How fitting that it was during my early adolescence, the time its said that most human beings fully assert their personal opinions and tastes, that I first heard the term Bubblegum applied to music. At the time it appeared to be defined mainly about songs that were very intensely melodic: easily sung with lyrics that easily appealed to the average 11-12 year old. Interestingly enough this was in 1992, the era of the big angst explosion in music with the arrival of gangsta rap and grunge rock. It was also a time when I began reading musical guide books such as AMG Guide To Rock and other such books of album reviews-learning about artists I like,what their releases were like,how they were rated and looking up music I wasn’t sure of at all. During this time I found out something that,at that moment,came into my head as being rather horrifying to hear. Much of the pop music I loved and took rather seriously growing up was now being considered “bubblegum” music. And bubblegum music,or “ear candy” as it was sometimes referred to had suddenly become a musical sin in this cynically creative time frame. Most teenagers are desirous of being “cool” in some kind of way. I suppose I was no exception. Yet to paraphrase Laura Nyro, I was about to read between the lines of the metaphorical musical “good lord Jesus” I’d grown up learning about.
One of the most important musical realities I came to realize is the early 90’s alternative rock scenes denial of the musical chain of command they were a part of. Most of them in the earlier part of the decade were based in punk. And the most famous of the original New York punk/new wave bands such as The Ramones or Blondie proudly listed 1960’s bubblegum pop as their influence. And it was not necessarily an ironic one. They deeply embraced the music’s simplicity. And the fact that you didn’t have to have a bachelors degree in music in order to play it, which was part of the “no more than three chords” ethic of the Malcolm McLaren school of punk innovators. Of course there was also the most important truth about Bubblegum music during this era: a lot of the dislike and dismissal of it had to do with the alternative cultures credo of basically slamming down any music,particularly rock music, from the previous decade of the 1980’s. Once rather beloved songs from that era such as “We Built This City On Rock And Roll” and Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” suddenly become poster children for the early 90’s music culture rhetoric of “phony,commercial and irrelevant” that was often applied in the most self involved manner to anything that wasn’t embraced by that cultures particular interests.
Its been two decades now since the alternative rock culture was ascendant. And Kurt Cobain is gone. So where does that leave bubblegum today. Fact is,in terms of popular tastes “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Black Hole Sun” have returned mostly into the domain of a cult following. It is in fact the danceable rhythms and infectious melodies of Lou Bega’s “Mambo No.5”,OMC’s “How Bizarre” or even the Spice Girls wonderful “Say You’ll Be There”-all generally despised in their day, that have endured with the public tastes. Those who felt the need to rebel in the alternative rock era of the early 90’s really had nothing around them to rebel against. With the realities of political and economic discord of the modern world,joy and positivity in music are back in fashion in a non ironic manner. Personally I often wonder why the more instrumentally challenging and still lyrically uplifting genre of 70’s funk was more popular with the public today. But that seems to be becoming of value too. While the music of people such as Katy Perry seems to be increasing the potency of the bubblegum genre,another factor of the musics definition-that the flavor of its memorability doesn’t last long as does actual chewing gum, is being changed with the influence of 70’s and early 80’s funk beginning to flow into newer genres such as dubstep and EDM. So has bubblegum interestingly enough opened the door for other lyrically clear forcasted musics such as funk to make a comeback? Its a good possibility that could happen. And if so, I welcome it.