The Intersection of Patriotism and Bad Power-Pop
In the most recent New York magazine, music critic Jody Rosen penned a lengthy, insightful essay on “schlock” music—the hyper-earnest, overwhelmingly emotional, often clichéd songs (and the artists who pen/sing them) cringed at by critics and “serious” musicians and often ridiculed while simultaneously ascending charts and working their way into the cultural zeitgeist. He explains:
Schlock, at its finest, is where bad taste becomes great art. Schlock is music that subjugates all other values to brute emotional impact; it aims to overwhelm, to body-slam the senses, to deliver catharsis like a linebacker delivers a clothesline tackle. The qualities traditionally prized by music critics and other listeners of discerning taste — sophistication, subtlety, wit, irony, originality, “experimentation” — have no place in schlock. Schlock is extravagant, grandiose, sentimental, with an unshakable faith in the crudest melodrama, the biggest statements, the most timeworn tropes and most overwrought gestures.
He opens with the example of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” which was almost universally panned upon its 1981 debut but has since become one of America’s most enduring anthems. Others include Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer,” Guns and Roses “November Rain,” Katy Perry’s “Roar,” and even “Thunder Road” (decry, but it’s true).