“I didn’t want to be no, pop singer…”
I don’t think that I’d heard the song “Pop Singer” by John Mellencamp for more than twenty years. The rocker from Indiana has had dozens of hit songs, but this one hasn’t gotten the airtime that timeless songs like “Jack and Diane”, “Pink Houses” or “Paper in Fire” have received. Pop Singer peaked at #15 on the billboard charts in the United States.
“I didn’t want to write no, pop song…”
When that song was in heavy circulation back in 1989, it confused me because it was a pop song, he did write it, and it was very popular. So it seemed hypocritical and a mixed message to me, stating he didn’t want to do it but he was making money off of it. But I didn’t get that Mellencamp was singing about not wanting to do something to make the point.
“Never wanted to have my manager over for dinner..”
In 1989, I had a dream but not the talent or drive to be a rock star. I had the obligatory long hair, I had the v neck guitar and I lived for music. But deep down, I had no confidence that I could or would be any good in music. I did have many friends in New York that were playing live shows, some opening for semi-famous bands and going out on tour. I got a small, morsel sized sample of the industry, but I’d never thought about the messy inside of the business until I heard the line about the manager.
“Never wanted to hang out, after the show…”
It was when I heard this line, just a few days ago, that I stopped the music, stopped what I was doing and did a little research into the origins of this song. I’ve known that the lyrics were sarcastic, but I wasn’t old enough or mature enough to get it as a teenager. Back then, it was all about “after the show”. The parties, the girls and the madness. Was Mellencamp so drab that he really didn’t want to hang out after the show?
I began relating this to the world I’m in now. A world where so many are vying for attention to get noticed- the writers, podcasters, speakers, bloggers, etc. The parallels were uncomfortably common. I started to understand more where Mellencamp was coming from when he wrote the song.
He wrote this song because he was upset with the way his manager had created and shaped his image. He had many name changes during the early part of his career, including the cringe worthy Johnny Cougar. As Mellencamps career evolved, he took more liberty and control, making it about the music and not his image. So he avoided so many of the trivialities that others were coerced into doing, like the meet and greets, radio station concerts and the cheesy promotions that usually come with the gig.
“Just want to make it real- good, bad or indifferent…”
I honestly didn’t know that was a line of the song until this week as I did research. Since 1989, it was nothing more that a mumbly, incoherent line to me. Now, it’s my favorite line of the song. The more time goes on, the more that I appreciate his approach. I fight against so much of what is expected of me in this industry. I’ve heard countless times that If I don’t promote myself, nobody will know anything about me. But the people that I admire don’t focus on promotion, they focus on the quality of their work. It’s exactly what Mellencamp talked about. It wasn’t about the image- it was about the music.
I don’t care to self promote. I have no interest in doing what everyone tells me to do to be noticed more. I’m not doing videos of me being someone I’m not to get noticed. I don’t hire other people to write or create content. If my name is on it, I wrote it. Our focus has always been that the quality should drive the success.
If the quality itself doesn’t drive success, than the quality needs to be better. To me, it’s plain and simple. It’s ironic, because Mellencamp never wanted to be a pop singer. He never wanted to write pop songs. But because he was true to himself and his music, he had more than sixteen hit songs on the billboard charts.
Ignoring all of the gimmicks that he was pushed to do while keeping an intense focus on actual work is the marketing that set him apart. Focusing on the quality, and being authentically you, might be the best promotion that you can do.