Taking pop seriously

Carlo Capobianco on his debut album and the allure of pop stardom

Pray to You, the new album from Carlo Capobianco, is a love letter to pop superstars of the MTV era. (Supplied photo)

Local up-and-coming pop artist Carlo Capobianco is set to release his debut album at the end of the month. He describes the release, entitled Pray to You, as “my little bible of music about love.”

Capobianco is heavily influenced by 1980s pop and new wave. He says he’s attracted to the era’s permissive attitude toward popular musicians, including their being able to wear makeup, fishnets and, generally, disregard gender norms.

“If you are a musician and a guy, you can wear makeup and fishnets and be androgynous. It was a cool thing,” Capobianco says. He mentions how the music of the ’90s pushed some of pop music’s glitz and glamour to the wayside.

Produced by Yes We Mystic’s Adam Fuhr, Pray to You sonically recreates the lost features of ’80s pop, emphasizing grandiosity in its sound with huge synthscapes and booming drums.

The album is “a love letter to the ’80s, but my take of what the ’80s would have sounded like as a younger person,” Capobianco says. “Most of the music from the ’80s just sounds so iconic.”

Through his music and stage presence, Capobianco hopes he can capture the spirit of the ’80s – a time in pop when icons like Madonna and Prince made huge splashes with every release.

“There used to be music videos, and when they were released, it was an event,” Capobianco says. “it was more than pop music. It’s pop culture and music.”

According to Andrew Burke, an associate professor of English at the University of Winnipeg, the figure of the popstar predates the 1980s. Yet, it was during this time and its melding of popular music and television that artists were really able to jump off.

“There is something interesting about the 1980s with the emergence of MTV and the growth of the music video which brings together the idea of the popstar in a different way from previous eras and melds it with the visual,” he says.

Burke says pop music is often looked down on as a less-serious form of music compared to traditionally male-dominated genres like rock and roll or hip hop.

“There’s long been this divide within popular-music criticism ... the idea that rock should be the mode that deserves serious study, while pop is just the stuff of teenage girls,” Burke says.

Capobianco initially felt this divide but says it is slowly changing.

“A lot of people don't want to go see a pop show, because they think it’s not real music,” he says. “The indie scene is more rock-punk oriented, but I think people are softening to pop.”

Burke says pop music is perceived as something that is manufactured, inauthentic and not “real.” The oxymoronic idea of the independent pop musicians is an opportunity for artists to lean into that escapism and create figures audiences can identify with.

“It is someone we can invest desire and energy into. They become this kind of icon in whom we invest our desires,” Burke says.

Capobianco says he experiences this same escapism on stage.

“I think that the Carlo Capobianco on stage is completely different from what I am. I am quite reserved and quiet and timid,” he says. “Once I get on stage, it is definitely a different person and mindset. I don't try, but it just comes out.”

Pray to You releases on April 20. Follow carlocapobianco.bandcamp.com for updates.

Published in Volume 77, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 16, 2023)

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