Success can ruin pop music. What about lack of success? When work that’s commercial, that’s intended to reach a large audience, doesn’t get anywhere does that mean it’s failed artistically as well? Does that affect our individual appreciation of it?
Over in the rock canon there’s a well-established procedure for music that doesn’t get the sales, the popularity, the fans. It’s celebrated because of it; cult success overlooked by the masses but appreciated by the cognoscenti, the discerning few. Being a fan awards kudos: look at the outsize posthumous reputations of The La’s or the 13th Floor Elevators. There’s usually a commercial album or song which is seen as their almost-chance, the one that would have broken them big but the label bungled it. The masses who missed out on this gem are pitied for their ignorance, and the fans in the know become evangelists for their band’s cause.
It doesn’t happen in pop. If you miss, if you fail, then it doesn’t matter how good your song was, how bad your luck was, how much you deserved to succeed. Commercial success is the arbiter: Call Me Maybe is immortal because everyone remembers it and that one summer. It wouldn’t get a second hipster life if it’d stalled outside the top 40. And, contrasense though it sounds, that does affect my personal enjoyment. The Ting Tings album Sounds From Nowheresville last year was a great album, every song distinct, all the same band but sounding like different genres, all with the hooks pop thrives on. But it wasn’t a hit, the only single dropping without a ripple, and somehow that leaves it drained, a hollowness in its brashness.
It’s hard to say Mausi missed. I heard this song on Radio One when Huw Stephens played it after midnight and, if memory serves, bought it before I went to bed that night. I expected to hear more of it, for it to become a hit like Haim’s Forever or Icona Pop did. But it didn’t happen; the band don’t even have a Wikipedia page and the time I heard the song on Radio One during the day it turned out to be Huw again, still championing it, both of us United in bewilderment that it wasn’t already a hit.
There’s little to it. One riff, that breathless charge up and down a keyboard which drops in almost immediately and is every chorus and the end of every breakdown. The stuff in between, the verse and the bit where it all drops out just before the 2:34 best bit where the girl says “Move,” are just support for that riff, the whirling parts that introduce you to its life-affirming magnificence again and again. It’s a brilliantly brainless track, no doubt with huge efforts made to refine it into something so simple, infectious, irrepressible.
It would seem, however, that I’m one of the few that thinks so. Not that I’m positioning myself as some kind of elite, a tragically unneeded tastemaker – I don’t believe in that rockist shit, I want everybody to like the music I love – but it’s no Icona Pop. And pop is of the moment. If it seizes that moment it forever owns it. If it doesn’t? There are tracks on previous compilations: Mel Blatt’s Do Me Wrong, Magnolia’s It’s All Vain, which also failed, and it does haunt them. Their all-conquering triumphalism becomes hollow. Pop music means popular, constantly redefines itself by the consensus. Without that..? Well, it’s not nothing; I still love all those tracks. But it’s not what it was meant to be.
Compilation: Coyote Summer