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Pop's presence opens doors for rock legends

After shunning bubble-gum boy bands and manufactured pop music, I have shamelessly ventured into the world of the Top 40. What once seemed like unabashed commercialism and a massive sellout now seems like harmless fun.

Britney and Backstreet may be lacking in the lyrics department ("I never want to hear you say / I want it that way"), but I must admit, learning the "Oops I Did It Again" dance was a guilty pleasure.

Over the past few years, however, more and more fans have emerged from the pop closet, making the genre trendier than ever. And a product geared towards the 13-year-old bracket has expanded into the college market with full force. After all, a demographic consisting of listeners whose adolescent musical experience centered largely on grunge and angst-ridden rock needs to have a little light-hearted fun.

But has the pop music industry gone too far? It's a challenge to find a contemporary music station that doesn't constantly cram the same formulaic tunes down one's throat.

One consolation remains for listeners who have grown weary of generic popular music: Overplayed pop tunes have expanded musical horizons by opening doors for local musicians and lesser known talents, as well as reviving an interest in classic rock.

With pop's overwhelming presence and heavy airplay, not to mention Rolling Stone's recent list of greatest pop songs, listeners with a taste for more mature music may feel outnumbered. But stifled as they may be with the slew of budding teenybopper stars, including the "Making of the Band" series' own, O Town, overexposure to pop music has given disenchanted listeners a reason to look beyond the mainstream.

Rare gems like David Gray's hybrid of techno beats and Welsh folk-inspired melodies are more noticeable in the face of pop music clones. "Babylon" may be the closest Gray has ever come to a catchy radio tune, but in comparison to teenybopper anthems, Gray's music stands out as a refreshing alternative to overplayed pop.

Sting's exotic "Desert Rose" also has given listeners a welcome break from stale pop. His duet with Arabic performer, Cheb Mami, gave proof of audience's interest in something unique, as well as demonstrating how two artists can collaborate, fusing western and non-western music together.

The most obvious example of an alternative to contemporary pop music, is a compilation album of Number One hits by the quintessential boy band - The Beatles. Surpassing record sales of recent boy groups, the pop/classic rock mix of timeless favorites came out on top during the holiday season.

It only makes sense that the Beatles' "1" collection would sell well at a time when kids have no concept of what lies beyond the familiar. What better gift can children give their Baby Boomer parents than a collection of what is essentially an older parallel of modern popular music?

The music industry not only has alienated fans of less popular music, but has managed to ignore an older generation of original rock fans by catering to younger audiences. Baby Boomers don't exactly have the option of exploring older music - they've already done it. Even Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon can't live up to their earlier hits by releasing more albums.

But 'N Sync's overwhelming popularity shouldn't signal the end of musical creativity. Pop music inevitably will face a backlash - we might as well have fun while we can.