Via Thai Net City and through the kind benediction of my obsessive tendencies, I got my hands on a copy of Pop Angels, a Thai pop supergroup featuring Pim from Zaza. I would likely, at this point in my life, buy a recording of a dog barking for sixty consecutive minutes if you told me that somewhere around the forty-ninth minute you could overhear Pim saying "mai pen rai" to her gardener. I am who I am.
Yet I am rather troubled by Pop Angels, though it's not a bad record. I've been listening to Thai pop pretty intensively since the middle of July; very little else seems to do the trick for me right now, especially if I should happen to be on an airplane trying to kill time but too tired to read. Some recent Thai pop records are so arresting that I should be telling you about them right now instead of fretting about a disappointing one-off: Lanna Commins stands out especially, since her album on the Grammy label is the closest thing to a Pulp album since We Love Life, and comes, in several ways, closer to the ideal than Jarvis himself could manage. What's more, several good compilations have come out this year; Pim from Zaza is on the cover of one of them. You get the general idea.
Yet it's Pop Angels, in all its intolerable overdrive, that scrapes at me and sticks with me. It's hardly even Thai pop at all, really, save for the language. Presumably meaning no harm in the effort, it forces American Hot Wax/The New Mickey Mouse Club fifties nostalgia through an Antares Autotune meat grinder. The result, so luminescent that one's ear tries to incorporate it almost immediately into the background just for the sake of sparing the local perspective, contains all those qualities that endear J-pop to its acolytes: as many musical referents as possible are bundled into the shortest space of time, making the resultant music as much a blueprint for itself as a stand-alone musical effort. It is rather like standing in a holographic field of impossibly yellow daffodils and being asked, by a computer-generated voice doing a passable imitation of one's first girlfriend, to imagine the scent.
Not to be a grouch about it, but Thai pop is something quite special, and its future lies neither in the hyperbolic excesses of J-pop nor in the troubling tendency of its major stars to record songs in English. Tata Young, whose hand I had at one point intended to seek in marriage, went so far as to record an entire album in English; I will not burden you with the details. Of course, Thailand, like any other country, sees the prominent position held by Japan on the international stage and dreams pleasant dreams; who wouldn't? But it wasn't J-pop that built Sony: it was machinery. And so, to no-one in any position to do anything about it, I plead in vain: don't rebuild Thai pop in the image of the Japanese charts! That way lies a sort of fetishism with the power to subvert even the most syncretic of southeastern cultures.
More on this later, whether anybody cares or not.
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