Tuesday, 29 March 2011

But is it art?

I once attended a meeting for all the 'creatives' in my agency, where the moderator asked us to go around the table and talk about what inspired us. The responses from most of the group were somewhat predictable - Tate Modern, Charles Bukowski, Hunter S Thompson.

By the time it was my turn to answer, I felt a little intimidated by my esteemed colleagues. But I took a deep breath and said that I find inspiration in popular culture. I argued that it provides us with a universal lexicon of references; a shared framework of recognisable touchpoints. So that even those who missed out on the musical wonders of Geri Halliwell's difficult second album, know enough about the ex-Spice Wench to at least have an opinion.

Over the years I've managed to come to terms with my sense of shame, and embrace my love of the tacky, trashy and tawdry. I get a warm buzz from shitty movies, revel in reality TV and turn up my pop music even when the car roof is down and I'm sitting at the lights. If pedestrians don't like it, they can just walk a little faster.

This may be a controversial opinion, but I believe that art can be anything which generates an interpretive response. When it comes to creative expression, there's no such thing as good or bad. Just varying tastes. And it's those differences that I try to celebrate every day.

Last night, BBC Four broadcast a performance of the new Royal Opera House production of Anna Nicole - a fictionalised account of the troubled life of everyone's favourite drug-addled gold digger. The fusion of celebrity and art raised a number of immaculately sculpted eyebrows when it was first announced, even though ROH's music director Antonio Pappano argued that "librettists have long used female characters to challenge prejudices and attitudes."

But this intriguing blurring of the boundaries between high and low culture is nothing new. It simply demonstrates that the two schools of thought are not so diametrically opposed. This is something that Walt Ribeiro clearly feels strongly about. As the founder of For Orchestra, he's cleverly rearranged a wide range of pop songs for a full orchestra and turned his ambitious experiment into a fairly successful musical venture.

His latest opus is the now legendary Friday, by internet ingenue Rebecca Black. Since its discovery three weeks ago, this ridiculous piece of pop ephemera has been elevated to world-beating meme, turning its thirteen year-old singer into a household name. Despite its 'written on a Post-It' level of sophistication, the song has moved beyond being a target for lazy cyberbullies, and inspired a number of genuinely entertaining and witty pastiches, parodies and spoofs.

There's the Bob Dylan remake, which actually sounds like an authentic studio outtake by the folksy king of mumble music:

Friday's video has also been repurposed by the team at Bad Lip-Reading, giving the song an entirely new meaning (as well as lyrics and melody):

And then there's Ribeiro's 'classical' reinterpretation, which simply celebrates the song's unapologetic joy.

In his introduction to the performance, he says: "To me, it’s a successful piece of music because it got people talking, it got people emotional. The piece is incredibly happy in it’s emotion, and I wanted to capture that with the violins, so I had them play triumphantly in the beginning and in the ending. I love the honesty of this piece, and really wanted to transcend the feeling of 'fun fun fun fun'."

Although I originally criticised the team at Ark Music Factory for missing the point of pop music, I'm prepared to eat my lyrics sheet. And I hereby pledge never again to apologise for enjoying my guilty pleasures. Because, as these performances suggest, there's really nothing to feel guilty about.

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