The eternal mystery of girl groups
Having a deep affection for girl groups, meaning the 60s pop type and all their bastard cousins, is one of those things that people tend not to really understand, especially at first. My boyfriend initially tended to wonder why I had a sick need for MP3s of the Angels and the Shirelles and why I had firm opinions that Phil Spector is a genius that I would like to kick in the nuts. After a simple application of playing the music all the damn time for him, he gets it now and I got out of the shower tonight to find him playing video games while listening to an obscure mix of British girl groups that imitate the American girl group style.
It's hard to explain the appeal. It feels oddly empowering to listen to it, which is hard to justify to others, considering the typically insipid lyrics of your average girl group song. (There are exceptions, of course. For instance, some Motown stuff is actually clever or moving.) The music itself is often surprisingly inventive, pulling in pop and R&B elements, clever production and even pulling on the rock and funk sounds at time. But still, it's hardly art rock or anything else you would whip out to impress people with your smarts.
Pop music should be a modern version of folk music--simple and honest, yes, but surprisingly innovative and indicative of the artistic ingenuity that is part of the human spirit and not reliant on academic training or living in artistic ghettos or being educated at impossibly exclusive schools. But pop music now is soulless and micromanaged and expresses almost nothing about us normal people's feelings, except the urge to go to the mall and buy something you really have no place to wear.
Older pop music is calculating in its way, but since no one really took it so damn seriously, there isn't all this micromanaging going on. Throw some girls in front of a mic since the public likes to hear girls sing now, some insipid lyrics about loving a boy, there you go, not much thought in the management of it. Because of that, there was a sort of weird time in the late 50s and 60s where women's voices came through with the sort of honesty that tends to make people freak out now. The effort at the artistry, their own view of themselves as musicians, the belief that even silly songs about crushes deserve a soulful treatment--all this stuff comes across and I think that's the appeal.
Even women working under oppressive management, like the Ronettes or the Crystals under Phil Spector, still had an opportunity to put themselves forward in their music in a way that Britney Spears will never get to experience. It's easy to relate to it, romanticize it. I still get a cheap thrill out of Ronnie Spector's bad girl image. She makes it all too tempting to abuse eyeliner.
Plus, it's fun. The lyrics you want to deride as silly actually describe the feelings that tend to make us battiest from our teenage years on--falling for someone, worrying about loss, navigating the treacherous path between passion and sense. There are a million rock songs by men, some by Very Serious Artists, about the very same themes. But to be female and write love songs, you have to strike a pose, embody a stereotype of sorts, make some sort of statement on your sexual status in relation to men. There aren't any female artists that are popular that don't strike a dishonest pose of sorts. (There are tons underground that do their own thing, thank you very much.) Alanis Morrisette is for the Angry Bitches. Avril Lavigne for the Kooky Chicks Who Think They're Cute. I'm not even touching Britney or Christina. A few women in hip hop sell without embracing a tedious stereotype, but even they are sadly rare.
I like the songs because they are fun love songs that are open-ended, so their female audience can relate without feeling pressure to fit a stereotype. I can listen to "Then He Kissed Me" and even think about the fun of kissing someone for the first time without feeling it makes much of a statement on my womanhood. Plus, some of that shit is damn good. I'm just saying.