Oh you’ve got to love this.
Now please, understand this is not a movie or music recommendation for the new Trolls World Tour joint. In no way am I promoting anyone go out of their way to interface with this particular piece of popular media. And since the Rona has many people’s pennies in a pinch, ponying up $20 bucks to DreamWorks to stream it since the theater release was preempted is straight up out of the question for some.
But this movie has some in the popular music world in a major tizzy, and poptimist types putting it on blast because it has the audacity to (gulp) assert that major music genres are better for not all sounding the same, and for allowing the diversity of different music styles to thrive as opposed to allowing one specific style of music to take over.
In other words, this new Trolls movie with its major cast of stars like Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, Kelly Clarkson, Rachel Bloom, and others, is very explicitly—though in a roundabout kids movie kind of way—lashing out against the monogenre, and the intrusion of other musical forms into other genres, just like what Saving Country Music has been actively advocating against for a dozen years now. And the fact this is all going on in a kids movie, targeting the very impressionable that are supposed to be getting groomed as the future consumers of the monogenre makes this whole thing extra delectable.
Without getting too in the weeds about the plot, long story short, in this imaginary Trolls world, there are six major tribes that are symbolized by six major genres of popular music—Pop, Rock, Country, Techno, Funk, and Classical. Of course you can’t get too married to these terms. “Techno” is sort of outdated lingo, but is basically symbolizes EDM, for example. And though hip-hop is definitely the largest of all popular genres in the real world at the moment, it’s left relatively on the sidelines on Trolls World Tour (though it’s mentioned). There are also subgenres represented in the movie, including Yodel Trolls as a subset of country, and Smooth Jazz, K-pop, and Reggaeton Trolls.
Each tribe (or genre) is represented by a “string” where the power of each tribe resides, and the strings are represented by specific colors. As the movie unfolds, you find out that once upon a time, the original Pop Trolls tried to steal all the strings and remix all the other styles of music into pop—a fear that will resonate quite familiarly with some country fans. While telling the story of pop’s dominance, the King of the Funk Trolls (voiced by the great George Clinton) explains that differences in music are not a bad thing, and trying to make all Trolls the same is wrong-minded. This is the reason the six different strings were separated in the first place, to keep this from happening.
However in the modern era in the Troll world, it’s not pop attempting to dominate the other tribes, it’s the Rock Trolls, led by “Barb” who is voiced by Rachel Bloom. Her plot is to take over the other Troll tribes and unite all six strings in a guitar which will give her the power to turn the trolls into “zombies” who only like rock. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up for the rich symbolism for what is happening with the blurring of lines of popular music, and the zombification of mainstream listeners to the drone of often mindless music mired in sameness across genres.
Of course, this Trolls World Tour plot isn’t exactly parallel with the real world, because in the modern power struggle of popular genres in the human realm, rock has been severely diminished, and if there is any specific art form impinging on others and threatening dominance, it would be hip-hop. But of course, if you tried to push this narrative, it might result in accusations of racism or something along those lines, so the loud, gruff, and spike-adorned Rock Trolls make for a believable-enough villain for this kids film.
So what ends up happening? Well, (SPOILER ALERT) Queen Barb of the Rock Trolls ends up getting all of the strings and using them to strum a power chord on her electric guitar, bringing her to the brink of Troll World domination. But the Queen of the Pop Trolls named Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick), ends up breaking the guitar, and all the Trolls turn grey without the power of their magic music strings. But eventually the day is saved when a heartbeat gets all the Trolls singing together, and the color is restored to the Trolls world via the diversity of music.
The plot of this movies is so parallel with the founding philosophy of Saving Country Music (and against the grain of most popular culture sentiment), it’s almost eerie. It’s never been about labeling pop, hip-hop, rock, or any other genre as inferior to country, or even saying that artists can’t collaborate across those genre lines upon occasion. It’s about preserving the original influences of music so that a rich and lush diversity between popular art forms can prevail. Genres are like the primary colors on a color wheel. Artists should have every right to mix those colors together in creative expression. But if you mix all the primary colors together from the beginning, you just get a gray blob that no colorful expressions can be pulled from.
No more than country fans should want hip-hop and EDM to be overrun by country influences, EDM and hip-hop fans shouldn’t want that to happen to country. And no style of music should be allowed to dominate all others. Music is a way for people to express their distinct heritage and experiences with the rest of the world, and that diverse tapestry of influences and expressions is where the strength of music is derived.
As the hero Poppy says near the end of the movie, you can’t have harmony if everything sounds the same. The villain Barb even portrays the wrong-minded notion many poptimists have that all genres have done is divide people. That’s why these often well-intended but misunderstanding individuals work to destroy genre. The movie ends with the trolls “celebrating their differences,” not trying to resolve them.
The prevailing sentiment in popular music media is that somehow genres are akin to a type of segregation and should be abolished. That’s why you see so many celebrating genre benders like Sam Hunt and Lil Nas X as forward thinking and vitally important, even though their music is derivative from a clearly analytical standpoint. To them, this sameness of click tracks, trap beats, and rapping migrating to country is the definition of “diversity”—to make all popular music sound the same no matter the genre. But as Trolls World Tour explains in a manner that even small kids can understand (but many popular music writers apparently don’t), when you try to unite all popular music under one sound, you end up destroying them all.
Granted, at times country music can be too guarded and uptight about its borders. This is even portrayed in Trolls World Tour when the Pop Trolls first show up to the country world, and are initially jailed by the leader of the Country Trolls named Delta Dawn, voice acted by Kelly Clarkson. There are other negative stereotypes about music portrayed in the film, including making fun of country for being too sad, classical for lacking words, and smooth jazz for making you zone out. And before you begin to take this exercise too seriously, don’t expect the music portrayed in the film to fulfill your particular expectations of the way the genres sound. Again, this is a movie for small kids. Basically, all the music in the movie is a version of pop.
And it’s also foolish to think that Trolls World Tour is somehow going to result in much more educated music consumers 10-15 years from now who understand the beauty and importance of retaining the diversity of music, unlike many of their modern-day counterparts.
But I would be lying if I didn’t say that it’s a little gratifying to see the counter-argument to the prevailing mindset in popular music that for some reason demands country music succumb to pop, hip-hop, and EDM. Because a silly kids movie got right what a lot of admittedly well-meaning musical and cultural writers get incredibly wrong. Genre is a good thing, and Trolls World Tour illustrates this somewhat brilliantly.
Oh you’ve got to love this.