I used to avoid pop music, but this year I embraced its joyful, sexy escapism

This was the year I started listening to non-stop pop music. It could be something to do with everything seeming hard and sharp at the moment, like those morphing spikes on the coronavirus. Those jaggedy little ridges tearing through our day-to-day lives.
Growing up, pop was a dirty word and instead indie music was the soundtrack of my youth. I’ll probably never be as happy as I was stumbling around the Pavilion Tavern in Brighton drenched in lager, as the the Futureheads’ Hounds of Love blared from the speakers. Hip-hop figured heavily too. The crunchiness of Wu Tang Clan, like gravel underfoot. The ego of Kanye. The erudition of Kendrick. The melancholy of Frank. The swagger of Jay-Z. And latterly, the sheer hot-diggety of Skepta and the seductive hallucinatory quality of A$AP.

Then I went to university and everyone did too many drugs and listened to dubstep, so I listened to that too. I never rated it, but a friend was a DJ for a pirate radio station in London and it all seemed pretty cool. I’d stagger around clubs to Benga, Skream and Crookers instead, covered in sweat, wondering where I’d left my mind. It was usually in the loos. Along with my phone.
Recently, I decided I couldn’t “do” music with a BPM over 120 any more, it conjured too many memories – men I hadn’t slept with; men I shouldn’t have slept with, a few women I’d slept with too, actually; nights I’d missed out on; nights I shouldn’t ever have gone on. So I got pretentious and started listening to modern classical. Philip Glass, Ólafur Arnalds, Max Richter, that sort of thing. I “explored” the intersection of classical and dance: Actress, Nicolas Jaar, Nils Frahm. I spent a lot of time at the Barbican. That was as much about the boys as the music, though. And from Nicolas Jaar, I sidestepped to FKA twigs – with Sampha and Solange providing stepping stones along the way – and I was only one leap away from Lorde really.
Then the pandemic hit. Lorde, Lil Nas X, Lana provided a much needed comfort blanket, along with Ariana, Bey and the occasional dose of RiRi. I wouldn’t tell anyone I was listening to pop for many months to come. I learned to dance, instead, by myself, in my bedroom. A perfect remedy for lockdown. In that, I learned humility. I was a body that responded to aural stimuli, I had rhythm, I was a person, not just a mind. A fleshy lump of humanness, gyrating, and it was lovely. Delicious, even. There’s no avoiding it: pop is sexy and sex is joy. For three and a half minutes we can forget the impending doom and just shimmy.
There’s the queer thing too. Pop is subversive, we all know that. Lil Nas X has done more for gay rights than anyone since whoever threw that first brick at Stonewall. Pop is a nightclub, to extend the metaphor, with no door policy. A world unto itself, entry gratis, as long as you have a subscription to a music-sharing service, or can bear the ads on YouTube. You can be yourself, or someone else if you can’t handle that just now. There are no rules, have fun.

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