Evolution of the Electronic Pop Song

Evolution of the Electronic Pop Song

by Pete Tremblay
12.06.2011


While visiting my parents a few weeks ago, my mother, knowing that I am a bit of a music journalist at times, wanted to forge a connection through shared current musical events. As a lady a few moments shy of her golden years, it can be very difficult to find a track in her very limited collection that was produced after Barry Manilow released Copa Cabana. However, as a day time television aficionado, and one of the charter members of Oprah’s book club, she is privy to basically whatever Oprah says is hip and necessary. In this particular case after being warned about the dangers of texting while driving, my mom seemed to get a sparkle in her eye. “You know,” she said with a grin, “I really love those Peas!” I paused for a moment wondering if she was referring to hummus, as she so excitedly explained to me that she “loved Will.i.am and that new song "I Gotta Feelin’!” I nearly spit out my glass of raspberry iced tea and looked at her in disbelief. “You mean the Guetta track?”

That’s about where the conversation ended, however after a bit of prodding, I found out that once again Oprah was in fact the source for her most recent discovery. 

How is this possible? How could my mother in any stretch of the imagination possibly be listening to something seemingly so… electronic? So… house?

To pose the question, how did musical culture arrive at a point where David Guetta (all be it in collaboration with the Black Eyed Peas) can be heard on Oprah, and every other pop radio outlet in the country on a track that is not a remix and or movie score? Simply – here’s how the evidence, a short historical redux as it were.

As far as anyone can tell, mainstream commercial music in general is a regurgitated, out of date, and essentially anti-cutting edge, watered down, super accessible example of only the catchiest versions of real music presented by only the prettiest of faces. That being said, we must acknowledge the fact that the source for major change in culture begins in the counter-culture (such as the evolution of Justin Beiber’s haircut being first introduced by lesbian model types on that show "The L Word"). Some of the first examples of electronic music fitting into more accessible non-club environments actually came to us through the medium of the motion picture soundtrack.

In 1997, a group of soundtrack producers were charged with discovering the most interesting and appropriate music for the movie SPAWN, a CGI intensive flick about a demon from hell who is trying to win his way back to morality. At first thought, and with the obvious darkness appeal, a score of metal and rock bands that were hyper active during the late 90’s were enlisted to work with the top artists in a new genre of music known as big beat electronica, to come up with something as cutting edge and interesting as the premise of the movie itself. The product was much more successful than anyone could have imagined. The leading track off the soundtrack was a collaboration between The Crystal Method using their track “Trip like I Do” featuring new vocals and arrangements from popular rock band Filter, manipulating the club hit into a rock-tronic track “(Can’t You?) Trip Like I do?” successfully breaking the collaboration barrier between live and programmed music as well as (and more importantly for our purposes) blasting big beat out of the clubs and into the theatres and top 40 rock outlets. This soundtrack alone brought us hits from Marilyn Manson and the Sneaker Pimps, Orbital and Kirk Hammett (from Metallica), and Tom Morello and The Prodigy.

With this barrier broken, and everyone fixating on big beat, the ultra hip vampire flick Blade came into our lives, and with it the most memorable club scene/and mass sexualized killing ever to be displayed on screen. Enter the epic opening scene and the killer track “Bloodbath” by The Crystal Method. The world was now aware of electronica, but only in the context of cult films; and then came Moby.

How could he go wrong? A quirky bald guy with vegan tendencies and friends in high (mainstream) places was less threatening and hence more marketable than his contemporaries and their blood soaked launching pads. In 2001 Moby collaborated with Gwen Steffani on the track “Southside” from his multi-platinum release, Play. Throw 2001 “it” girl Christina Ricci in the video, with a catchy chorus and instantly everyone who ever turned on MTV (when they still played videos) knew exactly who Moby was. He even played the MTV beach house that year.

Even with the successful introduction of electronic-based pop into the mainstream, club-inspired house music that you could actually dance to was still a few years off of the radar.... until the white bread indie kids got a hold of it. Enter the more than catchy and incredibly accessible behemoth, the Postal Service.

In 2003, the Postal Service, a collaborative effort from super nice and completely non threatening indie rock God Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, and glitch pioneer DNTEL, released “Give Up,” a genuinely interesting and super catchy album that found its way onto mainstream television soundtracks such as the OC. Pretty soon all of American teeny-bopper culture was singing the chorus and finding their way to “College Indie Nights” popping up around the country in dance clubs that were more used to housing raves than kids wearing ironic t-shirts that skipped a few meals doing a two-step and singing every lyric.  

At this point, electronic collaborations and remixes were everywhere. Pop-rock was replaced by electronic-based beats. Most of the accompaniment created for the pop stars gracing our airwaves was based in the world of DJs and electronic producers (think any track that Brittany Spears released, pretty much ever.) At this point it was only a matter of time before the major players of the dance world wanted in on the situation beyond the (now completely common) remix. It just took a (somewhat risky) collaboration between Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas and David Guetta to make it all work out. Guetta had been working with the Peas on many of his recent club remixes. After tapping Guetta to produce their album The E.N.D., the Peas decided to release the song “I Gotta Feelin,” which featured Guetta’s Catchy tech-house background for the Peas to wax vocally upon. About this very moment, my mom turned on Oprah, and fell in love with “The Peas.” 

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