The Daily Californian Online

Found on the Fringes

By Nastia Voynovskaya
Contributing Writer
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Category: Arts & Entertainment > Columns


In the beginning of the summer, a writer friend and I were debating whose chart-topping vapidity signaled the pop apocalypse (er, popocalypse): Ke$ha's or Katy Perry's? The said friend declared Ke$ha's rebel-lite anthem "Tik Tok" hopelessly self-unaware, but I countered that the jam speaks, at least, to the hard partying impulses of us vacationing college students. Perry's saccharine orgy "California Gurls" could have been decent if not for its simplistic attempt at representing the west coast - a task better left to someone who's, for the love of God, gotten more out of living in the Golden State than a tan line and a melted Popsicle.

If this discourse is starting to sound like a masturbatory overindulgence in cynicism, rest assured that it isn't. Little did my friend and I know that the two songs whose merit we were contending - not to mention a daunting number of top singles - were co-written and produced by one quiet mastermind musician, Dr. Luke a.k.a. Lukasz Gottwald. Katy Perry and Ke$ha make easy targets for criticism or praise, but a listen to the extensive repertoires of the recording industry's leading puppet masters reveals the impressive scope of genre-bending talent alive within pop.

Dr. Luke has been behind so many taste-making tunes it's a wonder his name doesn't conjure up images of glitter and staying out until the "po-lice shut us down, down" like the rising pop princes and princesses who croon his words. From Taio Cruz's "Dynamite" to Miley Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A.," the 2010 ASCAP Songwriter of the Year has a penchant for penning dance floor manifestos sure to be stuck in your head long after you leave the club.

Diehard pop lovers and 11-year-olds notwithstanding, the general public seems to harbor a simmering frustration at expendable entertainers whose radio songs sear their sound onto the brain as forcefully as their live performances let audiences down. It's difficult not to notice the engorged, nebulous shadows of the major record labels behind the curtain, so to speak. Though my inner conspiracy theorist is tempted to say she smells a rat, my inner optimist turns around and punches her in the nose before she can catch a whiff.

Sure, Dr. Luke and other sought-after producers like Diplo and Timbaland have scratched, mixed and cut many of their proteges into stardom. But while many of today's top performers seem to offer little more than a weak note of fleeting musical gratification (c'mon, is anyone going to listen to "California Gurls" next year?), visionary music-makers enjoy the luxury of tailoring a variety of vocal ranges, language backgrounds and instrumental abilities to suit their artistic intents.

One of dubstep's most commercially accessible producers, Rusko, is slated to produce Britney Spears' forthcoming album after his successful teamwork with Diplo on M.I.A.'s ///Y/. Maybe this unexpected collaboration is intended to reinvent Britney's image for the umpteenth time. But perhaps it will also usher dubstep into more clean-cut artists' musical palettes in the same way that Diplo's Major Lazer imported Brazil's baile funk and Jamaica's dancehall northward.

Today's pop performers are constantly measured up against Michael Jackson and Madonna, lauded or reproached depending on how convincingly they continue the genre's golden age. But as music becomes an increasingly studio-oriented art form, producers are able to extract artists or genres out of underground obscurity and onto the airwaves sample by sample.

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