- pop music
- non-fiction about the pop industry
- guide tracks
Being American, the book largely overlooks the UK pop scene, which I think is a mistake -- the Swedish song factories that made Britney Spears famous refined their art in the UK, and StarGate, for example, who are currently massive, started out with acts like S Club 7, Samantha Mamba and Billie Piper.
Overlooking the UK seems to me to be especially a mistake because there is a chapter on K-pop, which also embraced the Swedish machine. Don't laugh, there are pretty striking similarities in production between Billie's "Something Deep Inside" and Girls' Generation's "The Boys".
Anyway, I find it really interesting that many songs are written with no particular artist -- or even language -- in mind, and it might get shopped around to a variety of artists before it gets made. (Or, sometimes, it's written with one artist in mind, but they pass on it -- "...Baby One More Time" was written for TLC, who rejected it, so it went to Britney. Some years later, Britney turned down a little ditty called "Telephone", so its lyricist claimed it back or herself.)
A (sort of) more obscure example:
A quintet of Swedes wrote a track now known as "Genie", or, sometimes, "Tell Me Your Wish (Genie)", depending whether you're looking at the Korean or Japanese version. It was shopped around in various countries, and eventually purchased for Girls Generation. New lyrics were added. It was released in 2010 to considerable success.
But in 2009, Uzbek artist Dineyra had recorded it herself. Her producers didn't secure the rights, so there were legal kerfuffles when "Genie" came out. As usual when you go up against the Korean pop industry, she came off second-best.
And just before the Girls Generation version was released, a Dutch artist named Nathalie Makhoma released a version with the original English lyrics.
And finally, a UK hip hop artist named CJ Lewis released a track called "Genie" which heavily samples the track, and -- instead of the English lyrics -- translates the Korean back to English. And so we come full circle.
This is all particularly interesting to read on the same day that Beyoncé releases a new song -- because, while she presumably uses the services of song factories, her process is much more opaque, and she is far more likely to make significant changes from the creators' versions. (Especially since she ran into problems when it turned out the writers of "Halo" had written a remarkably similar song for ... Kelly Clarkson? Someone of that ilk.)
Meanwhile, in the Anglosphere, the current fashion is for singer-songwriters, so there's a certain amount of controversy over the use of song factories -- especially because the factories mostly employ men, who literally put words in the mouths of female artists. (Women in the business of songwriting tend to either have been successful performers themselves, eg Linda Perry, or go on to become successful performers, eg Jessie J, Lady Gaga. Sia's an odd case, having been a successful alternative performer before becoming accidentally successful as a pop writer. And Carole King was an unsuccessful performer who became a major songwriter, and then became a successful performer.)
IN SHORT -- because my dinner is getting cold -- there are a lot of interesting and meaty issues underlying the current state of pop music construction, but since the things I love include everything on the list above, this book speaks to me.