Schlock, at its finest, is where bad taste becomes great art. Schlock is music that subjugates all other values to brute emotional impact; it aims to overwhelm, to body-slam the senses, to deliver catharsis like a linebacker delivers a clothesline tackle. The qualities traditionally prized by music critics and other listeners of discerning taste — sophistication, subtlety, wit, irony, originality, “experimentation” — have no place in schlock. Schlock is extravagant, grandiose, sentimental, with an unshakable faith in the crudest melodrama, the biggest statements, the most timeworn tropes and most overwrought gestures...I don't quite know from this how schlock is different from kitsch, schmaltz, treacle, and all other foreign and food-based co-optations by English to indicate the phenomenon of tasty things that are regrettably bad for you. Kundera taught me that kitsch is the low road to totalitarianism, and I was sad about that for a while, and then I decided that the effort necessary to weed kitsch from my life would be so great that I'd be too busy looking up song lyrics, scrutinizing children's toys, and analyzing movie plots for traces of manipulative nostalgia to notice if an actual totalitarian regime took power. So I stopped worrying and whispered the words of wisdom, let it be. (Sorry peeps, self-restraint is really hard.)
The truth is, big corny windswept sentimentality might just be the thing that pop does best. Music is the most immediate, the most visceral and ineffable of human inventions, and its essential power, the trump card it holds over the other arts, is its bald appeal to the emotions, the way a rapturous tune, a stirring beat, a charismatic voice, can override everything, transporting us to a realm beyond concerns about tastefulness or “cool” or even coherence...
Schlock isn’t what we want, at least not what we want to believe that we want. We want to be connoisseurs and, lord help us, we want to be cool. Schlock delivers something more profound: what we need...Which is why, despite our high-minded instincts, we’re stuck with schlock. There are times in life when only thing that will do is a great big tear-jerking cliché, gusting along atop an even bigger melody. As the poet said: We’re livin’ just to find emotion.
Thursday, June 05, 2014
In a stroke of timeliness, here is an entire essay in ambivalent defense of musical schlock, accompanied by a list of the 150 Greatest Schlock Songs, an eclectic list of goodness. It's a little crazy, calling for us to develop theories of schlock, because it's "too important a tradition not to take seriously and taking it seriously means making astute judgments about that tradition." Well, even if that were a bad idea, someone on the internet is gonna do it anyway, so whatever. I'm pretty much in agreement with the main point though, which is that I continue to like music, and not just music from my misguided yoof, that I'm rationally ashamed of liking and yet viscerally desire to (and do) play on repeat in my home. And that's schlock. But it's ok, because music is mainly about good feels, and schlock makes good feels:
Posted by Miss Self-Important at 10:36 PM