“Stepping over cracks in the pavement/ Another night of being wasted”
“I’m waking up/ Up on the floor/ Still looking perfect”
“They say you’re a freak when we’re having fun/ Say you must be high when we’re spreading love/ But we’re just living life and we’ll never stop/ We got the world”
I wanted to hate this album before I heard it. I wanted to raze it to the ground, to wipe it from existence, to tear it apart. Does that sound unfair? After all, the critic, we are told, must remain impartial. The critic must gaze judiciously upon a work and — like a modern Solomon about to split the baby in twain — cast his or her verdict from a bag of a hundred marbles. Indeed, only in a state of disinterested enlightenment can the critic be trusted to evaluate a work of art in all its infinite complexity, to truly weigh it in their palms and then decide which work deserves 85 points and which 65. And the critic’s devout meditation will not have been in vain! For only then will he or she begin to truly comprehend the chasmic divide between the 9.4 and the 9.5. So it goes.
But there comes a point when a work gets you so angry, so desperately angry that you can no longer hide under the pretense of impartiality. Which is how I felt the first time I heard “I Love It.” Ridiculous? Perhaps. But can you understand what I felt? Did you see it too? A strobe-light void filled with coked-out would-be HBO-Brooklynites, fists lifted up towards the smoke-filled non-vacuum of a warehouse ceiling, eyes closed tight, screaming —
“I don’t care. I love it.”
Is this the rallying cry of my generation? Is this what we’ve come to? A revolution of apathy waged in anonymous raves; demonstrators marching in the millimeter-thin gap between eardrum and earbud. Is this our ethos? And we tell ourselves that it’s an ethos of love! As if to love and to care could ever be mutually exclusive. The flames of passion have been doused, and in their smoldering ruins we have created a love without content: an empty four-letter object. A dazed narcotic love. This is the love we feel towards an icon, which is to say a love solicited by an image. But gone are the Byzantine Madonnas that once drew tears from penitent kneelers. All we have now are golden Marilyns — flattened lithographs of dead movie stars. Pop icons.
But I’m over-thinking this, right? After all, this is just pop music. Audio bubblegum. Don’t take it so seriously, man. Hidden messages? A call to nihilism? I don’t care. I love it. Right?
There will always be people out there who are afraid to see pop music as anything other than a harmless means of escapism. But it’s always so much more. Because pop is power. It’s the diffuse cloud that surrounds us every moment of every day, seeping into our ears and eyes and ethernet veins. And what seems like escapism becomes a surrender, a sublimation into the #PostmodernCollectiveUnconscious. To sleep, perchance to tweet.
All these thoughts came flooding to me within the two-and-a-half-minute span of the opening track. It was only afterwards that I listened to the full album. And if there is any solace to be found, perhaps it is this: the rest of This Is… Icona Pop is so bland, so banal, that the sting of “I Love It” seems to numb over. It’s not a terrible album. It’s not a spectacular train wreck. It is, in fact, so remarkably unremarkable that neither a glowing nor incinerating score feel deserved. It’s all just so much white noise. What is there to say about a song like “We Got the World”? Catchy? Sure, but it’s the sort of manufactured, assembly-line pop that will be swapped out as soon as the new model comes out on Spotify next month. It’s Grimes without the genre-bending experimentation, Robyn without the undercurrents of profound isolation. The later works of Günther come to mind — albeit without either the tongue or the cheek.
So no, Icona Pop. I don’t love it. But you know what scares me most of all? At the end of the day, I’m not angry anymore. On the contrary. I simply don’t care.