Art should be like a pop song

On the relevance of pop music to art

By Daniel Kingery

Art should be like a pop song. Some of the most forward thinking and iconic artists of our times are pop musicians like Kanye West, Daft Punk, Rihanna or Nicki Minaj. The work they create moves millions of people. Any artist should want this.

People have an intimate relationship to pop music. It literally affects their lives, changes their emotional state and how they view the world and has an impact on them for years to come. Certain people or events in their lives will forever be associated with certain songs, and certain songs seem to express exactly their emotional inner states better than they ever could. These pop songs give form and expression to what millions are feeling and simultaneously define these feelings. These expressions are new and unique and universal at the same time. Any artist should strive for this.

The expression found through these pop songs, whether penned by the artist or not, express something highly personal and unique and in this particularity the universal is found. We all love, we all experience loss, doubt, regret, pain, disappointment, triumph and failure. The truer the artist is to the unique personal vision, as with Prince, the more the universal can be found. The more honest the artist, the truer the expression and the more it will resonate.  Bob Dylan was able to literally change society and the world around him through pop music. This was because he had the confidence to pursue his vision and the self-knowledge to make a statement that resonates.

An artist like A$AP Rocky or Rihanna exude personality. They put their entire persona on display for all to see and do so boldly, without fear. People underestimate the courage this takes. These pop stars also understand that the self is not something fixed, untransmutable and ever-lasting. It is a project and a responsibility, a ship to be steered through the night. Any artist should understand this. Bob Dylan had to become Bob Dylan, Rihanna had to become Rihanna. This is something that rock music has left behind, which is why it has lost relevance.

In an interview from 1976, Bowie talked about being a self-created person and discovering things about himself that he did not like and consciously choosing to change them. He didn’t like that he was horribly shy. In order to counter this he forced himself to perform on stage and to simultaneously do outrageous things that would expose him to critique, forcing him out of his shell. These tools are available to anyone. It’s often the artist, and publicly the pop artist, who fully embodies this. This is often misunderstood by many who then make the pop artist their target, attacking their ego or their supposed artificiality.

The idea that you create yourself poses a challenge. It challenges those who are unhappy with themselves to change. You can either accept the world as it is given to you or create the world as you see it. The artistic impulse is to create the world as you see it, to make your interior fantasy an exterior reality.

When Phil Collins sang “Against All Odds” he wasn’t intellectually trying to capture a feeling in order to sell records. He was singing about very real emotions he felt due to his divorce from his first wife, whom he loved and who left him. If his feelings had been false, his music would not have resonated. Just as when Warhol created the iconic images of celebrities, he was driven by the child he had been – sickly and in bed for months with only celebrity magazines and paint-by-numbers books to keep him company. This child spent his days dreaming to be a part of a world that seemed so far away. As an adult he manifested this world for himself. These works, which may seem impersonal and mechanical to some, are actually highly personal and autobiographical. This is the world that the artist creates.

- April, 2014

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