Great Moments in Bubblegum Pop


patrick said…
not sure about some of your choices--there is no irony in bubblegum...but then again I never much cared about genre, yay I'm off to listen to Tommy Roe

Cinephile said…
Really? I tend to think there's a lot of irony in bubblegum (it's those self-righteous, self-deluded, oh-so-serious folkies and indie rockers you have to look out for-- talk about about no irony or sense of humor), and one of the things I love is how Westerberg, for instance, says "boo" to those self-imposed limitations, and recognizes the sheer pop pleasure of the Monkees song.

Then again, bubblegum is less a form than a state of mind (a very, very chewy one).
Jonathan Lapper said…
Maybe Patrick's being ironic... or maybe not.

I agree that bubblegum, camp, kitsch (whichever term one prefers) all thrive on irony and could not exist without it. Now it's true that early bubblegum, say pre-sixties, was pretty irony-free and it had irony imposed on it years later by phony hipsters desperately seeking out hidden drug references and subversive propaganda where none existed. Just look at Puff the Magic Dragon and despite Peter Yarrow himself repeatedly mocking those who find hidden drug messages ("puff" "drag" "paper")the rumor persists.

However, by the late sixties it was clear that bubblegum was purposely incorporating irony as a tool. Just as Rod Serling could tackle serious social issues under the guise of sci-fi/fantasy with the Twilight Zone that he wouldn't have been able to with straight drama bubblegum culture (which truly took off in the seventies) could incorporate all kinds of bizarre hidden messages or opinions because those who opposed those messages (generally ultra-right conservatives) were/are too dense to see beyond the bubblegum veneer. They take it at face value which is why satire and parody have always been lost on them. Look at the disasterous "1/2 hour News Hour" on Fox to get a good idea of just how mystifying the art of satire and parody is to conservatives. So bubblegum serves the purpose of being many things depending upon the viewers outlook. It can be one thing taken at face value but offer much more when explored further.

Wait a minute, that sounds familiar - "A statement that, when taken in context, may actually mean the opposite of what is written literally; the use of words or images expressing something other than their literal intention."

Where's that quote from again... ah, yes, that would be the Oxford Standard definition of "Irony."

Sounds like bubblegum to me Patrick... start chewing.
Cinephile said…
Yikes! I wouldn't disagree with your take on bb-gum, Jonathan, although I suspect Patrick was being more ironic and less confrontational than you seem to be reading him as. The Rod Serling comparison is interesting, because looking at it now, as groundbreaking as it was, it feels immensely strained-- interesting and valuable to be sure, but with a faint whiff of kitsch.
Jonathan Lapper said…
I did not want to seem confrontational, just analytical. As I said at the beginning, maybe Patrick was being ironic. I just enjoyed breaking down the bubblegum aesthetics, to borrow a phrase. If I appeared confrontational it's probably just the generous amounts of Nyquil and Bourbon I have for lunch every day.
patrick said…
Nearly five hours into my day and I’ve literally eaten nothing but gumballs, so I suppose I can attempt a third post (a new blog record for me). A) being analytical is over-rated and it gives you wrinkles. B) it all depends on how you define bubblegum pop (and I just don’t much care for creating genres, much less subgenres).

My first irony comment was really about the distance of the performer & audience from the material--the detached hipsterism that critiques the music as it is played: i.e. watch me make the audience cringe as they enjoy “Sugar Sugar” (but it’s sooo stupid!). I once saw Jeff Tweedy do this to great effect playing Herman’s Hermits “Something tells me I’m into something good”. The cool kids smiled, Tweedy smirked and most everyone in the club sang along while rolling their eyes at the cool kid next to them as if to say “I can’t believe I’m doing this”. I had fun and certainly got the joke (perhaps joke is too strong of a word)…from “I’d like to salute the ashes of American flags” to “woke up this morning feeling fine”. I dug it and sung along, but that’s really a song I love on its own merits, not out of any sense of nostalgia or need to pat myself on the back for recognizing how naïve the lyrics are.

There is a goofiness to the lyrics that makes sense since they are lyrics that normally accept that songs about girls & boys and dancing & driving are completely valid without any need to drive them into a moment of deep personal or cultural analysis. I’m sure some were written in the spirit of “how silly can I be”, but when sung best they are simply enjoyed. There is also a good deal of sex in many of the lyrics, but it generally lies in the pet names and euphemisms common to silly couples who don’t want to be overt (“aww sugar I love it when we cuddle”). Though hardly literal it doesn’t strike me as ironic (as in the first part of the definition (opposite of the expected)).

I guess it comes done to a smile and (maybe) a wink vs. a smirk and a nudge.

Thus U2 ??? but I just sent brian a curious Ramones cover and I’m now wondering if they count as bubblegum under my definition--hmmm…they seem more smirky than smiley…unfortunately I’ve now scribbled my definition of the genre this blog and will likely now never be able to forget it and thus the question will undoubtedly haunt me.

That said…it’s all in fun and I hardly felt attacked or anything.

