I apologize to any KISS fans out there, but I’ve never had much respect for Gene Simmons. From his constant philandering to his obnoxious Islamophobia, Simmons has always had an aura of sleaze in my book.
So his recent takedown of Rihanna and others as “fake” music is simply par for the course. It was rather bold talk from someone famous for running around stage in Kabuki makeup amid thousands of dollars of pyrotechnics.
Simmons’ comments came about a month after Dave Grohl made a less inflammatory (but just as passionate) plea for “real” music. As Racialicious pointed out, there was a racial component, even if unconscious, to Grohl’s comments. There is also a gender component to this. Invariably, “real” music is the kind of rock favored by white males. KISS and Nirvana “belong” in the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame; Madonna does not.
The late 70s is usually shown as a battle between punk and disco. However, both were actually responses to the elephantine excess of studio-produced rock. In each case, they were the pop music of the excluded. Disco became huge because it appealed to women and gay males, who were ignored by most rock music.
In the early 80s there was a movement associated with Post-Punk that rejected what they called “Rockism,” roughly defined as an adherence to the standard band makeup of lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass and drums. This setup was considered reactionary. Long guitar solos were rejected in favor of minimalist riffs and short songs.
Of course, by the time grunge came around, things had changed. Kurt Cobain rejected the macho posturing of the metal bands, but his music was within the same narrow range. Nirvana could use cellos or acoustic guitars in songs, but never anything resembling a synthesizer. I don’t think Cobain was consciously racist or femme-phobic, but a lot of his fans were.
In college, I hung out with people who fell on the progressive end of politics. It never ceased to amaze me that people who fought for inclusion and diversity were so narrow in their musical tastes. Gay dance artists were ignored in favour of earnest folk music and queer positive rockers like Cobain. If black music was represented, it was as reggae; dance music was too fake, rap too macho. For the young feminists, Madonna and other pop women were instruments of their own oppression by putting out slutty images.
So why defend so-called “fake” music? Isn’t it just bourgeois pablum designed to sell us stuff?
In a word, no. Sure, pop is overrun by the scourge of Autotune, and a lot of the lyrics are inane. But their have always been provocateurs in the field. Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” was an unprecedented sympathetic look at prostitutes, while Grace Jones challenged the conventions of female beauty. These days, Lady Gaga and the even more outrageous Peaches are challenging gender norms in an exciting way.
Plus, disco and other dance music us fun and often celebratory, and we need all the celebration we can get. Emma Goldmann wanted a revolution you could dance to. As Cheryl Lynn sang (in a song adopted by drag artists) sometimes you’ve Got To Be Real.