A while ago I wrote a piece in defence of pop music and in the conclusion for that article I mentioned the concept of ‘rock sincerity’. This is what I wish to rant to you about this fine day my friends.
‘Sincerity’ is a termed that is bandied about a lot when it comes to music and I often have to stop and wonder what people actually mean when they use the word. Does it mean the band truly believe in what they are singing about? Does it mean that band comes across as truly believing in what they are singing about? Or does it simply mean that the band are ‘true’ to the ethos of rock music?
Well, the first two are basically the same thing in my mind. If you listen to a record without any extra research into the band and they sound like they’re honest about things, then for you they are. Contrariwise, if they sound a bit naff then you tend not to believe them.
This really is a moot point, however, because the real question here is does it even matter if a band sounds sincere? For example, if you listen to Elvis crooning sweet nothings at you and it really does come across as real what difference does it make? You know full well that Elvis is dead and not, in fact, in love with you no matter how convincing he sounds. But, if you listen to a punk band raging against the status quo and it just sounds like they’re going through the motions of what you have to do to be a punk band, well then it does seem to matter. What is the difference here? Well the first instance is an example of sincerity of showmanship (that is dedication to the task at hand i.e. making you feel loved) and the second is an example of sincerity of belief.
Sincerity of belief, for me, is a very important thing when it comes to popular music, so it is imperative that I explain what I mean by it.
What I mean is that if a band or an artist is positing an opinion or a position on some or other matter then they should believe one hundred percent in that opinion or position. For example, Billy Bragg singing about workers’ rights and trade unionism is sincere in that Bragg truly believes in these premises, however, if Margaret Thatcher were to have sung the same songs they would be incredibly insincere (or at least lousy with irony).
Why is this is important you may ask? And the answer is simply that music can change a life. In the sixties musicians told people to drop out from capitalism and they did, in the seventies punks told people to spit at the feet of authority and they did, and in the nineties musicians told the people to never mind and the people didn’t care. So if a musician tells me to do something I believe that it is incredibly important for them to actually believe that to be the right thing to do. Otherwise I’m simply being used as a pawn or a dupe.
Now, the reason for this article today is to flesh out my argument about why it is stupid to dismiss ‘pop’ music, so I should explain how my arguments are related.
They are related because a great deal of people who choose to ignorantly dismiss pop music as worthless do so by quipping that it is insincere. How they choose to define insincerity I do not know, but using my definition I would say that this is not the case.
For instance, Lady Gaga sings about queer rights a great deal and it can be seen in her behaviour outside of the music arena that this is an issue that she cares about a great deal, so how can one argue that a song like Born This Way is insincere?
I will grant that the case of Lady Gaga is atypical. Most pop artists don’t partake in this kind of politics, but is that to say that they are insincere? I would say that it is not. I mean, it’s not insincere of a pop artist to make a song that isn’t actually about any hard hitting issue. It’s perfectly acceptable for musicians to just make music that is fun a people want to hear. If that’s all they’re trying to do and they’re upfront about that then what’s the problem? In my opinion that’s every bit as sincere as a Billy Bragg union chant.
So, to conclude, I shall say that sincerity in music is of the utmost importance. Artists should believe in what they are doing be that changing the world or just having some fun. I will also say that music doesn’t have to change the world – it’s fine to just make some tasty beats and dance all night long. But, if you are trying to change the world, make sure you know what you’re doing.