Friday, December 2, 2011

Pop - U2

Most people think that U2s Pop is a complete failure. With hindsight, and even if the members of the band dislike it, Pop can be seen as a sign of the transformation of music as a result of technological advancement.

Pop is mostly a collection of singles without an identity or underlying theme. Six out of its twelve tracks were released as singles, and at one point the band considered issuing two more singles. This is a premonition of the MP3-ization of music, which pushes bands to think in terms of singles instead of albums.  The Pop Mart Tour,  was also the first time that U2 visited countries which were not visited regularly by mainstream bands such as Mexico. With the growth of piracy and music downloads, places like Latin America or second tier cities in Europe have become recurrent stations in most bands tours, which have to make up for the foregone revenue.

Pop was also a premonition of what rock would become in the 21st century, for better and for worse. The excessive use of samples, the distortion of instruments, and overproduction of songs have become a common feature of  music nowadays. Some people have perfected the Pop model of producing music, like Moby, but most have failed miserably -at least in the eyes of people who think of rock in terms of two guitars, one bass, drums, a singer, and occasionally keyboards.

And this is probably the reason why Pop was and is still considered a failure: people were too used to think of U2 as a classical rebel rock and roll music, and suddenly the band starts experimenting with techno, samplers and pop music. Contrary to what Radiohead do in every album, which is reinventing a different genre every time, U2 did not betray their fans early enough: they soon became identified with "Sunday Bloody Sunday" kind of songs.

One could also argue from an ideological failure that an album asking fans to become members of Amnesty International and Greenpeace in the booklet should not contain songs praising  champagne-bathed pop (Discothèque), idle capitalism (The Playboy Mansion), or that monument to Latin American crony capitalism called Miami.  Usually bands who are in the left side of the political spectrum don't like plastic pop, so it was logical that Pop would alienate most fans. U2 later argued that the entire concept behind the album and Pop Mart Tour was to satirize plastic culture and all that, so the songs should be listened to as an irony. They probably didn't make that up after realizing that Pop was a commercial failure, but nobody in the World got the message except hardcore groupies.

Pop will be vindicated sooner rather than later, if nothing else because it is a prediction of what music has become since the late 1990s. And then Bono will make a lot of money and resell the entire irony and critique to capitalism thing. He has been selling anti-capitalism for at least 20 years, ironically.

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