Abandoning sincerity and his hopes for success, the pop singer wrote a catchy but asinine song in a fit of spite and anger to mock the musical tastes of the listening public, featuring a melody as infectious as it was repetitive, which sounded like this: I-V-vi-IV. The song became a hit, captivating everyone except one critic, who called it banal and derivative.
The pop singer hated that people would love such a derivative and banal song. He hated his new fans so much he had trouble falling asleep on his pillows stuffed with money and women’s panties. So, to prove how shallow and insipid were the musical tastes of the masses, he woke up one night and wrote a song that sounded thusly: I-IV-V.
It too became a hit. Indeed, a rash of tweens, teens, and twixters tattooed the pop singer’s face on various parts of their bodies, but nobody minded because the pop singer’s music was so well-loved. That same critic who panned his first song hated this one too, calling it insipid and shallow.
Despondency overtook the pop singer. He couldn’t seem to escape the empire of success built on his testaments to the wretched stupidity of the masses: his songs were on every radio station and in every movie. In his despair he wailed and gnashed his teeth, the sounds echoing against the travertine floors of his mansion.
He wrote another song that went I-VI. It had no verses or changes, only the refrain, “Buy this song / Love me.” The pop singer wanted to show, once and for all, with nuance and sophisticated irony, that the masses were consumerist sheep without an individual mind among them.
The hypnotic piece launched him to new levels of success. The melody wormed into people’s ears and drove them mad. Women and men beat their breasts with their fists and tore at their faces with whatever sharp objects were at hand. Children killed small animals and arranged their entrails in the shape of the pop singer’s lyrics. The pop singer was unanimously declared Emperor of the United States and Protectorate of Mexico. The critic declared the song dull, its critique of capitalism and its adherents as devoid of poignancy and nuance as capitalism itself.
After reading the (mostly positive) reviews of his latest song, His Imperial Majesty the Pop Singer summoned the critic to his throne room in Memphis, Tennessee, and spoke into his scepter that was also a microphone, made from the dried fontanels of sacrificed infants.
“You don’t like my music,” boomed the pop singer. “Why?”
“Because your music is repetitive, banal, derivative, insipid, shallow, and lacks meaning,” said the critic.
“But this was intentional: I wished to prove that the masses have bad taste. My songs were successful in affirming this fact. Hence all of this,” the pop singer waved his scepter around at all the dimidiated escutcheons emblazoned on purple banners.
“You can’t critique by mere mirroring,” said the critic, “for criticism must comment on a system from outside said system. A song that mimics terrible music and feeds it back to people is no better than the pablum it parodies, regardless of the height of a haughty pop singer’s horse.”
The critic was locked in the dungeon while the pop singer thought about their conversation. The critic was right, the pop singer decided. No longer would he write simple, catchy songs to mock the taste of the listening public by feeding them what they wanted, no. Now he would write songs with impenetrable complexity to prove the unsophisticated tastes of the masses who can’t appreciate anything that challenges conventions. The pop singer immediately cast aside his scepter and cape and entered the imperial studio, producing a song that sounded like this: I-V6-IV6-V7sus4-V-I-V6-i6-ii7sus4-V7/vi-vii0/vi-vi7-ii7-V7sus4. He called the song his greatest achievement and debuted it in a parade honoring himself, the superiority of his musical taste, and the diversity of his oeuvre.
His loyal subjects had mixed feelings. Some thought the song “interesting,” while others thought it hard to dance to. After some initial backlash, though, the public decided it was nice to play when they needed a break from the pop singer’s first three songs, so they could eat and rest and apply salve to the hairless spots on their scalps.
The critic would have called the song inaccessible and muddled, but he was being held captive in a dungeon somewhere in Tennessee. He had abandoned all hope of awakening critical impartiality in the listening public and began whistling repetitive and infectious melodies with the earnest hope of distracting or dissuading the gaoler, who ignored the critic as he sharpened his torture instruments, preparing to elicit from the critic a symphony of human suffering, the only music that moved him.
S.P. MacIntyre was born in Los Angeles, writes in Champaign, Illinois, and lives in Miami, Florida. His fiction has previously appeared in The Rattling Wall and he has poems forthcoming at Hobart.