It’s no secret that the annual EMP Pop Conference is a favorite event of mine. Besides feeling like I’m amidst “my people,” (i.e. nerded out music journalists and scholars), I also come away from it with a bounty of songs to learn/revisit. Here’s some of the more memorable ones from this year’s Pop Con.
Chicago’s Jessica Hopper reminded the world that there’s no book about Curtis Mayfield, wtf. She discussed the LP version of “Move On Up,” one of the greatest anthems to crop up in the transition from the Civil Rights Movement to the Black Power Movement. She structured her talk in such a way to leave time to play the entire LP version of the song and I realized…wait, I’ve never heard the entire LP version of the song. Damn.
I had dinner with a small crew of folks including Eric Weisbard, Jody Rosen, Gayle Wald, Daphne Brooks, Carl Wilson, and (celebrating her b-day) Ann Powers and during the course of some delicious Indian food, we somehow got around to talking about whether all sad songs are deliberately manipulative in their sadness. That included a discussion of Dolly Parton’s “dead baby” songs but someone (I think Eric) volunteered this Iris Dement song as “saddest song ever” (or something to that extent).
I saw Langston Wilkins give a great paper about the history of slab culture in Houston hip-hop, especially in helping to explain the North vs. South side beefs chronicled in such songs such as “Northside Haters” by Fat Pat. The short version: don’t f— with another man’s rims.
J.D. Considine was presenting on k-pop and when I happened to sit down next to him, he started telling me about this insane video by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu called “PONPONPON.” I’m not sure wtf is happening here except that it involves toast…and eyeballs.
Nadia Ellis presented on New Orleans bounce and Jamaican dancehall culture. She played several videos, including this one from Big Freedia which had me twitching in my seat as it bumped.
While I was panel-hopping, I caught part of Gary Sullivan’s paper about Rebecca Pan and her role in Hong Kong’s pop scene of the 1960s. In particular, he directed folks to Pan’s cover of the Cuban ballad, “Siboney Amor,” (one of my personal favorites), as sung in Mandarin. 挺好!
This year’s Critical Karaoke had the theme of…cover songs. (How sad am I that I didn’t volunteer for it? I didn’t know!) There’s a slew of songs to share from just that panel.
Let’s start with Summer Kim Lee and her example of a “best cover”: BenZel doing Brownstone’s “If You Love Me.”
On the other side, Joshua Clover offered this up for a “worst cover.” I heartily agree; it’s an abomination.
Then, during the Q&A portion, a flurry of other covers were entered into discussion. Nina Simone came up twice…once for her own cover (h/t Joshua Clover?) of “Feelings”…
…and then once for Labelle’s cover of Nina Simone’s “Four Women” (h/t Gayle Wald).
Actually, Gayle also mentioned a “cover-by-the-original-songwriter,” i.e. Dan Penn singing “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” which he wrote and which Aretha Franklin turned into a monster hit.
And let’s just close this on a triple play of connections…Rotary Connection covering “Respect,” another song made famous by Aretha but itself, a cover of Otis Redding. Shout out to Emily Lordi who mentioned it.