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Covert Racism

8 Nov


Max Martin and Milli Vanilli

20 Feb
I'm here for your idiot money. And idiot blog-visits.

I’m here for your idiot money. And idiot blog-visits.

This post on has been bouncing around on Facebook for the last week or three, pointing out how influential Swedish ‘unknown’ Max Martin has been on the music industry. Everyone has rightly been expressing amazement that behind the scenes this person has been cranking out hit after radio-smashing hit.

It would be easy to complain that his songs are idiotic. Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ is certainly that (do tigers even roar?), but then idiots also have money to spend, and it makes sense to appeal to them. I also personally find writing poetry and song lyrics nearly impossible, to say nothing of catchy tunes, so anyone who can successfully do that year in and year out is deserving of acclaim and he has my sincere respect.

What amazes me more is that it provides just one more window into what the music industry is actually like. I had always assumed that Katy Perry’s breakthrough hit — the one about kissing a girl — was written by her, and it was her on-the-money (idiot-money again, but still) talents that gained her the attention of the music world. In fact, Max wrote her first hit too.

That means that some music exec somewhere is walking around with a shopping list, bringing together all the ingredients for another big hit. ‘Right, so Max has agreed to write the song, I’ll get my usual guys to play the instruments [Does music still have instruments? –ed], I just need someone to have the boobs…’

Every ‘artist’ that we adore is just some made-to-order recipe dreamed up by rich guys at Sony.

This has two interesting spin offs for me:

Firstly, how lame can the Grammys possibly be? We’re giving the industry’s highest honours to people who can’t play instruments and don’t write the songs. We’re giving song-writing awards to people who came up with:

Am I original? (yeah)
Am I the only one? (yeah)
Am I sexual? (yeah)
Am I everything you need?
You better rock your body now

Everybody (yeah)
Rock your body (yeah)
Rock your body right
Backstreet’s back alright (alright)
(yeah, oh, yeah, oh, rock your body)

So everybody, everywhere
Don’t be afraid, don’t have no fear
I’m gonna tell the world, make it understand
As long as there’ll be music we’ll be coming back again

Everybody (yeah) (c’mon get it)
Rock your body (get it)
Rock your body right (rock your body right)
Backstreet’s back

Everybody (rock your body) (yeah)
Rock your body (rock your body) (yeah)
(everbody rock your body)
Everybody (rock your body)
Rock your body right (rock your body)(everybody)
Backstreet’s back alright

It’s like giving Michelin stars to McDonalds or Pulitzers to Twilight fan-fic. Why is there not a Grammy category for best breasts and cutest teenage boy-band boy? That’s what sells records, and sales seems to be the major criterion of quality if the awards are anything to go by.

Secondly, why on earth did anybody ever criticise Milli Vanilli all those years ago? Wikipedia reports thusly:

“The group’s debut album Girl You Know It’s True achieved international success and earned them a Grammy Award for Best New Artist on February 21, 1990… Their success turned to infamy when the Grammy award was withdrawn after LA Times author Chuck Philips revealed that lead vocals on the record were not the voices of Morvan and Pilatus.”

Why the outrage in response? Why is it applauded not to play music, write songs, produce music, plan stage shows, choreograph your own dance routines, or choose your own public persona… as long as you can hold a note (with a little help from Autotune)?

All Milli Vanilli did differently was to outsource the singing to ugly guys — one more step in the recipe.

Either we develop better criteria for defining and rewarding what is art in music, or we give Milli Vanilli back their Grammy and learn to live with the fact that some of our best ‘musicians’ are only ever as musical as a magazine cover.