This morning, while I was eating a bowl a cereal, I flipped on the Today show just as Katy Perry was taking the stage. And while I was rolling my eyes at her outfit, the stage props (was that supposed to be a cloud? Or gigantic cotton candy?), and surreal dancing bears, I suddenly had a flashback to the mid-90s and realized I couldn’t judge.
As I’ve said before, I went to Ireland inspired by earthy traditional music played on accordions and fiddles, tin whistles and bodhrán drums. I found all that, and it was marvelous. And then, there was this:
I’m cheating a bit this week, because the Spice Girls aren’t Irish — but in Galway during the fall of 1996, it seemed nearly impossible to escape them. One of my earliest memories after arriving in town is turning on the television in my apartment, seeing the official video for “Say You’ll Be There” (the one set in the Mojave Desert), and thinking, “what the...?” But it wasn’t long (probably that weekend) before I was dancing to — and singing along with — their songs like everyone else. Sure, you could go down to The Crane or the Club Áras na nGael for an amazing trad session, but just as often, it was pop music that spilled out of clubs and pubs as you walked down the street at midnight.
It was the constantly shifting combinations of traditional and contemporary culture that I found most exciting and confusing about living in Galway. On a Tuesday night, I might go to an Irish language class and then set dancing at Monroe’s. Then on Saturday, it might be a night out at the GPO and dancing to more pop music than I’d heard since the 8th grade. Back in the States, my friends were mortified that I knew all the words to Spice Girl songs. But I was so surprised by the idea of a Europop, gin-soaked, neon-tinged Galway that there was nothing to do but embrace it with enthusiasm.
Katy Perry’s Today show stage featured larger-than-life candy — a fitting metaphor for the pop music that can become our guilty pleasure. When it’s done well, it’s music that makes us dance even as we check to make sure no one catches us in Top 40 indulgence. It may not have much substance, but it’s a sweet treat and the sugar buzz can make you feel invincible for up to four minutes.
It’s the last week of summer, people. What the heck? Here’s another one.