The Pop Problem

Recently Iggy Azalia cropped up in a discussion I was involved with about sexism. I obviously follow the wrong things and completely missed hearing about this controversial artist. The charge against her was that she was racist because she ridicules rap culture. Having done a little research into this artist I disagree with this charge, I would argue that this is an example of the one of the major drawbacks of pop music. For it is pop music rather than rap music.

I am a strong supporter of freedom of speech and the freedom to pursue want you want to do (this is ‘self’evident’ according the the constitution of the USA). so Iggy Azalia can produce the music she wants to. It seems as though she loves rap culture and wanted to make a living from being a rap star. She has achieved this end, good for her. However, my and indeed popular opinion is that she isn’t very good.

Most artists in the world, I would say are not very good. whether that be they lack talent, haven’t worked hard enough at developing their art or simply only appeal to a narrow audience that doesn’t include me. This isn’t normally a problem as once you have been exposed to the artist, you can decide they are not for you and can ignore them. If an artist doesn’t appeal to enough people, they can either work on continuing to develop their talent, or give up on making a career as an artist. The pop problem is that often pop artists who are not very good, have successful careers and regularly appear in popular media. so even if you decide that they are not for you, you are continually exposed to them through the media, for example on radio plays. This is a shame as people are promoted as artists, when these artists achieve success without the opportunity to truly develop their craft.

Pop music is a special genre of music because many successful acts are not very good. By not very good, I mean that they are not good musically or interesting to the listener. I love pop music, there are many acts that I like, which I admit have very little musical worth. Rather pop appeals beyond music either through their social commentary or the interest created by the phenomenon of their existence. To those of us that like pop music, part of the fun is the fact that many pop acts are annoying. Pop aficionados, such as myself,love to discuss why rubbish acts are popular. Whilst rap music isn’t one of my favourite genres, I do like some of it. I have enjoyed hearing Azealia Bank’s work, I think it’s really good. So, here is an example of a good artist not being as successful as a poor artist. This irritation is, to me, a fundamental part of pops appeal. It is what the less music obsessed public contribute to artists success, that doesn’t occur to the same extent in other musical genres. An alternative title for this piece could have been ‘ Azalea & Azaelia’. Listen and compare yourself:

Iggy Azalea vs Azaelea Banks [Warning: Naughty language]

I would suggest that there are positives brought about by Iggy Azaelia’s success: An example of someone committing to pursuing there dream and achieving success. Exposing rap music and perhaps other musical genres with origins in black culture to a new audience. Providing a subject for the discussion of race in society as a means of combating racism or discussions of the rap genre in general..

Are there negatives? Is there a case that Iggy Azaelia’s career is promoting racism? It is perhaps an example of the tyranny and oppression of the predominant culture. Racism stems from oppression of black people by white people. while great strides have been made against racism, it continues to exist, so people should be careful not to act to fan the flames of racism. As such it is hard to imagine a black woman breaking into a musical genre of white origin unless they were exceptionally talented, whereas a pretty blonde Australian lady can be successful without being very good. It is this fact that is the most uncomfortable factor concerning this artist.

I have argued that the blame for the pop problem does not stem from the artist. The problem comes from the record industry and the popular media for promoting such artists, but they are commercial organisations and if they can see a profit in something they will of course exploit it. This is perhaps particularly pertinent in rap music, which has origins in a way for young musicians to escape from impoverished lives in the ghettos of Los Angeles and New York, indeed the nature of the genre is to lyrically explore ghetto culture, a large part of the music is the wittiness of the lyrics and everybody appreciates clever humour.

It is the success of rap music in becoming a global phenomenon. such that rap has entered popular culture. Often such artists can be viewed as presenting parodies of rap music. For example some examples of artists I like: Lady Sovereign and my personal favourites. the Welsh group Goldie Lookin’ Chain.

Such examples indicate that rap music has become popular with white audiences. why has the music of black cultures been so successful with white audiences? Personally, whilst not a huge rap fan, I do love other such genres as reggae, dub, gospel and soukous. To me it is the sense of bass driven rhythms which one can melt into, the music enters your body in a natural way, as well as your mind, in a way that music of white origin doesn’t. The music seems an inherent part of the culture, rather than as a counter culture. White Pop and Rock music is often a music discovered by white people in their teenage years, it is a music of discovery and angst, rather than pure music. Perhaps this is simply because black culture has been oppressed and that effects everyone, whereas white music is only for those who feel apart or rebellious about their own culture.

The case of Iggy Azalea is an interesting one. It is an example of the pop problem and sits more uncomfortably than a typical case of the pop problem because whilst her music in itself is anti-racist, it does exemplify the inherent racism in the popular media. This is galling because there is no individual to focus the blame for this on but rather the culture of the popular media.

i accept the criticism of Iggy Azalea, that she doesn’t write her own music, but rather seeks to be someone who grew up in the black ghettoes of the United States, which she isn’t, so isn’t writing about her real experience.

I believe that in the 21st century, society needs to move on from reporting and promoting things as ‘freak shows’ of people that don’t fit conventional rules, but rather more actively and intelligently comment on the art itself rather than the personalities.


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