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Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Britney Spears (clockwise from left)

For a current project I’m working on, I’m reading more about music. I found this great article in a 2015 edition of The Atlantic.

I already knew the premise: that our major pop stars are manufactured. But I guess I’ve never really read an in-depth account of exactly how that happens.

Some of the more surprising revelations:

  • Producers stitch together tracks, often syllable by syllable, from multiple takes.
  • In South Korea, there’s a printed manual that guides people on the production of k-pop stars, even detailing what chord progressions to use in particular countries.
  • Lou Pearlman, the famous creator behind the Backstreet Boys, was so happy with their success that he wanted to create another, even better boy band. “Where there’s a McDonald’s, there’s a Burger King,” he has said. The result? ‘NSync.

I find this all sad, partly because of the secrecy behind the hit machines. I learned that in South Korea, the process is open. Fans there know that the musical stars are carefully produced. But in the U.S., there’s this impression that Katy Perry and Rihanna and Taylor Swift are such great musicians. Instead, they are great at being global celebrities. It’s like being a celebrity is what they do, and the music is secondary. It’s just a thing that got them to where they are, and if they could have been a writer or visual artist or actor and achieve that same level of fame, there’s a sense that they would have done that instead.

Something about those celebrities seems a little too produced and fake, and I’ve always had trouble getting into that music. I prefer the indie musicians, the singer-songwriters like Elliott Smith and Dave Pirner and Morrissey (OK, he doesn’t write music, but at least he’s writing his own words). Maybe as a writer I respond to the authenticity, the heart that goes into channeling your thoughts and feelings into words.

Morrissey, Dave Pirner, Elliott Smith (from top clockwise)

What do you think of today’s mainstream music? Are you OK with the high production values of today’s hits? What music do you prefer?