In 1989 after 14 years of listening to Nessan Dorma, Panis Angelicus and Beethoven’s fifth (always on our way to our summer caravan in Wales), I came out of the pop closet when I bought my first single Pink Sunshine by the all girl band Fuzzbox. It made me feel happy and ~ well ~ fuzzy. But it didn’t stop me from being a music snob.
Fast forward to 2000. I was still listening to pop music, still ashamed of my taste when I met my boyfriend and the father-to-be of my children. A pop songwriter, double platinum accredited Swedish aficionado of pop music. We fell in love to the soundtrack of Music & Lyrics and gloried in the cheesiness of the Wham! parody. Finally someone with whom I could share my passion for pop.
Did that stop me from lowering my voice and clearing my throat awkwardly when I announced his profession?
It did not.
But when you live with a pop song writer you are forced to admit that your Mum might have been wrong about Radio 1 (it’s not just the cleaner who listens to it). And so my own music snobbery (along with every other sort of snobbery in my life) has been an attempt to fit in with my world. An attempt to fit in with an elite group of people who dismiss ‘formulaic’ music because it apparently required ‘no talent’ to produce it and ‘no discernment’ to understand it. Which meant that I dismissed being happy, for being accepted.
Discovering another culture is more than eating the food and watching the films. It’s observing, analyzing, questioning and understanding why things are the way they are. Moving to Sweden has taught me so many lessons. Sweden respects and cultivates their pop artists – they even have a much-lauded public music education program. And it’s obvious from the sheer volume of international success stories that this level of respect is fantastic for producing pop that makes people happy.
‘Do you want to be famous?’ I asked him once.
‘Sure. But I want that kind of fame where people know my name, but I can walk down the street unrecognized. Like Max Martin.’
What he means is that he doesn’t want to be famous for celebrity’s sake. I love that about him.
And so my boyfriend walks down the street ~ unrecognized ~ pushing the pram with our kids in it and humming a tune. I say to him
‘Catchy. Where’s that from?’
‘My head.’ he grins cheekily, winking at me. ‘I need to get back and compose.’
From the beginning of a tune, to composing the topline, recording vocals and backing vocals, producing the demo and then ‘bouncing’ it (which I don’t quite get yet) my boyfriend does it all from his tiny studio next door to our house. He is particularly skilled at apparently effortlessly imitating particular styles…songs in the style of Blue, in the style of Justin Timberlake, in the style of Lily Allen.
His talent has been reinforced by the lifelong study and composition of pop music in all its forms (or at least nearly lifelong after a brief spell as a fairly famous singer in a punk band). We share a Spotify account where he listens to all the latest albums from Cher Lloyd and Alphaville to Robyn and La Roux. He doesn’t listen to the one famous song (like me), instead he studies the arc and narrative intended by the album. If he likes an artist, he’ll listen to every album they’ve ever done to get a feel for their evolution and influences.He’ll pick up his guitar to figure out chords he finds interesting and record demos (and sometimes even covers just for the sheer love of it) with session singers home and abroad, over Skype and in real life.
I’ve heard the ‘po-po-po-po-po’ of him recording backing vocals in our kitchen, artfully avoiding the ping of the oven timer, to integrate them into what seemed an already perfect song, pushing it to an even higher level. His music is his voice. It’s the perfection of his self-expression. He’s travelled the world to songwriting camps to write with others as passionate as him. He’s written with his friend down the road whose daughter is in the same class as ours.
He can produce a cool backing track with a few carefully chosen buttons in Logic pro and pull 5 top lines out of his head in mere minutes, crafting them out on his keyboard which stands next to his desk. The time taken is a hallmark of how much work he’s put into his trade in the last 30 years.
My boyfriend loves Marc Anthony, a man with a heart as big as his own. He loves cheesy pop music because it sings a lot about love, love lost and sex. He’s written songs which make me weep. He’s written songs which have me up and dancing in the living room without the aid of alcohol. He’s written songs which persuade me to jump into bed with him. Right here. Right now.
To tell me that my boyfriend does not possess talent and skill because his creative output is mainstream pop is absolute rubbish. His music speaks volumes. But not unfortunately to music snobs.
‘Why pop music?’ I asked. ‘Didn’t they hate you for defecting from the punk scene?’
‘Yes.’ he said. ‘But I don’t regret it. Pop music makes people happy. And if my music makes at least one person happy, then it’s done its job.’
Written & Produced with the ‘guy down the road whose daughter is in the same class as ours’… turn up the volume.