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Popular music has many more merits than simple popularity

[mk1]To the Editor:

Ian G. Clapp's distinction ["Rock music is a legitimate art form," Oct. 25] between rock and pop music smacks of elitism and snobbery. Although never explicitly stated, the suggestion is that "rock is good, pop is bad" (sort of like "four legs good, two legs bad"). And underlying that is the assumption that the consumers of pop music are a mindless mass to the marketing masters while those of rock are clear-thinking free-willed individuals. Baloney.

The fact is that the popularity of any contemporary artist is the result of a large number of factors, including the workmanship of the product, the activity of the artist and others financially involved in marketing the artist/ products, and the response of the marketplace to the artist products/marketing. The idea that anything popular can be dismissed without asking "why?", without consideration of the above or other factors, is inconsistent with good journalism.

For instance, Madonna and Frankie Goes to Hollywood are reduced to the pop trash category without due consideration to the merits of either's work. Frankie is dismissed with the label "made for MTV" without mention of their song "Two Tribes" (about Soviet-American confrontational attitudes), the success of Frankie itself regardless of the group's openly gay orientation, their well crafted material or the fact that everybody and his sister has some form of "Frankie Say" sweatshirt (some of which even say: "Frankie say NO WAR"). Mr. Clapp's approach leads one to the opinion that the only interesting feature he finds in pop music is its popularity. He completely ignores the musical or verbal content of the works, the social or political outlook taken in them or their marketing, or the expressed attitudes of the per-<>

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formers as stated in interview upon interview.

Popularity and merit are not exclusive; neither are obscurity and incompetence. With regard to Madonna, Henry Rollins, the lead singer for the L.A. based group Black Flag, has this to say:

"Madonna recently put out a couple of platinum albums, a movie, a few videos and is well into an ass-whomping tour. The promoter here in Los Angeles estimates that she could have sold out The Forum three times over. 60,000 people? That is pretty substantial. This is not due to a fluke, a twist of fate or a miracle. Her movie, Desperately Seeking Susan is good. Her albums have well arranged, well executed tunes. The production is fantastic. Her videos are well done, very well done" (excerpted from "Madonna OK" in his collection of essays and spoken-word transcriptions Polio Flesh).

In fact, the relationship of pop to rock is not that one is bad the other good, but simply that one (pop) generally represents whatever is on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at any time while the other (rock) will only have so many of its artists on that chart at any time. But pop may also include country music (the inevitable new Kenny Rogers song), funk and jazz (unmentioned by Mr. Clapp), a clone of another popular record, or something completely new. Pop is made up of successful subsets of other contemporary musical genres. As such, a pop artist from any style is subject to the constant harping popularity brings.

In his essay's introduction, Mr. Rollins says of Madonna: " `Bimbo Rock,' `Boy toy,' etc. I say yap-yap, shut up. Oh sure, critics chop her up, but they still stare at her breasts, yes they do. You cannot can not argue with success. You can, but you come off looking like a petty chump, a loser, a jealous backbiter."

He's right.

Tim Wilson G->