Komar & Melamid / David Soldier

The People's Choice Music: The Most Wanted Song, The Most Unwanted Song

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Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid's most famous project, The People's Choice (1994), involved hiring a consumer testing agency to perform market research surveys in several countries to find out what the average person's aesthetic tastes were, and then producing paintings to illustrate what each of these countries' most- and least-wanted paintings would look like. Both a hilarious parody of the concept of "art for the people" and a pointed critique of how thoroughly market research and polling influences daily life, The People's Choice was a controversial but successful project. In 1996, Komar & Melamid decided to explore how The People's Choice would adapt to other art forms, and with the help of musician/composer Dave Soldier (leader of the Soldier String Quartet and the avant-garde blues-rock outfit the Kropotkins), created a new poll to determine American tastes in music. After an extensive series of polls and surveys, Soldier composed, under Komar & Melamid's supervision, "The Most Wanted Song" and "The Least Wanted Song." These two compositions are even more conceptually brilliant than their painting counterparts. "The Most Wanted Song" ("a musical work that will be unavoidably and uncontrollably liked by 72 percent of listeners") sounds pretty much exactly like any Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey ballad, complete with MOR saxophone, MIDI synthesizers, and a purring female vocal by Ada Dyer, singing intentionally clich├ęd love song lyrics (by Nina Mankin of the Jazz Passengers) which nonetheless manage to namedrop Wittgenstein and work in a passing reference to ketchup. Arch art-world prank it may be, but there is honestly no reason why this wouldn't actually become a hit single. On the other hand, "The Most Unwanted Song" ("under 200 individuals of the world's total population will enjoy this") is a complete hoot. The survey determined that Americans dislike children's choirs, operatic sopranos, accordions, bagpipes, tubas, and songs about either holidays or cowboys. This 22-minute epic works in all of those and many more, including the never-to-be-forgotten sound of a coloratura soprano rapping about life on the prairie. Deliberately, the album's liner notes raise questions about the methodology and demographics of Komar & Melamid's survey, questions such as "if only three percent each of respondents chose rap and country as their favorite musical styles, why do rap and country albums sell so much?," which then lead to questions about the efficacy of the other market research polls that affect people's choices in culture and politics every day. Both an amusing joke and a pointed social critique, The People's Choice Music is a fascinating record.

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