How Can Rock Combat The Dreaded “Pop Menace”? Billy Corgan Has The Answer

"Alternative artists need to return to their aggression," says the outspoken Smashing Pumpkins force.

Rock ’n’ roll is facing a difficult future as we venture further into the 21st century. Unique artistic voices are dying out, and in their place are fame-hungry hopefuls desperate to shoehorn themselves into the pre-constructed roles that have been established in the industry. As a result, mainstream music is clogged with repetitive pop songs played largely by computers instead of people, and the lack of humanity is painfully apparent. What’s worse, many young musicians have come to believe that the only way to make a living as an artist is to aggressively package oneself.

For the past 15 years, music has been over-run by faceless posers and plastic pop stars. How can rock survive in a climate of mass-produced mediocrity? Billy Corgan has some thoughts.

The Smashing Pumpkin’s guiding spirit was one of the many guests of honor at Live Nation’s first annual National Concert Day at New York City’s Irving Plaza. The event provided an opportunity to ask Mr. Corgan about how rock music can combat the dreaded pop music menace. Always outspoken, he did not demure. We’ll let him take it from here.

Speaking from a personal point of view, liking pop music is fine. There are plenty of pop musicians that I appreciate, but we’ve lost that divide on what I call alternative integral culture and pop culture. Pop culture is rapacious, it’s meant to celebrate a particular shallowness. You see it in the fashion and the music business, and it’s totally fine.

Alternative culture is really more woven into the social fabric. Through alternative culture we’ve raised awareness about everything, including gender issues. You know, when we started the Pumpkins we had a women in the band [D’arcy Wretzky], and she would get asked the stupidest questions like, “What’s it like to be a women in a rock ’n’ roll band?” Thankfully that conversation has evolved over the last 20 years.

Alternative music really represents social issues, and alternative music is losing its high ground. It should be able to look down at pop and say, “You can play down there in the dirt while we’re up here really espousing values that are ultimately more important.” And as you see, it sticks more generationally, which is why I still have a street cache that a pop star from 20 years ago doesn’t have.

So, alternative artists need to return to their aggression. They need to be anti-pop as much as they need to be pro-values. And when we lose the high ground of our value system, then what do we have? Then we are literally competing in how good of a picture you take, or how good is your dumb song versus my dumb song? When I write a song, it’s me writing a song. I’m not competing against someone who’s got seven writers on a song. Literally, pop music will have seven writers on a song. It’s me against them. And I’m not complaining or bitter, I’m saying it because my high ground is my values system. It’s what I represent in living, body and soul. If someone wants to be pop that’s fine, but there’s a clock ticking on them that I don’t have. You get it?

Got it.

The socially conscious Corgan also spoke on his new collaboration with Easter Seals, an organization that gives support to the staggering number of U.S. military veterans who live below the poverty line. He has pledged to work with the group during his co-headlining The End Times tour with Marilyn Manson this summer. “We kind of want to raise awareness of what’s going on in our veterans’ communities,” he says, “We want to support families. It sounds like a very simplistic message, but it needs to be branded in a new way in American society.”

VH1 Music Editor + Seltzer Enthusiast
@jordanruntagh