“I think American popular music has been a genuine wonder of the world, one of the most consequential cultural phenomena of the past century,” writes Michael Potemra, glancing nervously at the door. If he hadn’t written a jingoistic topic sentence, colleagues would have called him Norman Thomas. How these colleagues will react to a piece about Potemra’s attending a Zayn Malik show depends on the frequency with which they check NRO on Sundays. But let us thank the late William F. Buckley, Jr. for bequeathing his discipline and intellectual rigor to conservative fans of pop culture born when Harry Truman was selling out Red China.
It is hard not to sound orotund in making this assertion, but based on what I heard today, the state . . . of American pop . . . is sound. Most of the music was upbeat and catchy, and there was a heavy emphasis on anthems of empowerment.
Potemra is too worried about sounding orotund to remember “What a Feelin’,” “Hey Jude,” Curtis Mayfield, Sly and the Family Stone, and Al Green.
The very pleasant, and rather unanimous, audience response may be typical for pop, I don’t actually know. Almost all my experience of popular-music concerts (i.e., not classical, jazz, or “world”) comes from the rock end of the pop–rock continuum; I think the closest I came to a “pop”-concert experience was a Madonna performance at Madison Square Garden about a decade ago. I’d say that while I generally prefer listening to rock than to straight-out pop, I prefer the sweet-natured and demonstrative pop audience I interacted with today to the too-cool-for-school folks I tend to encounter at rock concerts.
Unlike colleagues, Potemra isn’t cynical; he genuinely sounds like he wants to understand a culture as alien to him as blue jeans are to George Will or honesty is to Charles Krauthammer. He also distrusts Iggy Azalea, a damn fine thing. The homogeneity of the audience bothers him. But the scare quotes, buddy? Talk about too cool for school. And when later he praises Meghan Trainor’s “delightful anthem for female curviness” I died of gross.
And what of poor Zayn?
(…His songs were fine, but I think there was some “heartthrob” effect at work in the response. I don’t deny that he’s a handsome chap, but his work didn’t make me mark him as someone whose recordings I should seek out. Yes, I recognize that this is exactly the sort of thing that will be quoted back at me in the future if this guy becomes the Elvis or Sinatra of the 2020s.)
We’ll “soon see.” We’ll also learn whether grown men use “chap” in print.
(h/t Ned Raggett)