In writing the movie “Dr. Strangelove”, Stanley Kubrick and his co-writers faced a problem. They had set out to write a serious movie about the dangers of nuclear proliferation, but every time they talked about the characters and their interactions they began to laugh – hysterically. There was nothing inherently funny about mushroom clouds, war rooms, bomb shelters or apocalyptic wastelands, but the notion of creating weapons that could wipe out all human life on earth for the sake of ‘security’ was so ridiculous that it was hilarious. Sometimes comedy gives us the distance that we need to comprehend the true horror of a predicament, which brings me to the state of popular music.
I’ll admit at the outset that I’m not the target audience for most popular music, so I don’t expect to like it, but it doesn’t necessarily have to suck. I’ve been wondering for a while, when or if there were some Rubicon: a kind of point of no return for popular music that made it either very relevant or completely meaningless. In other eras this has involved the introduction of musicians from another country perhaps; or the creation of some new music form; or the complete re-imagining and assimilation of an old, perhaps relatively obscure genre into the mainstream. Those are possibilities, but there is also the possibility that popular music continue a kind of race to the bottom, seducing and abandoning successive generations of young folks, leaving each wishing they could resurrect artists that used to suck, but didn’t suck quite like the present artists suck.
Another possibility, altogether different but more interesting, is that system correct itself by a kind of mutually assured destruction (MAD) like the systems in Dr. Strangelove. Rather than continue the downward spiral or introduce new innovations, the system might introduce a variable or variables that cause it to self-destruct. What if there were artists that were both horrible – unquestionably horrible – but awesome? What if there were artists that were terrible singers, dancers, writers, producers, arrangers, etc. but managed to still be twice as good as the average pop artist? Well the hypothetical is becoming very real and two artists have become the embodiment of this very idea: Ice JJ Fish and Sean Fury.
Ice JJ Fish’s smash single ‘On the Floor’ is not just a song. Its a mission statement. He is not merely a lover or fighter like many R&B artists. No. Ice JJ Fish is a man of action and ‘On the Floor’ is a song about being a doer. Brilliantly he incorporates this theme into his choreography. He pushes against the imaginary walls like a preying mantis mime, refusing to be limited by petty concerns like talent or vocal range. The object of his desire must be won. And without the trappings of other supposedly better artists – six pack abs, lamborghinis, backup dancers with six pack abs and lamborghinis – Ice JJ gets the girl. By the end she’s doing his dance.
While Ice JJ is a man of action, Sean Fury is an artist of vision. His songs blur the lines of genre, copyright and time period while exploring love, pain, and society. His videos must be seen to be truly appreciated. He addresses his critics directly in songs like ‘They Keep Talking’, where he projects the words of his detractors on the screen for all to see while fighting them off with the force of his dance. He channels the plight of the homeless, while delivering a method acting tour de force, in his video for ‘The World Cries for Love’. And, in perhaps his most compelling ballad ‘Bi-Racial Girl’, he sings the story of a bi-racial girl whom he has chosen as both the object of his affection and his stewardship. Fury counsels her about the struggles of living in a world that demands she choose, while also advising her of the wisdom of ‘choosing’ him.
There are more of course. Artists working diligently and refusing to wait on the system – the same system that gave us J.Lo or The Dream – to validate them. These artists do one thing and one thing extremely well: they entertain. Post-music music is the antidote to so much of the bullshit out here masquerading as artistry. Embrace it.