4 Ways Rock Stars and Teen Pop Stars Are Exactly the Same
Teen schlock pop is everywhere. Look in one direction, and there's, well, One Direction, eager to let you know you're beautiful even if you don't want them to. Turn around and there's Justin Bieber, threatening you with a baseball cap that's still not quite big enough to contain his stupid ego.
And it's still not the dumbest thing he's ever worn.
Why is he famous? Where are the real rock stars? The bands I grew up listening to would never do any of this Disney Channel bullshit, right?
"They're Making Fake Personas to Sell Records!"
We all know the drill by now: Kids get signed and are immediately forced to change their clothes, hair, face, and attitude to conform to some bullshit standard that nobody in the real world resembles in the least. Not like rock! What you see on stage is who they are inside, right?
Let's take a look at Black Sabbath.
Hey. HEY! I'm talking to you, Sabbath.
See, all that spooky Satan shit was carefully crafted by the band so that all those dollar signs in their heads could finally become reality. This is a group that started life as the Polka Tuck Blues Band. Spooky, right? They even had a saxophone player, because the devil loves him some funky brass. Sadly, no recordings exist of ol' Polka Tuck, so we don't know if they were truly polka. They sure as fuck weren't forefathering any doom metal, though.
"Lucifer seems less interested in doing the schottische then we thought he'd be."
After a while, they realized that people love scary stuff, like horror movies and haunted houses. So they followed suit, wrote songs about hell and death, and never looked back. They're not dark and evil; when it turned out the polka game wasn't a seller's market, they found a large, untapped demographic that was and marketed themselves to it. Just like any good business would.
Speaking of business, how about that KISS (and how about that segue?). It's common knowledge that Gene Simmons is a money-hungry walking ego trip, but we forget that it's not just him, and it's always been that way. KISS is 100 percent about taking your money, and nothing else. That's why they randomly made disco music, that's why they all released solo albums with a bunch of outtakes they rejected until figuring out how to sell them, and that's why they're still around 13 years after I attended their farewell tour.
He said my cheers would be on the album. I'm still waiting.
The list goes on. Elvis wasn't a heartbreaking womanizer because it made him happy. No, he was a heartbreaking womanizer because his manager told him to be one. Elvis claimed to have about 25 girlfriends because that fit the image his label wanted to portray.
Kid Rock? His God, guns, and wifebeaters schtick only came after a decade of high tops and make-believe pimping. Only once he realized that he could become filthy rich by becoming an all-American redneck did he give one rip about the market.
Early mornin' stoned migraine sufferer.
And then there are the ultimate rock gods, Led Zeppelin. These guys were the definition of rock outrageousness, right? Sure, but only because it was in the job description. Robert Plant bared his chest and acted preeny and prissy simply because it sold tickets.
Sporting a tiny black strap was what he considered "covering up."
Today, he keeps his shirt on and sings bluegrass duets with Alison Krauss. Why? Because he hates the rock god bullshit, and disowned it soon after Zep split. As he said in 1994:
"I can't take my whole persona back then very seriously ... it's not some great work of beauty and love to be a rock-and-roll singer. I got a few moves from Elvis and ... Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin' Wolf and threw them together. It's so painfully obvious where it came from. It was a tired move in the first place, really."
Damn. At least Bieber seems to enjoy himself while jumping around and baby ooh-ing.
"They're All a Buncha Spoiled Primadonnas"
On one level, we know that rock stars are assholes, and in some cases even accept it. The difference here is the vitriol that pop stars get when they act like pieces of shit. Bieber gets drunk and pees in a bucket, and people angrily scold him like he's an insolent child who needs to stick some soap in his mouth and respect his elders. Miley Cyrus shaves half her hair, starts twerking (the clumsy-white-girl version, anyway), shows a ton of skin, smokes synthetic weed, and is damned for being a pompous little idiot who needs to be grounded until she stops pretending to be Nicki Minaj.
"Why can't she go back to pretending to be Debbie Gibson, like the good old days?"
So what happens when rock stars pull some shit? They may get some heat in the moment, but then it's basically forgotten about. Because it's less being a piece of shit and more just "being a rock star." Because they're "real," they've somehow earned the right to be naughty.
Axl Rose has a second career as "Professional Late-to-Show Dude," regularly making fans sit on their duffs for hours on end before he deigns to jam for 45 minutes (or until he gets bored, whichever comes first). The fans are certainly pissed for a little while, but does this affect Guns 'n Roses' reputation as one of the best bands of the '80s? Judging by the airplay they still get, and how people still go to their shows despite a virtual guarantee that they'll be staring at an empty stage for six hours, the answer is emphatically no.
"When the PA man plays a Judas Priest album to help pass the time, it's gonna be AWESOME!"
Scott Weiland's never-ending saga of drugs and moodiness, which has cost him jobs with both Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, is similarly accepted. Fans may want Weiland to get help, but they sure as fuck don't treat him like a bratty kid who needs a trip to the woodshed. He's treated like the adult he clearly is not, simply because he wrote "Sex Type Thing."
Oasis' Gallagher brothers? Their endless sibling rivalry has all but torn their family apart, and the cause seems to be petty jealousy (the singer rarely wrote, and the writer rarely sang, and both wished they could be the other). This is literally two grown men acting like children, and they rarely get called out on it. If anything, we just roll our eyes, laugh about it, and move on, because "Wonderwall" was awesome, and Liam can wail like a motherfucker when he's not wailing like a motherfucking 5-year-old.
"You're my wonderWAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"
The point here is, tons of legendary rock stars act like assholes, far more so than your typical pop act. But because they're seen as "cool," they get free passes. Good to know.
