Put crudely, you succeed in pop music (or any kind of commercial art) by a mix of novelty and comfort. When critics want to put novelty in a good light we call it innovation. When we want to put comfort in a good light we call it “timeless” or “classic”. But this rapidly turns complicated. Stuff that used to be novel can become comforting, stuff that used to be comforting can be finagled into seeming novel again. And both terms are only meaningful inasmuch as they’re relative to the people you want to sell the records to - who might well construct their own comfort AS novelty. So it’s all hugely tactical even IF you accept the idea that this commercial art is by its nature “manufactured” and the desires and preferences of the creators don’t really come into it.
All genres can seem revolutionary compared to some other genre (think about how revolutionary pop-country would sound if metal was the norm); what’s ultimately interesting is how a given work plays with the expectations of that genre. The great thing about pop is that it’s a genre sometimes entered into unwillingly. Because it’s so loosely defined, existing more as a strata of cultural influence than a particular sound, not everyone who ends up in pop thinks of themselves as pop artists, which changes the definitions of the genre in unexpected ways. For better or for worse, there is no genre of music that has been more dynamic over the course of its history than pop. Every other genre looks extraordinarily conservative by comparison.
Let it be known that I, as a huge Robyn fan, in no way endorse the most-pop-is-bad-but-Robyn-is-actually-good argument for Robyn.
Heh, I don’t think any of the Tumblr Pop Intellectual Posse would endorse it. Body Talk (well, the first one anyway) is where I’ve finally caved in and decided I like Robyn (even did my latest column on her). And I realised that’s not because her hit-rate with me is any better - maybe 3 1/2 tracks I like out of 8, which isn’t terrible but isn’t great - but because it doesn’t feel like a “pop album”, it feels like a scrapbook of sketches towards and notes on pop music, which is more personal and seems to me to suit her very well.