices in the music business, we need to take in more of the picture and not just laser in on one person who happens to be a current paparazzi magnet.

Bruno Mars, who has churned out both sexually-focused and romantically-sensitive commercial hits, is now watching the unfurling of his newest radio release, “Gorilla,” off his new album, “Unorthodox Jukebox.”

(Note: Explicit lyrics and drug references. Listen at your own discretion.)

  • Cocaine kicker
  • Dirty little lover
  • Give it to me motherf–ker
  • We’ll be f–king like gorillas


This song is hardly what you would call family-friendly and if it were acted out in public or emulated for any kind of choreographed performance, (Not the route Mars chose to take during his performance at the VMAs, thank goodness.) I’m sure more than a handful of eyebrows would be raised and there would be no doubt that some portion of the public would cry outrage over questionable displays, at the very least. That not having been the case though, this song is destined to be pumped through the radio waves until everyone gets sick of it and or inevitably ends up sort of liking it from sheer overexposure, if they aren’t already jamming out in a Bruno Mars fan frenzy.
So, as long as we don’t see any crack or nudity, or hear any controversial words firsthand, thus far:
Sex=good and popular
However, show the looks and actions that are massively written about and played and suddenly:
Oh, but what about when artists use metaphors? Then we’re back to sex being good and popular again. Still, this depends on the metaphor used, doesn’t it?
Daft Punk’s international hit, “Get Lucky” is a great example. The context of the song is all about sex but uses innocuous enough vocabulary to leave it easily open for generally acceptable interpretation not simply held intact via listener age. Even once you know what the metaphors come to mean, you can still enjoy the tune outside of trying to score in the bedroom, if that’s not where you want your mind to be, at any given time. Say “make love,” and while it is a phrase of more discreet decorum than “have sex,” the implicit meaning is one of a singular interpretation.
Now, if you’re a musician, write about sex and there’s a chance you’ll strike radio hit gold. Just don’t show it to us or we’ll ostracize you. Don’t play it too conservative though or you will find you have ventured into the land of “too safe.” Who loves/(ed) to bank in the field of “too safe?” Pick out just about any pop-rock artist marketing to tweens and early teens and you’re set. Swift, early Jonas Brothers, (coincidentally) early Miley Cyrus, early Justin Bieber, One Direction…and the list goes on. Write about relationships with less vernacular risk and you willll probably win over more parents but guess what?
Too safe=corny.
Corny=superficial and/or lacking musical depth and/or annoying
Of course, there are some songs that manage to toss the dart to the board in just the right way so that something one would expect to go right into the “annoying song” trash bin, manages to stay in just enough good graces to be considered both safe and positively received. (usually bailed out by something along the lines of, “It’s so simple it works.” or “Less is more.”) Example? Anna Kendrick’s recent revival of the southern folk tune “Cups (When I’m Gone),” originally conceived in 1931 by A.P. Carter.

Presuming not everyone is going to ‘pull an Anna Kendrick’ (and even if they did, this route can only be taken so many times, and so often, before it loses its charm,) we as a public have taken away another option for long term favor. Artists can’t be racy like they’re racy in their songs but they can’t be safe or they become uninteresting and one-dimensional. This can even lead to being thought of as a sellout because one isn’t writing with sincere vulnerability.
All right, well, what about causes or beliefs? Hm, that might work, except make more than one mention of any particular cause or belief in more than one song per every 5-7 years and an artist could subject themselves to fans believing and gossiping that said artist has moved over to a genre-specific niche. Politics, religion, and social justice come to mind for these kinds of situations.
Specific cause or belief=You’re in THAT genre 24/7 now
If you are a songwriter and have made it this far, there’s probably a good amount of frustration or empathy happening right now. What the heck is there left to write about or think, say or do in public on your own time, that won’t leave a character label slapped on your face? Hard to say really. Circling back to Miley Cyrus and her barely/non-clothed antics, one has to stop and wonder if it is really fair…all the finger-pointing, wrist slapping and blog writing that Cyrus had and has coming her way, or the way of any other future artists who enact similar decisions. Do I believe the personal justification that shooting fully nude is Cyrus expressing only vulnerability? (Remember, that thing people want in lieu of too much safe writing?)
If I had to give a single yes or no response now, I would say “No.” Still, that’s not to say that there isn’t some part of Miley Cyrus that might be feeling emotionally disheveled and is displaying said internal disarray through her manner of dress and interview / blog-given words. Frankly, none of us are in her head or with her when she falls asleep at night, so we don’t actually know. All we know and have control over is how we conduct ourselves as consumers and fans.
I just can’t help but think that before going after Cyrus’s public image or any musicians’ “unpleasant” behaviors in the future, the public really ought to take a good long look at, and listen to, the simultaneous pigeon-holing and double standard mandating that is impressed upon musicians, giving a completely cognitively dissonant picture of what we say and how we react, depending on the format in which the “entertainment” is served.
…After all, Bruno Mars’s description of dirty sex is great but, show a nude body while claiming emotional openness and suddenly one needs a support group and serious adult perspective.
Last I checked, there’s nudity when people make love, have sex or f—k.


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