"They Aren't Even Saying Anything in Their Lyrics!"
The lyrics to your typical pop song get lambasted from all four corners of the Earth for being vapid and useless. Just another love song about a girl, or a boy, or maybe a rat, because that's just what we need. Have we truly run out of things to say? What happened to the true musical poets, the guys who could craft meaningful words that make you think while you're rocking out?
"Y'know, things that start with earthquakes really ARE great. Life makes sense now!"
Well, guess what? Those barely exist. For every Public Enemy or Rage Against the Machine, there's a guy like Beck, who's supposedly surreal lyrics are often nothing more than pure gibberish, done on the first take. "Slab of turkey neck, and it's hangin' from a pigeon wing" is not some Riddler-esque enigma; it's Beck vomiting words into the microphone and calling it a day.
Also, for every epic Bob Dylan song, there are 10 more bullshit Bob Dylan songs. "Blowin' in the Wind" may have defined a generation, but the second he starts getting vague on your ass, you can bet he's blowin' smoke up it.
Either that or just plain blowing smoke.
Usually, what you think is an incredibly obscure reference is just a bit of word salad, or an exercise in alliteration, or simply something made up because, to him, art is only true art when it's utterly meaningless. Sounds like pretty much everybody on Radio Disney, right?
Speaking of that, the Beatles pretty much overdosed on useless lyrics, even after abandoning their cutesy suits and mop tops (which, as long as we're talking fakeness, they were forced into wearing by their manager). "I Am the Walrus," "Glass Onion," "Strawberry Fields," and the like were nothing more than pure boloney, written to troll people who thought their other songs had actual meaning beyond "Yesterday, all my bills seemed so hard to pay / Now the debt collector's gone away / Oh, being rich is A-OK."
Tell Weird Al he can finish my song. For a price.
It's not a new problem. Justin Bieber singing "My first time broke my heart for the first time and I was like 'Baby'" is not any more egregious or less shallow than Paul McCartney singing "She was just 17 / You know what I mean."
"And They Don't Even Write Their Own Shitty Music!"
Some people don't write their own stuff, even lyrics. And few aspects of teeny-tweeny pop spin anger wheels faster than that. After all, what kind of useless phony simply recites shit written by somebody else?
Well played, Google. Well played.
Ever since Buddy Holly popularized the idea, fans of "real" music have demanded that pop singers write their own stuff to show us that they truly care about their art. If they don't, they're damned for ruining music forever, or at least until someone else comes along and ruins music forever.
But in a lot of cases, the Selena Gomezes (Gomez's? Gollums?) of the world actually write more than your favorite rock gods, many of whom contribute precisely dick to the creative process. Got examples if you want 'em!
Alice in Chains' original singer, Layne Staley, was lauded for his pained, soulful talk of drug addiction and demon battling. Problem is, he was too busy battling said demons to write the tales he told. His guitarist, Jerry Cantrell, did that for him, while writing most of the music as well. Staley wrote a bit more later on, but still not nearly as much as Cantrell. Thus, when it came time to reboot the band with a new singer, they simply had Cantrell write everything again, and the band barely missed a beat.
"We didn't actually hire him; we hired his sweet-ass 'fro, and the body came along for the ride."
How about the original rocker, Elvis? Yes, I poked at him earlier, but it turns out I wasn't done. The King wasn't much of a songwriter. In fact, the future King of England, the one born just a little while ago, is almost as much a writer as Elvis.
He's probably just as much a pants-shitter, too.
Elvis wrote one song, a forgettable ditty called "You'll Be Gone." Any other songwriting credit was, as the man himself put it, "a big hoax." He'd think of a line or two, and sometimes just a title, like the time he told a friend a dream left him "all shook up." Elvis got credit for "writing" that. Why can't my life be that easy? Instead of banging out 2,500 words to make my point, maybe I'll just submit a title, collect my check, and then go date 25 girls at a time. OK, 20. I won't be greedy.
And then we have Ozzy. The Prince of Darkness, throughout his legendary 40-plus-year career, has written anywhere from squat to less than squat, depending on the year. The other guys in Sabbath handled the brunt of the writing duties while Ozzy went off and did his drugs. Post-Sabbath, a bassist named Bob Daisley became the reason Ozzy has a solo career at all, since he wrote, oh, everything. Turns out Ozzy is greatly influenced by Elvis: suggest a title or a vague concept here, maybe a line or two there, let someone else do the rest, sing the song, get paid, do more drugs.
"It was my idea to wear shit-tons of guyliner, so that's something, right?"
Finally, there's the mighty AC/DC, purveyors of all things rock. Grab a beer, blast some "Hell's Bells," and you've got yourself a party. A big FAKE party, that is. The guy screeching out those lyrics? He doesn't do a damned thing except screech them out. Brian Johnson hasn't written one stinking song since 1990, because he "ran out of words." Apparently, four or five albums of "I like beer and I like girls and VYAAAAAGHAAGHAAGHAAGHAAGHAAGHAWAAAAAAAAAAAAAA" was all his brain could handle.
"I tried EEEEYAHAHAHAHAWOOOORRRRGHHHH once, but it just didn't feel right."
Angus Young and his brother, Not-Angus, write all the band's music and lyrics now. So if you're only into AC/DC for the rocking riffs and solos, then fine. But if you wave devil horns at the funny little man with the old man hat, or at just about anybody I've picked on in this article, you're endorsing a man with less creativity and authenticity than whoever finished sixth on last year's American Idol. You know the guy. Or girl. Either or.
Jason Iannone can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Follow him on all three and he'll send you a fabulous prize! Unless he forgets. Which he probably will.