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TODAY

Tuesday, February 19

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So, I'm going to see the Spice Girls "live" in several months. Yes, voluntarily, and not — as one of my former roommates used to say — "under gun threat," which was her version on "putting a gun to my head." (She's Swedish. She also coined one of the grossest-yet-most-apt words ever: moisty.) Tickets are still available for the February 15 show at the United Center. As of this writing, the best seat — for only $134! — was in section 205, row 7. In London, their first show sold out in 38 seconds. I have yet to decide if I am going to make my own t-shirt and wear it to the show. A friend of mine is a huge Spice Girls fan, and I agreed to go for the spectacle and because I have a fondness for certain kinds of pop music. Also, I once dressed as Spice Rack, a rejected Spice Girl, for Halloween. It's full circle.

This year marks the 50th year for the Grammys, and the pop nominations, as usual, seem to be all over the place. Included artists consist of Christina Aguilera, Fergie, Michael Bublé, Justin Timberlake, Paul McCartney, Bon Jovi, Daughtry, U2, Beyoncé, Robert Plant, the Beastie Boys, and Joni Mitchell. Read those last three names again. Robert Plant, the Beastie Boys, and Joni Mitchell. = Pop? Really?! What a difference several decades make. I would classify them as heavy metal, rap and folk, respectively, although each of these artists is obviously more versatile than other nominees — say Fergie or Daughtry. However, I am obviously not a "a fifty year old white man [who] decide[s] whether [Wilmette's own Fall Out Boy] are relevant or not- and he doesn't." (Bitter much, Pete?) And who knows what the official or exact classifications or qualifications are to take home a Gramophone? Remember, this organization once awarded Best New Artist to Starland Vocal Band instead of Boston. Horrors!

This unusual list of performers reminds me of an argument I once had about the definition of pop. Pop is short for popular, right? Something with a good beat you can dance to? There are varying levels to pop, of course, ranging from obviously contrived singers and groups who put a pretty face and electronically assisted harmonies on songs written by other people to involved artists that insist on writing and producing their own material and have the vocal chops to back it up. The songs can range from sweet sentiments about love to political statements. Sure, songs can have pop sensibilities, but true "pop" to me is a mainstream recognition factor and a combination of a certain, specific sound and. Debbie Gibson? Pop. Norah Jones? Not pop. Your mileage may vary, of course. Do you consider The Eagles to be pop? Stevie Wonder? Bonnie Raitt? R.E.M.? They each have a pop Emmy in their collections.

The last concert I went to was Justin Timberlake, and it was easily one of the best live performances I have ever seen. Boy knows how to put on a show — in spite of those stupid and unnecessary screens that often blocked the stage. Wunderproducer Timbaland played DJ for 20 or so minutes between sets, and Pink was the opening act. A seriously good time. But Timberlake started out, as most of us now know, as a member of The Mickey Mouse Club with fellow pop kids Britney Spears, JC Chasez, and Christina Aguilera, who opened for Timberlake on his first tour. I also saw, this time under duress. He and Chasez teamed up again in *NSYNC, and after the band broke away from creepy impresario Lou Pearlman, they had even more success. Timberlake wrote several songs on later *NSYNC albums, and when he went solo, he worked with respected collaborators and has won four Grammys... so far.

Timberlake worked hard to break out of the manufactured machine, and the only former boybander of that era who rivals — and actually surpasses — him is Robbie Williams. Who? He was a member of the smash U.K. boy band Take That, best know in the United States for the ballad "Back For Good."He left the band in such an acrimonious manner that when Geri Halliwell said she was leaving the Spice Girls, Melanie Brown accused her of "pulling a Robbie." (Yes, I read Geri Halliwell's autobiography. What of it?) You may have also heard his song "Angels," which was covered horribly by Jessica Simpson. Williams has tried several times to break into the U.S. market with little success, but globally he is massive. Justin Timberlake has sold 15 million albums worldwide; Robbie Williams has sold 55 million. I absolutely adore most of Williams's songs; he churns out plenty of danceable cheekiness and doesn't seem to take himself or his success too seriously. That's not to say he doesn't have dark moments or missteps, but for my money, I'll take Robbie over Justin any day of the week. (I also completely forgot to include Williams in the column about my autograph "collection"; thanks to the same friend who scored us Spice Girls tickets, I am the proud owner of an Escapology CD scrawled with his signature.)

I never listen to the radio, so any I pick up any "hip" or "cool" music trends through The CW (previously Smallville and currently Gossip Girl). I have yet to hear Rhianna's "Umbrella" — yes, really. But I have a large disco collection, almost every one-hit wonder from the 1980s, and a not-so-secret love of ABBA, Kylie Minogue and Wham! And, yes, I know all of the words to "Wannabe" and "Say You'll Be There." The question is, will I be singing along with a playblack track or the Spice Girls themselves? In this case, I don't think it matters. Much.

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