The problem with most popular music today is the same as what it is for the food we eat or the movies we see in the theaters, it is all just cheap junk.
It takes years to build something of quality and lots of nurturing to create value. Right now pop music is a shining example of what has happened to what we consume as a whole, it is junk music.
It also no longer speaks for a generation.
Take an earworm song from Katy Perry or Kanye West for example. Whether the song be “Last Friday Night” or “California Gurls” it all ends the same way.
First you hear the song and it sounds great. It is infectious and upon listening to it the second time you are hooked. Like a drug you listen again and again. It is all you can hear all day and you just keep singing along every time it plays. Days pass and the song keeps going and driving you through life.
Soon you tire of the song and it becomes annoying though. Unfortunately, it keeps playing around you again and again. When someone else experiences it for the first time you dread hearing about it. Before you know it the commercial on TV plays the song and continues to its ad nauseam. It can get so bad that even by reading “Last Friday Night” it already is playing in your mind.
Does “Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles do that?
Food is the same way today. We want cheap, fast, and delicious smelling junk food. Then you finish eating your meal and are sick afterward. That is probably why Old Country Buffet is so popular today, but no one leaves smiling.
We want TV shows in a full season so we can watch them all in a row and then tire of them. Then we go through withdrawal when we have to wait an entire year for the next season to be released.
It wasn’t like that in the old days…
The early days of rock and roll were different because music was shared by a group of people all of the same age and station in life. You can feel the times change from 1967 to 1968 as the events grew darker in those old Buffalo Springfield lyrics or songs like CCR’s “Fortunate Son”.
Can you say the same for the music pre and post-9/11? Was Britney Spears’ sound affected moving from 2001’s “I’m a Slave For Your Love” to 2004’s “Toxic”? Did Justin Timberlake grow in depth when he went solo from NSYNC?
Music is a private experience today that is usually enjoyed alone in the car or on an IPod. Which is why being a rock reviewer in 2012 is way different than in 1972. Today you report on the dribble that is left out there while back then they wrote long soliloquies about the mythology of rock.
A rock writer can be poetic in an inspired time, but until rock music inspires it is only reporting. We still have a lot going on to be outraged about around us, but without a voice in music to speak for the masses we are silenced.
When I spoke with Don Brewer of Grand Funk he said that it was rap that changed it all. I asked him if when Alternative music died in the late 1990s if it was anything like when rock died in the mid-1970s.
“I don’t relate it to that,” Brewer said of the end of alternative. “Ever since rap music came in back in the 1980s everybody thought it would go away, but it never went away. It just kept evolving, and it kept evolving, and it kind of took over pop music. I don’t really get it. I haven’t had a feeling about music like I used to in the 70s where new artists come up and you say, “Wow, that’s great.” Everything seems so homogenized, so manufactured. We were talking about the sincerity of the original three piece band Grand Funk, but I don’t hear that in music. I don’t hear that sincerity. It’s a shame that artists can’t just be themselves. They have to manufacture who they are what they sound like rather than just be themselves.”
When I heard that I felt partially responsible because I was obsessed with rap in the late 1980s until well into 1990s. I was just a bit too young for the rock of Guns n’ Roses, but Eazy-E opened a window into a world that I had never heard before at 13 years old.
There also was a sort of camaraderie for early rap fans who were too young to purchase the albums in stores. We traded dubbed cassettes and challenged each other to memorize the lyrics. They were dirty lyrics that we should have never heard, but Tipper Gore fought tooth and nail to get the Parental Advisory labels slapped on – which only made them more popular.
We thought we were tough in our Starter jackets and backward baseball hats living in Minnesota. There were gang signs and violence on TV just as a war was starting in Iraq in 1991. There were chants of “Hell no, we won’t go, we won’t fight for Amoco” interrupting the news and shock and awe bombings at night. Kids were connected to each other and the music was our voice.
When Kurt Cobain shot onto the scene at that time he was a breath of fresh air. I thought it was funny that Teen Spirit was the cheesy name of a girl’s deodorant and of their first hit song. Watching videos about Nirvana years later I found out he was told he smelled like that deodorant because a girl Cobain was with rubbed off on him. He didn’t know it was a brand name and ended up writing an anthem for a generation thinking of just teen spirit in general.
MTV, the spokes-channel for young people at the time, crowned Cobain king. There he was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with a shirt that said, “Corporate Magazines Still Suck” speaking for us all. He was inspiring and other bands became popular with a genre called alternative forming.
“Hello, we’re major-label, corporate, rock sell-outs.”
– Kurt Cobain
There was almost too much great music in the first half of the 1990s, but by about 1997 it was beginning to change. Local bands were popping up and an entire new generation was taking off with new sounds. Brit rock with Oasis, Blur, Portishead, Radiohead and many other bands made for another invasion on the horizon.
Then something happened.
The corporations took over everything, the Dot-Com bubble burst, 2Pac, Biggie, Cobain, Shannon Hoon, Brad Nowell and many other artists died, and eventually 9/11. Nearly a month later on November 10, 2001, the IPod came out as well, changing how we listen to music.
Music became the $1 ditty to download and a buffet of disposable songs were quickly created and consumed.
Everything was soon pop music and made by an icon that the corporation could force on the listeners. Even the pop stars cracked as Britney Spears shaved her head and soon joined the new 24/7 crazy celebrity culture.
Paris Hilton’s notorious rise to fame was just an early precursor of Kim Kardashian’s and Lindsey Lohan’s replacements are lining up daily at the Disney Channel.
Ear filling music will return someday, and if Jack White, Wolfmother, or the Black Keys keep up there is hope on the horizon. Until then we listen in quiet with our headphones on and await further command.