Listen to this track by pure pop singer from Victoria BC with diverse musical interests Nelly Furtado. It’s “Powerless”, a hit single as taken from her 2003 record Folklore. This was the follow up to her 2000 debut Whoa! Nelly , and Furtado had quite a job to do to follow up her ubiquitous “I’m Like A Bird” single, which was an international hit. Like that song, “Powerless (Say What You Want)” was a personal statement to frame the identity of the artist, this time in an even more overt way.
This song was one of three hit singles on Folklore that offers a pan-cultural smorgasbord of sound, matching breakbeats with a sterling contribution by famed banjoist Béla Fleck. This emphasis on diversity and tonal variation on multiple levels was a mandate from the artist who viewed a lot of the pop music on her level at the time as becoming too synthesized and culturally homogeneous.
This isn’t just about the music and how it was made, though. It’s about the subject of identity and about how the mainstream (mis)treats the concept of cultural diversity. Read more
Listen to this track by groove-oriented post-post-punk indie-rock outfit from Glasgow, Franz Ferdinand. It’s “Jacqueline” the opening track to their 2004 Mercury Prize-winning debut record cleverly entitled Franz Ferdinand.
The band took their sound from various sources, particularly from the late-70s and early 80s new wave and disco, with a simple goal in mind; to make records girls can dance to. It’s a good goal when you’re looking to make pop music, sell records, and to bring things back home where pop music that speaks to an audience is concerned.
At the time, the band was a part of a retro movement that drew from this same era, perhaps with similar goals. But, what separated Franz Ferdinand from the crowd was this; they had the songs.
Beyond that, they had something else, too. Read more
Listen to this track by self-professed Material Girl turned duchess of adult-oriented dance pop, Madonna. It’s the William Orbit-abetted track “Drowned World/Substitute For Love” as taken from 1998’s Ray of Light, as close as Madonna ever got to confessional singer-songwriter self-reflection, albeit in an ambient electronic dance milieu. Yet, this song is not without a sizeable portion of melodic gravity. Let those who dismiss her work as lightweight and uninteresting aural confectionary take note.
Madonna started off in the New York dance club subculture, and built herself up with the help of several people on the scene. Even from those early days, she seemingly possessed a savant-like skill for marketing in the video age. As a result, Madonna became what many would consider to be a cultural icon.
Along with that keen eye for the market, she understood well that the pop world is constantly shifting, changing, deking out even the most savvy of artists. As audiences age, and as musical trends morph over the decades, many artists have been left behind. When considering such a position, the smartest artists can read the writing on the wall even before it fully materializes. And they know who to turn to when it does.
By the end of the 90s, such a person to turn to for Madonna was British dance producer/artist William Orbit, who would help Madonna deliver a mid-career masterpiece, with both critical and commercial acclaim. But, even if it is very tempting to look at the resulting album Ray of Light solely as a tactic to stay in the charts, what a song like “Substitute For Love” reveals is that Madonna wanted to close the distance between herself and her audience in more ways than just record sales.