Phew that was a lot of blogorific scrawling for me…

patrick said…
I just went for a trip to the Diet Coke fields and along the way I thought of Michael Nesmith and his pet smirk. Somehow the Monkees still feel bubblegum to me (and being assembled by producers to create a tv band is not in and of itself enough to be bubblegummy to me--see that spin-off band/series from the 90210 (at least I think it was a 90210 spin-off) --the one with the kid with sideburns and poofy hair.

Anyways I know Nesmith didn't want to be bubblegum but I don't think there's enough white-out to hide that label. Regardless, I like the monkees.

also, note that "but that's soooo stupid" in my previous post should be in qoutes and said in that high pitched whiny voice we use when making fun of our friends for saying things that we think and say all the time.

Finally, I heard Eleni Mandell on my headphones while getting diet coke...Brian you should check her out if for no other reason than she wrote the line "I'm like the pennies that come in useful"

also see Michael Leviton ( Kim bought me a ukulele to make up for never being home (at least I think that's why she bought it) and I found this guy's music while looking for ukulele pop.
Jonathan Lapper said…
That said…it’s all in fun and I hardly felt attacked or anything. Well I sure as hell did! Let me tell you something you son of a... (insert some clever form of wryly winking emoticon here). Well I'm glad you feel that way Patrick. I suffer from over-analysis diarrhea at times. You should meet me in person if you ever want to truly feel the dread of saying to yourself, "Oh god, why did I just make that off the cuff statement to him?" Although I'm hoping that liking "Something Tells Me I'm Into Something Good" on "it's own merits" was an ironic statement. It was, right? Right? In the spirit of good fun and full disclosure I cannot listen to Herman and the Hermits without the overwhelming urge to vomit at least ten gallons of maggot-infested bile. Must be the bourbon.
Cinephile said…
Wow, and to think I just wanted to put up some enjoyable YouTube clips! Great comments, patrick and jonathan both. I guess I hear bubblegum as both a set of sounds (hence the pixies, with their girl group choruses and killer, surf-rock riffs: that it gets filtered through the fuzz and distortion of 80/90s indie rock doesn't make it any less bubblegum to me)(I'm not sure, by the way, that it applies to all the pixies, but it sure does to the song I clipped up here, as well as "Caribou' and "Debaser") but also a state of mind, one which focuses on certain questions of craft, hooks, sonic bliss, etc. So I would agree with patrick that generic boundaries can be annoying, but that bubblegum can also cut across conventional wisdoms about rock and genre (as delineated in this wonderful essay). Here's the passage I really like:

"Rock criticism, born of and beholden to the sixties, stumbles badly when confronted with music produced outside of its short set of registered myths. Session singers? Studio musicians? That�s not rock and roll! Except for Motown. And Stax. And the Beach Boys and portions of the Byrds� career. And, retroactively, disco. And Dusty in Memphis. And Richard Davis� sublime bass work on Astral Weeks.

We think it�s time to retire this folkie stab at a false authenticity...

The very notion that you can package and sell pop music bliss offends anyone invested in handcrafted cultural artifacts. But we're talking about nothing less than the pursuit of the perfect pop song. Manufactured? Sure. Just like Casablanca, Ford Mustangs, the Fender Stratocaster, or Pee Wee's Playhouse. There's genius to be had off the assembly line.

The sixties was the Pop Decade, with music and the visual arts developing highly refined shorthand styles, until the product became like a billboard signifying the essence of the thing. Painters Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol drew on advertising imagery to give their canvases lowbrow pizzazz which was immediately familiar. The ad execs had already made sure the designs would appeal�the artists just appropriated a select set of subjects, celebrated them as if they were crucially important, and waited for their audacity to raise a stink.

Mass-production could be viewed as the enemy, or it could be archly embraced. Instead of representing the artist�s deepest thoughts and feelings, Pop Art played it all cool�feelings are for drips. It�s all about craft, high gloss, perfection, and the knowing wink. West Coast sculptors subscribed to the finish-fetish, adapting kar kulture techniques to make shiny smooth objects that gleamed like cherry cars or surfboards. The eye just wafts all the way over and never catches on the slightest flaw, which is how bubblegum acts on the ear. But this kind of perfection just looks easy�you have to paint a thousand coats over an exquisitely crafted form to achieve that kind of finish."

So, now I've probably set off another argument...(: Anyway, thanks for the great remarks.
Anonymous said…
I remember seeing the Josie and the pussycats bit on the old Cartoon Network (it seems so long ago....)

it's kind of a brilliant little short.
Anonymous said…
with all due respect, i define bubblegum pop with a totally diff sound. Leslie Carter's "Like Wow!" is bubblegum pop. How Britney used to sound back in the day of "...Baby one more time." that is bubble gum pop in my book! the kooky way of singing sometimes can be measured as bubblegum pop. and i can't log in because this site is determined to make you use your google account and I use a yahoo *sighs* well i'm urielwirth if you wanna look me up or hit me back

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