Document of the week | Decorticated pop

Series This Is Pop wonders about the musical phenomenon

Posted at 9:00 a.m.

Alexandre Vigneault

Alexandre Vigneault
The Press

Did T-Pain “kill” pop music by abusing Auto-Tune software? How has Sweden become the main workshop for Western hits for 50 years? How did the American counterculture give birth to the festival industry? SeriesThis Is Popstreaming on Netflix, asks these questions and more in eight in-depth episodes.

It’s no surprise to learn that Paul McCartney and John Lennon occupy the first and second positions of songwriters with the most number 1s on the charts. Billboard. Who is chasing them? A shadow craftsman, who has written, composed and produced dozens of songs for the biggest pop stars of the last two decades.

His name is Max Martin and, alone or with others, he is behind… Baby One More Timeby Britney Spears, I Kissed a Girl and many other Katy Perry hits, Blinding Lightsfrom The Weeknd, Can’t Stop the Feelingby Justin Timberlake, and the recent My Universe, Coldplay and BTS. It is not alone in its category, since I Want It That Waythe Backstreet Boys, a phenomenal amount of hits from the last 25 years have been written by Swedes like Denniz Pop, Andreas Carlsson, Rami Yacoub, Per Magnusson or Kristian Lundin.

This phenomenon is dug in the third episode This Is Popan eight-episode documentary series produced by Banger Films (Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Hip-Hop Evolution, etc.), a Toronto club that stands out for its anthropological approach. His films and shows seek to contextualize musical phenomena, whether K-Pop or country, to tell the conditions of their emergence and social impacts.

Phenomena to dissect

This Is Pop, which is offered in English with French subtitles, once again adopts this down-to-earth look, little focused on hagiography. In the first episode, the series is interested in the use of Auto-Tune, a voice correction software that has been hijacked to become a controversial sound signature. T-Pain, who used it extensively in the early 2000s, has been more or less accused of having “killed” pop music by abusing effects which, according to his critics, would strip the voice of its humanity. The episode devoted to Auto-Tune goes to meet the creator of the software and shows the gigantic influence he has had on the music of the last 20 years.

While the production company is used to focusing on one genre or artist at a time, This Is Pop casts a wide net: it’s about ABBA, Boys II Men, country music, the hitmakers of the Brill Building (including Neil Sedaka, who describes himself as the “Justin Bieber of the 1950s”) and the emergence of musical festivals.

The direction isn’t always happy (the country music episode is unnecessarily kitsch), but the look is always smart.

This Is Pop stands out for its bias-free approach – much like the series music box from HBO, which was particularly interested in Kenny G. There is obviously no good or bad music in the eyes of its artisans. Only cultural phenomena to dissect and inscribe in the great history of music. A concern that we already felt in the first films of Sam Dunn (Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and Global Metal), one of the founders of the Canadian production company.


Sam Dunn (right) is one of the founders of Banger Films.

Episode 6 focuses in particular on the festival industry, born in the wake of the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival, a symbol of the counterculture (the idea for the event came from the drug dealer of the group The Mamas and the Papas, known as Michelle Philipps), and which is today dominated by the most symbolic of all: the Glastonbury Festival, launched in 1970 by an English farmer who, at its first edition, offered a bottle of milk to each spectator. We are far from Coachella and Osheaga…

As a final, This Is Pop poses a particularly interesting question: can music change the world? While Julian Lennon has just released his version ofConceiveda message of peace written by his father 50 years ago, Chuck D, Public Enemy, Hozier and folk-punk activist Billy Bragg are called to the helm to reflect on committed music.

This Is Popnow on Netflix

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