I have been doing…

…some thinking about the state of pop music lately.  Pop music is fascinating from a sort-of outsider perspective (“sort-of” in that we are all technically immersed in pop culture whether we want to be or not.  Unless you literally live without access to it, which, these days, takes a concerted effort!).  I was listening to the radio on my way to work the other day, and heard this song:


For those of you not in the know, this is Feel This Moment by Pitbull, featuring Christina Aguilera.  The song is mostly about how awesome it is to be Pitbull, aka this guy:

Yeah, this guy…

with Christina chiming in with the hook (who does she look like, Patti LaBelle or somebody?!).  But for most of us born in the 80s, or those of us who had to live through the 00’s when the 80’s was dragged back on through, you probably recognize the nod to a-ha’s Take On Me:


The question that came to me was whether this was a sample or not, and if it was, what was its meaning?  In the digital age, a sample is a pretty distinctive unit, in that it is a literal sonic copy.  It’s pretty obvious that this a-ha moment is not a sample because it’s 1) in the wrong key, and 2) not played by the correct “instruments” (for lack of a better term).  So then, does it behave by the same aesthetic principles of a sample?  Is it a narrative construction, the way that sampling could be interpreted in something like the Beastie Boys?

My stance is “not so much.”  To me, this behaves more like troping, in the Medieval sense of the word.  Troping, says Wikipedia, is:

[…] an important compositional technique where local composers could add their own voice to the body of liturgical music. These added ideas are valuable tools to examine compositional trends in the Middle Ages, and help modern scholars determine the point of origin of the pieces, as they typically mention regional historical figures […]

Troping was a way for composers to engage the “classics” (read: THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE GOD-GIVEN MUSIC AT THE TIME), and add their own flair to them.  From there, the flair gradually took over, and the original became more and more marginalized until it was almost there as a formality, or a structural guide post:

(If I’m getting this wrong, I’m sorry.  Musicologists with real musicology knowledge, comment with corrections!)

What I’m getting at with this is that it seems to me that the pop music industry is behaving much like a Medieval church, in that it only sanctions some kinds of music (in the case of Pitbull, only music that has a proven track record of success).  Pitbull must, then, trope on these successful pieces of music in order to demonstrate to his overseers (again, I need a better term there!) that his expressions will be valid (read: make money).  It’s kind a cool comparison.  Do we live in a time like the Medieval Period for the arts?