This Article Originally Published July 1997
by Michael Laskow
TAXI members are always asking me what I think the Next Big Trend in music will be. If I knew that, I'd be the wealthiest guy in the biz. If anybody knew that, they'd be wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.
Fact is, it's a strange and wonderful confluence of timing, public tastes and artistic genius that determine trends. We're living through a period that exemplifies that right now. "Grunge," a subset, and the founding father of "alternative" is no longer cool. It has finally fallen from grace. And thank goodness for that. Personally, I was getting tired of A&R weasels (as they are affectionately called in the biz) looking for angst-ridden bands.
But I digress As I was saying, we are in a period right now, today, this very minute, that is a great example of what happens when a trend or fad runs its course. The industry tastemakers are scrambling to find a new trend. Just like they scrambled to find a "new city" after Seattle ran out of bands wearing flannels and Doc Martens.
The industry is looking so hard for a trend, that it's already found one, but it just hasn't realized it yet. So, what is this trend everybody's oblivious to? Pop. That's right. It may be verboten in the industry to actually say the word, but POP is back with a capital "P."
If you want to look like a genius, all you have to do is wait for the next trend to establish itself. Wait about two years. As you feel the trend beginning to hit its peak, stand on top of the Capitol Records tower in Hollywood and scream, "This won't last more than another year or two, and then it's all heading back to Popyou'll see!"
Well, okay, maybe you'll only look like a genius to your mother. But, trust me. You'll be on the cutting edge. How can I be sure of of this? History repeats itself. After every trend, it always goes back to Pop. What happened after Punk? Pop. What happened after Disco? Pop. What happened after alternative? Pop.
Hmmm... maybe we should take this a step further and look at the essence of the fads. Could it be? Why yes, I do believe that many of the punk tunes that surfaced as "hits" had their roots in Pop. Well, maybe not Pop lyrics, but many had Pop structures, and several, if not most, had chord changes based in Pop.
Go through you record collection and look at your Bee Gees and Donna Summer records. Yep, once again the answer is Pop. Loggins and Messina? Pop. The Eagles? Pop. Kiss? Pop. Journey? Pop. Luther Vandross? Pop. Whitney Houston? Pop. Tears For Fears? Pop. The Cars? Pop. Elvis Costello? Pop. R.E.M.? Pop. Garth Brooks? Pop. Pop-Pop-Pop-Pop-POP!!!
And how about Nirvana's smash hit, "Smells Like Teen Spirit?" Smells like Pop to me. As a matter of fact, I think it reeks of Pop! And that my dear TAXI members is my point. Pop comes in many shapes and sizes, but it's still all Pop at its root. And that is your key to writing better songs.
You would be wise to study the Pop classics. Why? As in any other of life's pursuits, it's always best to identify people who are successful and then mimic their efforts so that you can be successful too.
Some of you are saying, "Hey, Michael, what about the whole Electronica crazegroups like Prodigy and Orbital?" Well, I admit that they are a little further away from Pop than most trends, but look at their success. The jury is still out, but from my vantage point, artists such as these have always had their core audience and will continue to do so, but it's doubtful that you'll be hearing any seven minute instrumental cuts on commercial radio anytime soon.
If you ask me, the Electronica craze is really not a craze at all. While there's little doubt that it's reaching a larger audience than ever, I think the so-called "craze" was largely fabricated by people in the industry who didn't know what to do with their Doc Martens. They needed some kind of trend to hang their hat on, and they just can't force themselves to say the "P" word.
How silly! Who had the number one single last summer? Donna Lewis. What kind of song was it? You guessed it. How about Merrill Bainbridge and her song, "Mouth?" Pop. The group No Doubt? Pop. The Cardigans? Pop. Jewel? Very Pop! Check out the playlists on America's top ranking "alternative" stations. They're full of acts that I you and I would classify as Pop, yet they're on "alternative" radio.
What does this tell us? That the best thing you can do as a writer is learn how to craft a good Pop song. Learn how to construct a song in Pop form. Learn what makes a Pop melody work. Learn what makes a Pop lyric flow. Learn how to write a simple, but catchy hook.
If you add these tools to your arsenal, you'll always have a strong base to work from no matter what moniker the industry tastemakers have given a current trend. Pop go the weasels.