The Top 5 Artists Written Off By "Serious Music Listeners"
Photo by Marc Brubaker
One of the weirdest things to happen in music in 2012 was the revelation that Ke$ha might be, gasp, a talented singer with ambitions beyond brushing her teeth with Jack Daniels. I'm pretty sure when she debuted in 2009, none of us "serious music listeners" appreciated anything about her. I mean, she had a dollar sign in her name in place of an "s" and lyrics about waking up in the morning and feeling like P Diddy, over trashy pop beats.
But then she started working with the Flaming Lips. Late last month, Ke$ha debuted a "Dirty Love" featuring Iggy Pop, a track from her new album Warrior. And in recent interviews, like this one with The New York Times, it is quickly becoming apparent that she's not just some vapid pop star: She's well-spoken and intelligent, she's in on the joke about her own music, and she's moving into more seriously well-written songs.
So we were wrong. We've been wrong before. Actually, we've been wrong a lot about who is and isn't a "real musician" by our arbitrary standards as "audiophiles." We've senselessly written off a good deal of artists in the past out of ignorance of anything other than their hits or forgetting that they are real people who may not be as awful as we think.
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It's surprising how many people I know who consider themselves real music nerds but only associate Chumbawumba with the obnoxious "Tubthumping." But Chumbawumba really deserve a critical reappraisal in the wake of their demise earlier this year.
Despite their funny name, Chumbawumba was throughout their career a serious anarchist punk band who not only wrote witty and insightful political commentary but also displayed some incredible musical diversity.
As absolutely baffling as this may seem to us now, Radiohead was considered nothing more than your average post-grunge emotional-radio-rock band, back when "Creep" was their only hit single. In fact, they were criticized for being "Nirvana-lite," among other things, by professional critics (and Beavis and Butt-head).
One can understand why. If you were a serious grunge listener at the time and heard "Creep" -- with its emotional vulnerability, vague Smiths influence, and Thom Yorke's lilting falsetto -- you'd probably guess this was a watered-down version of your favorite music, too. But these guys had something far more serious going on their heads that fans would only catch onto years later... after booing them off the stage while they opened for more popular acts like R.E.M..
In recent years, some have come around to the brilliance of Phil Collins' and Peter Gabriel's solo work and early, progressive Genesis. Even Fever Ray has said Collins is a huge influence on her music. That being said, thanks to the band's '80s work, the collective members of Genesis alienated themselves from the "serious music listener" big-time. Even today, "Sussudio" is a punchline to many music nerds and indie-rockers, especially those who have seen American Psycho.
But Genesis was always a band made up of amazingly talented songwriters and musicians. Yes, their early work, which eschewed the pop format, is more "creditable" (depending on your tastes), but even their pop works deserve some re-evaluation. They set the stage for many of today's biggest indie-rock artists, who draw heavily from their synth-laden, atmospheric sounds and sometimes-cerebral lyrical content. Even when Genesis went purely pop, the instrumentals were often crazy technical to anyone who understands music theory.
2. Mr. Big
OK, just for clarity's sake here, I don't like Mr. Big. They were and are a bad hair-metal band. That being said, though, one thing we all need to realize is that, against all odds, this is a collection of some of the most talented musicians on the planet. As insanely confusing as it is that one of the greatest guitar players in the world could produce cheesy ballads like theirs, it is also true that Paul Gilbert can play guitar like nobody's business.
But don't discredit the rest of the band, either. Billy Sheehan is widely known as one of the greatest rock bassists of all time as well, and regularly shows off his skills in other bands. So while you can thumb your nose at Mr. Big all you want as a pretentious music listener, if you look deeper, you can't deny: these guys are the real deal.
1. Justin Timberlake
Wow, did we ever get this one wrong. These days, I think everyone is pretty much used to JT being a legitimate artist (and on that note, we all just wish he would make a new album). But who could have believe that during his *NSYNC days? Even when he came out with "Cry Me a River," it seemed simply like a logical progression, not an artistic leap.
Then with FutureSex/LoveSounds it suddenly became abundantly clear that we were dealing with someone on a different level of pop mastery. Not only is it the perfect dance-pop album, but it features some real thinking man's songwriting. The album stands today as a classic of the last decade, and even your biggest hipster will admit they like it.