05 June 2008

Official Pop: A Quick And Very Dirty Definition

OK, you ask, what do I mean by "Official Pop"???

Well, I mean a kind of popular music, whether rock 'n' roll, what have you, that is both musically and politically un-threatening to a given political regime, and, if anything, upholds the values and standards of that regime, of whatever political stripe it may be.

For example, the body of musical works by East German groups of the 1960's, '70's and '80's like Oktoberklub, whose sound combines the folk rhythms of The Weavers with light choral pop musical ones practised by their roughly contemporary Western counter-parts like Up With People, or artists like Dean Reed, an expatriate American rock 'n' roller, who found far greater fame and fortune, first in Chile and Argentina in the 1960's, Italy in the early '70's, and, from the mid-'70's until his death in 1985, in East Germany and the Soviet Union, are a couple of examples of official pop from the old socialist bloc.

In the West, there are also tunes composed for the Movimento Nacional de la Falange Espanola y de las Jons, generally known as the Falange, that used light rock and pop rhythms in some of the songs intended for use by the Falange's youth wing, and, in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea, there has been, at least since Kim Il Sung's death in 1994, a kind of North Korean pop music, one description of which I've read on-line states that it's like South Korean pop music circa the 1970's or '80's.

I haven't really heard anything of South Korean pop music from that era, but it does sound at least a little like some of the Taiwanese pop music I heard when I listened to the Voice of Free China shortwave broadcasting station on my shortwave radio back in the 1980's, generally slow, soft, and almost sickeningly sweet in musical colours and tones.

However, the Taiwanese pop tunes I heard on the VOFC were a-political, which is one of the big differences between pop music produced under an authoritarian or totalitarian regime and official pop, in my book.

Official pop is political, no bones about it, and its musical and lyrical contents are designed to achieve a political purpose, whether it's shoring up support for a given country's governing classes and policies or attacking the enemies, foreign or domestic, of those.

Love songs, what have you, may exist in official pop, but, at least in the few examples of official pop from East Germany, North Korea, the Soviet Union and Franco's Spain that I've heard, politics comes front and centre, and that's that.

Protest tunes, like Bob Dylan's "Masters Of War", from other cultures are used by the governing party and its cultural apparatus to not only take a quick poke at its opponents, like the American government, but as a means, at least in the old socialist bloc, of affirming "socialist internationalism" and similar values upheld by the regime in question as well.

Official pop, at least in my definition, is also a product of the 1960's and later, when regimes of various stripes around the world found themselves having to cope with the influx and impact of British and American rock 'n' roll and other forms of popular music on their nations' young people, whether overtly or clandestinely, via tapes smuggled in from the West or from listening to Western radio broadcasts.

It was, and is, a means of taking the energy and rhythms of rock 'n' roll and other similar forms of popular music, and trying to harness and tame it, both musically and politically, into something that will serve a regime's political, ideological and social needs, while supposedly satisfying the wants and needs of a given country's youth for energy and excitement.

Sometimes, it is successful, as in the case of Dean Reed, who introduced rock 'n' roll, albeit a form of it that pleased the Soviet, East German and other Eastern European governing classes. Other times, it isn't.

Either way, the main reason for its artistic failure is that, in taming down and using rock 'n' roll and similar kinds of pop music to suit a party's or regime's needs, it takes much of the vitality out of it.

In my view, rock 'n' roll, punk(especially punk!!!), reggae, and other forms of pop music like those are essentially rebellious and oppositional(sorry to use that bit of academic duck-speak!!)to establishment values in whatever part of the world the musicians playing them may come.

Official pop, of whatever origin or form, is designed and used for precisely the opposite purpose by a country's establishment. But, in doing that, its users have bled out the energy that comes from rebellion found in many forms of popular music, and replaced it with a kind of tinned copy of that energy, but one that's greatly diminished.

In fact, I would dare say that official pop tunes don't generally even have the same kind of energy or power that a political party's or regime's old marching and other tunes have, because at least those tunes have a certain rousing quality that official pop generally lacks.

Well, that's my quick and dirty definition of official pop, and aren't you sorry you read this????

Whether you are or not, please go do something else more constructive, or at least a bit more fun, whether on- or off-line.

Until next time, be seeing you.

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