“How Far We’ve Come:” A Pop Revival Primer, Part V (2012)

Sam France

In 2012, Pop Revival finally acquired mainstream attention. Bands of the genre were performing on talk shows, featured on magazine covers and the soundtracks to MTV’s more bohemian-minded series. Not since the heady, “Rock is Back” media push ten years prior had a subgenre of Rock and Roll so forcefully (but far less forcibly) arrived in the general consciousness. What’s more, Pop Revival in 2012 achieved what Garage Rock Revival never did: a number-one American single.

Of course, “Somebody I Used to Know” is not a song terribly indicative of Gotye or Pop Revival in general. But it was #1 for 8 weeks, and by the end cover versions were already being heard on the radio. In a period of regionalism and the decline of the music industry, when the best hope of a hit single was pure novelty, that meant something serious. It was one of perhaps three songs that year that absolutely everyone heard. But there were also trade-offs.

When a genre is in its infancy, it’s easy to pick and choose the best artists to represent it, but when popularity comes knocking, there’s a great fear among tastemakers that people will mostly choose the most artificial and unfortunate one of the lot. Just as Grunge had Temple of the Dog, just as the British Invasion had Herman’s Hermits, pop revival would get its first great villain.

Lana del Rey a.k.a. Lizzy Grant was an obscure but well-received 2010 album; unsurprisingly the titular artist re-released it after her second album, Born to Die, was panned by critics in a manner ranging from mildly favourable to startlingly vicious. Born to Die had none of the emotion of the original Lana del Rey; and amidst new rumours of plastic surgery and an unexpectedly dreadful performance on Saturday Night Live, Lana del Rey would serve as a shibboleth to distinguish Pop Revival’s newest fans from the rest.

Meanwhile, Best Coast released their second, (mostly) darker album, establishing Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno as the faces of Pop Revival worldwide. La Sera performed two tours and released a second album that was met with praise in the Western US and a footnote everywhere else. LA newcomers Allah-Las found a similar challenge with regionalism, though they did have an unexpected run-in with current events.

So what will come of 2013?

As discussed before, Pop Revival is the rare (perhaps only) non-niche branch of rock music dominated by female singers, leading AV Clubber Jonathan Shapiro to write: “There’s a huge number of amazing bands with female lead singers right now. If only today’s male vocalists didn’t sound so bland and interchangeable.” Mr. Shapiro’s complaint may have been answered this past July:

I first saw Foxygen open for Magic Trick, who opened for La Sera. The band comprises Jonathan Rado and Sam France, with accompaniment by Rado’s girlfriend Jaclyn Cohen (I very nearly hit on her earlier that night). Rado is a consummate professional and France is a flamboyant force of reckoning onstage. But all I could think of as I watched them perform was “they’re going to do really well when they transition to Dream Pop.

This is probably it, you see. This is where Pop Revival peaks. It’s daughter genre Dream Pop is already coming into its own and winning the hearts of critics and listeners through bands like Tame Impala and Wild Nothing. And as pop revival begins its inevitable decline, there will be a band who will, as Arctic Monkeys did seven years ago, lead us into the next step in Rock’s evolution. Foxygen may be that band.


The Beatles – “Good Day Sunshine”

When: June 1993
Where: My living room
Who: My mother
Weather: Sunny

3 1/2 is a number that haunts my nightmares.

3 1/2 is the age at which I first knew what my age was. When someone asked my age, I’d say, “threeandahalf.” One word. Sadly, I didn’t really understand what age was. On my fourth birthday my uncle asked me how old I was, and you can guess how I replied.

I don’t know if that’s an important age for child development, but it was for me. Suddenly I knew what year it was, who the president was, that I lived in the United States of America, in California, in Pasadena; and who my local weatherman was.* My first book was the 1989 Thomas Guide for Los Angeles County, and with it I learned how to read. At three, I was giving adults directions. I had started knowing things.

If you were born after 1960, part of being a small child is picking a favorite Beatle. My mother, a John fanatic and proto-goth, was thoroughly disappointed when I revealed a certain liking for Paul’s composition “Good Day Sunshine.” It was a crushing blow as she played Revolver for me on our turntable, which was sitting on the living room floor for one of her big cleaning-reorganizing rampages. I still appreciate Paul on a better level than John. I appreciate him for the same reason I appreciate Brandon Tartikoff. Marketability is such an important part of culture, and it pains me to see so much good stuff fall by the wayside.

*The answer, of course, was Christopher Nance. We were an NBC family.

Note: I owe a major league thanks to Sally O’Rourke of No Hard Chords fame for reading this series.

Next: Ace of Base and the Decline and Fall of Step-Aerobics