Pop music is a gun aimed at your mind: the chilled emotions of Wilson Phillips in a grocery store freezer section.

Image adapted from Mike8411251995: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Harris_Teeter_Entrance.JPG

By Subfringe staff
Fri, Sept 23, 2016

My local Harris Teeter chain grocery store is open 24 hrs, which means I can go in middle of the night and not have to rub shoulders with the 9:00-5:00 crowd of bankers and medical billing types who show up for work, take breaks, screw some customers, collect a nice paycheck, and go home. It's a bit like pornography, except the porn industry is regulated. Unfortunately, the daytime happy mood music dished out for these people sometimes lingers into the evening, well past when it should have stopped.

A remix of Billie Jean with short techno interludes plays in the produce section. I could have done without that. A non-mixed Supremes track is a relief as I work my way through the deli section. Dionne Warwick is ok as I get the cookies, chips, and toilet paper. I'm full blown annoyed when the hollow ringing tones of "Haven't Met You Yet" begin to spill out. Michael "Bublé". His name could be used for a brand of flavored sparkling water.

By the time I get to the frozen section, they're playing Wilson Phillips again. I'm beginning to suspect they always play Wilson Phillips in the freezer section, whatever they're playing in other parts of the store.

"...aah, my love, aah you're in love, that's the way it should be, 'cause I want you to be happy, you're in love and I know that you're not in love with me, oooh it's enough for me to know that you're in love, now I'll let you go 'cause I know that you're in love..."

Just read that a couple of times, and hear the song in the head. Try doing it if you just broke up with someone. Keep doing it. 'We broke up, you found someone you're happy with, I'm happy for you'. Whatever message the words have evaporates in the acid dreaminess of the vocal melodies. It is not what I want to hear right now.

Unlike anyone working in this grocery store at 2:00am, I'm old enough to remember when this song was new and played ad nauseum on radio stations that would have been off the air by the end of the week had their kickbacks from record companies ceased. Before this song landed, these stations were playing "Vogue" ad nauseum. I wonder whether hearing it in grocery store freezer sections as they grew up inoculated them to it, or whether it sounds dated to any of them.

One doesn't want to be too critical simply on account of the uses and over-uses the music was put to by Hollywood label types with marketing degrees. With different production values, and if I'd never heard Wilson Phillips on the radio, I might even count them decent. Still, some products are more difficult then others to separate from their packaging, like the ready made dinners in the freezer section.

Maybe it's simply an inability of myself, or anyone whose company I value, to identify with the sentiments and charmed lives of re-habed Beverly Hills teens back in 1991, let alone in 2016. One could be cynical and say this is the music of the 1%, much as critic Michael Hann has labeled the `80s music of Spandau Ballet "the sound of Thatcherism". Maybe the issue is what happens to genuine talent and sincere intent when it meets the machine, or when it's the progeny of the machine, in this case.

And yet, the other night I watched a video of a live 1972 performance by Traffic of "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys", a commercially successful song in its day, in all it's jazz infused splendor. I thought - this will never be played in a grocery store. Even if the title takes on altered associations through today's cultural prism, the edginess and grit remain, and effectively exclude it from any retail streaming. No one says 'programming' anymore when discussing playlists or broadcasts, because the connotation is too blatantly clear. My new litmus test for authenticity in music: would the song ever be playlisted for a grocery store, except by someone thoroughly fed up with his job and ready to chuck it in?

The fact is, I don't need music in the grocery store. One evening when the place was quiet, I spent double what I normally spend because I wasn't speed walking the cart through the isles to get out. Hearing Natalie Goulding while I'm waiting at the paint counter at Home Depot doesn't contribute anything to that experience, either. If I want music, I can go to a club, or I have a stereo. It isn't as if there's a shortage of options.

On the way out, I notice for the first time in the street lights the dark patterns in the faux brick facade of the grocery store, mimicking the bricked over windows of the textile mills the store's architecture is based on, mostly demolished now, that once defined industry and shaped life in the area. There are no windows, though, and the more I look, the more it just seems like a stock building from SimCity2000. Except, this is a totally controlled real world environment packaged solely for consumption, a place where marketing goes to consummate itself with managed sentiments, compressing four of the emotions defined by psychologists, anger, fear, disgust, and sadness, into the two more appealing and easily managed ones of happiness and surprise.

Someone will comment, "But I just wanna be happy, what's wrong with happy music?" It isn't about being happy. This is the music they play so the next time your health insurer and hospital collude to shaft you with a $15k bill for a night in the hospital, or your car dealership service dept tells you that you voided your powertrain warranty by using seat covers, you don't shove their arsses against the wall where they belong and inform them, "not this time f-ckers".

Music is a weapon, but not the way it should be.