It's no secret that I am not a fan of the contemporary music landscape (see My Thoughts on Today's 'Music'). From both a technical and lyrical standpoint, I feel that many of today's 'artists' just don't cut it. Note: 'many', not 'all'. Of course, taste in music is a subjective matter, and plenty of people listen to and thus endorse the music that is found in your typical Top 40 chart. And to each their own. Whilst I may have an abundance of problems with modern-day pop songs, I do not deny the right of others to listen to such music.
Despite my libertarian views on music taste, there is one reason for liking contemporary pop songs that irritates me. Ask a friend why he/she listens to Kesha or Katy Perry, and I can almost guarantee that one of the reasons, perhaps the first they list, will be "their music is catchy." This begs the question: is catchiness a positive quality to have in a song? I believe it's a double-edged sword. A catchy song can perpetuate an artist's name in the industry. If you write a song that people will *remember*, you are likely to develop a fanbase who will demand new material and stick by your side. People will recognise your song if they hear it playing in a supermarket. You may even have your song featured on Australia's Funniest Home Videos during some montage of cats doing funny things. You will not fade into obscurity anytime soon.
The downside of a catchy song is that it will generally receive excessive radio play, and as we all know, overplay is a sure-fire way of killing the authentic freshness of a once-vibrant song. Also, and this may be a big call, a catchy song is a form of musical propaganda. Some artists are aware that their songs don't contain much artistic merit, so they insert a contagious hook to obscure their flaws. That way, consumers of their music may bypass the horrid lyrics. They may not pick up on some casual pitch problems (Auto-Tune should take care of these, anyway). I believe that such a move dumbs us down as consumers of music, under the assumption that we do not want substance in our music, and that we're only after a "sick beat." The truth is: some people ARE after exactly that, and nothing more. Some do not care for original arrangements and profound, challenging lyrics. That is fair enough, although artists should not assume that everyone is after mindless music that's only good for moving your feet to.
Am I saying that catchy songs are bad songs? Not at all. I just feel that a song shouldn't be worthy of praise because is it 'catchy'. It should be 'catchy' as a result of its good qualities. I happen to love many songs with contagious hooks, but I don't hinge my love of those songs on those hooks alone. A few days ago, I added a Lady Gaga song to my iPod for the first time ever. That song is The Edge of Glory. I like how it builds to a climax, features a nifty saxophone solo by the late Clarence Clemons and exhibits Gaga's vocal talents. Yes, it is catchy, but as a pop hit, it really works, and I feel that Lady Gaga has improved dramatically since coming into prominence. She is now more conscientious about her craft, and has been successful in carving out an image for herself. She also seems genuinely appreciative of her fans. Here is the performance that convinced me that she is talented. Enjoy.