Reflection Section: This is Pop – Episodes 3 and 4

by Jordan Mark

It is time for another Reflection Section! This post reflects on episodes from the This is Pop series on Netflix. The next two in line are “Stockholm Syndrome,” which focuses on Sweden’s impact on pop music, and “When Country Goes Pop,” which focuses on the country-pop hybrid that raised authenticity concerns within the country world.

First on deck is “Stockholm Syndrome.” Fueled by Denniz PoP, Max Martin and others, Sweden has consistently been churning out hits, as indicated by the boatload of name drops splashed throughout the episode. A sequential smorgasbord that tried to explain Sweden’s high success rate in pop music, the conclusion determined was the mix of simplistic melancholy-based lyrics over joyful compositions and a jantelagen way of living has made Sweden a force in the record-making business. Roughly translated as the “Law of Jante,” jantleagen (one of the few Swedish terms the episode features) is a way of living where one does not boast about their success. Without any forceful intent behind it, jantelagen comes off as a thing that exists as is. They don’t make it a big deal. They don’t question it. They just live it.

The discovering nature into which the episode ventures increasingly amplifies the further it progresses, slowly putting two and two together and turning them into defined answers. The progression of explaining jantelagen, for example, starts off with foreshadowed moments of displeasure in showing off before it outwardly indulges to a consensus from various Swedish producers and writers. A conclusion contrasted from Brian Littrell of the Backstreet Boys, whose accomplishments in the background as opposed to the quaint settings the Swedes sit in make such living strikingly apparent.

Even knowledge about Martin is kept under wraps, focusing on PoP first before introducing him (in a full-circle moment nonetheless where the same interview used to introduce PoP is used to introduce Martin). Beyond those progressive moments, the melancholy lyricism mentioned in the episode sure feels like an unappreciated concept. With pop music often considered as music without any substance, it’s great to see it be shined upon. Granted, I always have a hard time recalling what melancholy means every time it pops up, but hopefully with this episode, its description is stuck in there considered the countless times I’ve heard these tracks.

“When Country Goes Pop” dives into country artists crossing over to pop and having their authenticity questioned by the country music industry. The episode had the most comedic appeal out of all the episodes, using an outlaw called Orville Peck to guide the viewer through. (Whether it was actually comedic is another tale.)

Constantly zig-zagging back and forth between “authentic” country music and “artificial” country music, the country music industry has always tried to keep their values high in full spirits. As Peck mentioned at the end however, authenticity in the realms of country music can also come across as an artifice. The more authenticity kept being used as the reason why certain country music wasn’t considered country music, the less valid it was as a reason. It turned from a way of living to a front to keep a perceived integrity intact. Seeing as how the 1976 compilation album Wanted! The Outlaws was a marketing tool more than it was a statement, that argument can only go so far. Singer Neko Case had even jestered at the idea of country being the truthful genre when such a concept was suggested to her, concluding it being something entities say for people to notice them. Granted, Jerry Bradley was simply trying to save his behind from getting fired at the time, but that creation of the compilation album sure did have a long-lasting effect for the country world.

Authenticity is about being true to oneself. Sure, that might be the common man, but it can also be whatever they were influenced on. Many of the artists in the episode kept talking about how they were influenced by certain artists growing up. That should be what authenticity is based on: one’s experiences, not a preface. In addition, many artists also credited the fans for legitimizing their music as country, and as Chris Scruggs iterated, fans ultimately have a lasting effect on music to a point where people that weren’t on board at first don’t mind it due to the familiarly. Steve Earle had even re-evaluated Shania Twain and admitted to liking some of her songs (despite not remembering the names off the top of his head). You don’t need a rocket scientist to determine if a song is country, but you do need to recognize that it took more than the common man to create country music.

That wraps up another Reflection Section. See you in the next one!