‘Making It’ Pop: The ingredients for sweet success in the most addictive music genre

“The name is Simon, the game is P.O.P…” – Simon Curtis, “Laser Guns Up”

It’s a cool Friday night in April, and it’s show time for Simon Curtis. The 25-year-old up-and-coming pop singer from Tulsa, Oklahoma is performing his first New York City show before a sold-out audience of 220. On stage is not the usual legion of back-up dancers or fancy set, but only a microphone stand. For Curtis, the minimalism renders the stage a blank canvas. He captivates the crowd with choreography that’s more Britney than Justin, with plenty of twitching, snapping, and strutting. His moves are topped by syrupy vocals that evoke Darren Hayes of Savage Garden. Just as much as Curtis evokes the past, he also serves up new twists. Over a pulsating beat, he belts out one of his latest songs, an alternative to Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” called “Don’t Dance”:

I’m not gonna tell you to dance, just gonna keep on doing my thing
I’m not gonna tell you to move, just gonna keep on playin’ the way I’m playin’
Don’t dance, don’t dance, don’t dance!

The message, however, doesn’t keep the crowd from dancing. The setting is Superfraiche Pop Night in Brooklyn’s Galapagos Art Space, where the tables, standing on concrete lily pads, are surrounded by water. Curtis is one of four acts taking the stage. Superfraiche, a pop concert series launched in 2009, also has been held in Los Angeles and Atlanta. As the name, a French play on “super fresh” suggests, the show provides pop hopefuls with a platform beyond the Top 40 Billboard charts.

Curtis enters the pop music scene without a record deal, publicist, or manager. But, that hasn’t mattered as much as it would have in the past because of the Internet and the way the music industry has changed. The Internet offers free online exposure for savvy social network pros on Facebook and Twitter. He’s also breaking into the industry at a time when CD sales aren’t the primary source of revenue. Emphasizing ticket sales, record companies are now investing in entertainers who can sell both Madison Square Garden tickets and iTunes singles. That often rules out the simply talented singers in favor of “entertainers,” with a niche that sets them apart like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Ke$ha at the helm. Note that they are all women, which presents an obstacle for Curtis as a male pop singer, a rare species in music today. Read more…


Talking Pop with Arjan Timmermans, founder of ArjanWrites.com

Arjan Timmermans and Me at ArjanWrites.com's Superfraiche Pop Night in Brooklyn's Galapagos Art Space on 4/1/11

Superfraiche is a pop concert series that showcases up-and-coming pop acts. Since its launch in 2009, the show has taken place in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York. The sixth edition, held in Brooklyn’s Galapagos Art Space on April 1st, featured Sky Ferreira, Simon Curtis, Databoy, and She’s the Queen. Backstage, I spoke with its founder, Arjan Timmermans of the popular music blog ArjanWrites.com. He was the first credentialed blogger to cover the Grammy Awards and he’s also been featured on CNN. Here is the interview, where we chatted about the origins of his blog, the concert series, and what makes a pop song “pop.”

  1. You launched your blog, ArjanWrites.com, in 2002. What was your goal with the website?

My goal with the website was to bring fresh new pop to people, so it was really all about sharing new music that I found, whether it was from independent artists in America or exciting new music from Europe, and share that with my friends. What happened is that a lot of people found my blog and started reading it. That’s how it grew to what it is now, which is a platform for pop music in America, so the original idea was about sharing great pop music. Read the rest of this entry »


Q&A with Jason Lipshutz, Editorial Assistant at Billboard.com

A few days after my interview with Simon Curtis, I spoke to Jason Lipshutz, the editorial assistant at Billboard.com who wrote a feature on the rising pop star. Here are some excerpts from the interview, where we talked about Simon, as well as the Internet’s costs and benefits for artists trying to make it in the music industry.

1.     What types of topics or genres do you cover at Billboard?

I work for both the magazine and mostly the website. It deals with a lot of different genres: pop, rock, mostly popular music. We don’t specialize in emerging bands as of now, but we focus more on established artists.

2.     So it was rare that you featured someone like Simon Curtis, an independent act. How did you become aware of him?

We did a feature on Simon because first off, his music is compelling, and second, because he has a following. We saw that he has a fan base, and he’s performing pretty well in terms of social media. Read the rest of this entry »


USC Sociology Professor on pop music

Dr. Mathieu Deflem, USC professor of “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame,” Photo by Michael Brown/provided by Dr. Deflem

Seeking the definition of pop music, I contacted Dr. Mathieu Deflem, a sociology professor at the University of South Carolina who teaches the course “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame.” This is the insight that he had to share on how pop music compares to other genres.

1. In terms of music production and cultural significance, how does pop differ from other music genres?

Culturally, pop is more popular, by definition, and therefore more significant in terms of reaching people. As music is always a form of communication (or, music is not music until it has an audience), pop music is more socially significant than any other genre. Music production has mainly changed over the years because of technological advances (synthesizers, digital recording etc).

2. How does the current pop music scene compare to that of previous decades? If not, how is it similar?

Not sure, but as always, musical genres go through waves of popularity, and right now pop is at the top of popular music, absent any decent rock music except those rock genres that stay underground.

Read the rest of this entry »