The state of music?

I fully admit that I am out of the loop with regards to current pop music. At some point things seemed to spin out of my realm of comprehension. This is really odd, because music hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years, and neither has the media’s handling of music. (with a couple of exceptions)

I think the most significant change that has happened in my lifetime is the integration of so-called “urban” styles into the media-hyped mainstream. It’s cool because although a lot of the music is kind of copy-cat and repetitive, there seems to be a lot of freedom allowed in some of these styles. One of the most practical demonstrations of this in my opinion is the latest Beyonce Knowles record, I am… Sasha Fierce. Mind you, I’m not particularly a Beyonce fan, or even a fan of the style of music, but after catching her performance on SNL, I was intrigued. The first tracks of each disc in the set were really interesting. The first, If I were a boy, was interesting to me because of the live performance. It’s a slow, ballad-y type thing, and on recording, not terribly interesting. Live however, Beyonce is going with a “rock band” setup, with drums, guitar, bass and keys. More importantly, she seemed to perform (during this song) like she was fronting a rock band. She really seemed to be rocking out – It seemed somewhat cathartic and even at times kind of awkward, but my personal belief is that kind of awkwardness is a part of the ethos of rock music. It seems like this absorption of elements of rock might be a trend, especially with more hip hop artists like Kanye and T-pain using sung vocals a lot more often because of the popularity of vocoding/autotuning. (but that’s another post in itself)

The 1 track of the second disc is Single Ladies, which is a just plain weird song when you look at all of it’s individual parts. It’s pretty much just a rhythm with some samples over it and then the really repetitive vocals, but it works somehow. It’s got more emotional content than some of the other similar dance songs I’ve heard.

The rest of the album is more common fare, but I really got into those two tracks a lot.

On the other end of the spectrum, the bland, cookie cutter pop is still kicking. Brittney Spears has a new record, and I was really hopeful when I saw the video for the first single, Womanizer. I hoped that maybe the pop tart had returned from the brink of paparazzi fueled, post partum nut-bar status with a clear head with this (assumed) stab at an ex, but it panned out to be just another crappy song written by a random production team. Spears is such a train wreck. There is enough of her that’s small-town-girl to make you like her and hope she will become normal, but it seems like the child-star damage runs too deep. (by the same token, I have to give her former boyfriend Justin Timberlake a lot of respect for not only avoiding being a douche, but being so level headed and maintaining a really good sense of humor.. in the public’s view at least)

So here I’ve been rambling about pop-starlets.. Music that I’m fairly averse to. Why? These things seem kind of relevant to me as a study of media effects, and more specifically their role in the new pecking order of musical taste making and delivery, and a lesser extent, the evolution of music creation. We’re still speculating about the fall of the majors and the rise in importance of the “long tail“. I’m not going to speculate on the future of music, because it’s really too fluid right now to say. I have much more hope for the future of creative music now than I did years ago though. Technology has brought the ability to make and deliver music to people who don’t know/want to avoid the rules. I’m too set in my ways and shortsighted to be much a part of that new movement, but I’m glad to watch it happen.

I often feel that my time as a member of pop culture society is over. I heard about the launch of the site and was really excited. A collection of just music videos had a certain feel reminiscent of the days when Mtv only played music. I picked up right where I left off when the channel jumped the shark, looking up some of the ridiculous videos that amused me around that time – the jerseey rap-rock of progenitors of the genre, Brougham.. the failed frat rap of Bad Ronald, and then went after some of the vids that were introduced to the world by Beavis and Butthead. (sadly, I couldn’t find any Plantman) As cool as all this was to me, I don’t even think the site was a blip on the radar of today’s culture consumers.

2 thoughts on “The state of music?

  1. yeah justin timberlake has done the rock thing live also. i think he pulled it off pretty well. pop music is so often bad, because it’s so simple. the simplicity makes it more likely people will get into it, which creates a self-perpetuating cycle of the vast majority of pop music being very bad. simplicity makes it easy to *try* to do it, but it’s no easier to be a great pop start than it is a great classical musician. it’s just that far fewer people can even attempt classical or some other genre that blatantly requires technical proficiency. technology is definitely the force fueling the changes in music. i agree that music hasn’t changed much in many years. although i’d argue that the only reason rock n roll exists today is because of technology. if recording technology didn’t exist, elvis and the like never would have gotten any traction. so, if technology is the driving force, it stands to reason that the “long tail” is the way of the future don’t you think? the power’s been taken from the big companies. without a monopoly on the technology of recording and distribution, i don’t see record companies having any clout at all. they’re history.

  2. JT rules, on SNL at least. He did a great job hosting the Espy’s last year. (but I don’t really care for his music) :)Today’s popular music is mostly soulless with little depth. Christian hit it on the head; many of today’s stars couldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the technology making them sound better than they are (kanye west’s vocals, anyone?)Even today’s metal seems brainless: “let’s see who can scream the loudest.” I miss the days of mixing clean and heavy vocals, shredding rhythm guitars contrasted with beautiful solos. Metal used to be about contrasts, now it’s just a matter of loudness.Maybe I’m just getting old. :)On the other hand, I’m very excited about today’s technology; artists will be able to record their music on their own for little to no money and the Internet is a perfect distribution system (to the RIAA’s chagrin). I’ve always been excited about niche markets (love ambient/sombient music) and now it appears that the Internet is allowing more people to find these niches — that could be a great thing!

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