Reflection Section: This is Pop – Episodes 1 and 2

by Jordan Mark

Welcome back to another Reflection Section. This post is devoted to the first two episodes of This is Pop, a series on Netflix chronicling different pinnacles of the pop music landscape.

I’d shamefully gotten myself Netflix back in December. Granted, I got it as an aid for an assignment, but I was still disappointed in myself. Anyway, I decided as I was working on it that I would watch the eight-part series This is Pop in my spare time. I’d known about the series for a while, and I even considered getting Netflix because of it, but I was too prideful in being a non-Netflix customer to do so. That, and it felt odd to buy a service just for one show.

Once I had spare time to watch it, I wasn’t convinced of doing a Reflection Section for it. Not to say that the series was bad, but it didn’t feel like I could add much to what was already said. I don’t look at Reflection Section as something I react to or review, but more so something I debrief and examine. After watching through all the episodes, I think I can give some type of personal perspective, though it will take me a little more effort to do so than when I did Behind the Music.

This is Pop highlights different pop apexes in the pop music universe. Unlike Behind the Music’s relatively similar format, the episodes in This is Pop are formatted differently from one another. Some episodes have a comedic element to them while others approach the topics head-on. Either way, each episode has certain elements that are synonymous throughout. There are interviews from people within the music industry and music that goes hand-in-hand with the topic talked about. In short, the series is similar to videos on the web, but with a lot less pretentiousness.

On to the series. To make my life easier, I’ll focus on two episodes per post. I made little lists of people and songs that were shown for each episode for fun. I only listed people and songs that were directly connected to the topic. They had other people and songs, including people from past interviews, but I excluded them for uniformity purposes.

“The Boyz II Men Effect,” out of all the episodes, was the most like Behind the Music and other similar documentaries that talk about an artist’s career. Though the episode centered mostly on the African-American group’s rise to success, it eventually shifted gears into their formula being used to produce Caucasian vocal groups, widely known as boy bands. In the context of such groups, referring to the phenom as “The Boyz II Men Effect” is adequate in my eyes.

The perceptions of singers of different ethnicities has always been a tricky situation to maneuver, and that’s not even considering those that emulate one another’s conceptualized perceptions. I guess the way society has formed is what has resulted to these perceptions. As for me, as long as they’re singing from their soul, I don’t hold those perceptions against any of them being great singers. I’ll admit it’s difficult to not have those characteristics come up, but it’s possible to look past them and even embrace them in a positive light rather than see them as setbacks.

When it comes to Boyz II Men, I never looked at them as a boy band, even though they tend to be grouped in with them. I guess I think in that manner because, among other reasons, similar groups from the past weren’t referred to as such. It’s unfortunate that their success would be undermined once the other groups came around, especially considering all the fine line tight-roping and societal rule following they had to endure. Even their individual Wikipedia pages are extremely lackluster. Luckily, their legacy hasn’t been undermined. From being inspirations to many, Boyz II Men’s signature songs and tailored talent keep their legacy as present as they are to their fans. If there’s anything else I retained from watching the episode, it’s that Wanyá Morris is the one who rambunctiously belts music notes in the group.

“Auto-Tune” explores the voice-altering technology that saturated the music industry and predicted the decline for singing based on people’s raging, explosive criticism toward it. The episode filtered a lot into T-Pain, a rapper widely known for his use of the technology. Simply looking for a way to stand out from everyone else, his long search in finding auto-tune would extend a longer search in being okay with using it amidst the criticism.

When T-Pain decided to strip the vocals for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, it expanded people’s minds into realizing how much of an artist he is. Despite this, T-Pain still had some difficulty accepting the newfound respect, and I can understand that. I dislike certain types of praise. The ones that are unintentionally over-the-top where other possibilities seem impossible to fathom. I can’t say this without being guilty of it, as well (I guess it’s just human nature), but I attempt to reel it back and add context to level off the initial shock.

Regarding the technology itself, it’s unfortunate when stuff is ridiculed, gets famous, and then is ridiculed even more for surpassing initial expectations. T-Pain said that something can shake a soul so much that it disturbs them, and electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani said that people try to explain the world based on what’s familiar, so auto-tune was doomed to be trashed on. As someone who did grow up with auto-tune songs on the charts, I was just digging the music. As I’ve gotten older, I still dig it, but I have a reason to dig it. It inspires people to be creative (in a niche sort of way). I will say that auto-tune songs aren’t created equal, but they’re created with no ambition. The same can’t be said for other technologies.

That’s it for this Reflection Section. More posts are coming in the near future, so stay tuned!