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Anna Sadovskaya: The pop stars of the past

By Anna Sadovskaya, Daily Fine Arts Columnist
Published November 12, 2012

There’s something particularly beautiful in an off-pitch voice serenading you with Ke$ha’s “Die Young.” Momentarily forgetting the homework sitting neglected in a shoved-under-the-bed backpack, the rough crooning of “Wild childs, lookin’ good / Livin’ hard just like we should,” creates a barrier between you and the ugly world with its cradle-like arms of understanding.

But, probably not. There’s nothing truly romantic in Ke$ha’s latest hit. Rather, the hard-thumping techno has one purpose: to remind the listener of their fleeting attractiveness. The only cure? Dancing with a total babe and forgetting the inevitable unhappiness that follows aging.

There’s nothing wrong with cheesy, Auto-Tuned goodness (I love Ke$ha, no shame). In fact, mainstream culture is entirely reliant on the now-usual pop style. Going out, clubbing, having a good time and forgetting that guy who cheated on you — thank god we have a go-to Top 20 song for all those occasions. But popular music hasn’t always been backed by synthesized beats and layered voices.

That’s right; I’m taking it back — way back — and diving into the oft-overlooked, mostly ignored world of classical music. Once upon a time, people got down to Debussy; bounced to Beethoven; waltzed to Vivaldi.

What is now known as classical used to be the life of the party; the quartet in the corner was the band to book and no one even dreamed that one day a half-naked girl with mussed up hair and smudged eyeliner would take over the radio. They didn’t even know there was going to be a radio.

The best part about classical music, for me, is the imagination behind it. There’s a time and a place for it, and when the two line up in perfect harmony, classical music is like an orgy for the soul.

Like when riding a bike borrowed from a friend’s grandma down the bustling, bright streets of Tokyo at night, watching the billboards flash with symbols and photos of unfamiliar celebrities. Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor came on through shuffle, and for once, my iPod nailed it: Piano strokes reverberated the chaos of the city, pulsing beats of a different kind through my ears.

I imagined my life through the music, the cadence of the notes mimicking the rhythm of my pedaling. No words to pause the feeling — just a perfect companion concerto to celebrate the night with.

It was romantic. It was classical. It was edgy and cool because everything lined up, and if a movie was made of my life, I would include that scene, that music and I would also be played by Elizabeth Olsen, obviously.

More than likely, classical music gets a bad rep due to the setting in which it’s listened to. A silent, chair-filled auditorium that seats more than 200 people doesn’t invite any room for feedback or conversation. Rock concerts, pop concerts, electronic music festivals, country hoedowns … they all allow for movement, for discussion, for excitement. Younger generations’ appreciation for music relies on a dialogue between a musician and a listener. Not only are most classical composers dead, but there’s no chance of interaction between the artist and audience.

Ke$ha is a pop star; Taylor Swift is a pop star; Rihanna, Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga are pop stars. Liking pop doesn’t mean a love for hard rock can’t develop. Liking electronic music doesn't negate the catchiness of hip hop. Listening to mainstream doesn't mean classical is moot — only that there's more left to discover in the musical realm.

Listen to classical music on your own: during study hours, during a walk home from class, during an awesome night out that ends at 6 a.m. (no shame, ever). It’s then, at the times where it’s you and the music, that the appreciation can set in.