So, to sum up: People who worked together have aesthetics that have rubbed off on one another. I mean, ugh, I know it’s the Internet, and OMG CONTROVERSY is the name of the pageview-goosing game. And it’s not like there are Dr. Luke fangirls clogging up ONTD and big-upping their hero and his protégés and collaborators 24/7. But Jesus, people. If you want to bitch about songs on the radio sounding the same, maybe scratch the surface as far as Wikipedia and figure out why?
If anything, it might be an argument for crediting the producer rather than the singer as the artist. Kinda like the way Lee “Scratch” Perry has come to be viewed in modern discussions of reggae music. Those records were never credited to Perry himself, and were often credited to whatever singer he was recording. But these days we don’t look at them as works of the singer, but of the producer. Same could be said of Phil Spector. It’s a shame that it always takes 20 years or so for anyone to start looking at a particular producer this way, because it probably takes the emphasis away from the people who are doing the actual work.
Of course, a focus on the producers like this easily plays into certain rockist (and not incidentally sexist) paradigms where the (Male) Mad Genius is the one who does the “actual work” while the Sexy (Female) Assistants are only there to provide eye candy and trick people into listening. It’s a way of robbing women like Susan Cadogan and Veronica Bennett of agency, to suggest that their talent for deploying their limited but hugely evocative voices was entirely due to the creative efforts of Lee Perry and Phil Spector.
And that’s not even getting into the problematic morality of the Producer Regnant/Dependent Talent paradigm; the stories of Phil Spector and Ike Turner should be well-known enough to make anyone cautious about drawing parallels. The problem Maura identifies above — that not enough people are interested in the music enough to figure out why it sounds similar — needs to be solved not by framing the players in an old narrative (and the Svengali narrative is very old at this point) but by understanding exactly what is going on so that we can draw up a new one.
I was just writing something about Perry and defaulted to that superhero metaphor — the pop star as a narrative/character the singer’s responsible for acting out. (It’s just as true for folks in rock bands who aren’t driving the band’s ideas/style!)