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The Quality of Modern Pop Music

Hanyou

didn't build that
The Quality of Modern Popular Music

This is meant to be an open-ended discussion--I don't want the parameters to be too rigid. What do you think of popular music, in the present and/or in the past, and how does it fare as artistic product?

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Here's my opinion. Feel free to post your own without reading it. I apologize in advance if I offend anyone--that is not my purpose, although I'm aware it's a necessary side effect of criticizing any musical trend. Take comfort in the fact that you probably think plenty of what I listen to is awful, and we can agree to disagree.

It's very popular and easy to say x about modern music is negative and was better in the past. I do not believe there is less good music now than there ever has been--in fact, with how accessible creating, recording, and distributing music has become, I'd bet the opposite is true. However, I firmly believe that popular music has taken a nosedive in the past couple of decades. Music is part of our cultural legacy--it's what we will leave behind for future generations that have forgotten all (or most) of our individual names and aspire to catalog our dreams, desires, and motivations. This is important.

Here is an example of popular music from the late 1960s. Simon and Garfunkel were played frequently on the radio and, being featured in The Graduate, were about as culturally relevant as a musical duo can get.

[video=youtube;nntOYUODSV0]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nntOYUODSV0[/video]

As one of their best songs, I think it speaks for itself.

Other artists, like the Beatles, would write many trivial and silly songs, but would take music to new heights, setting off chain reactions that arguably led to higher pursuits in music and entirely new genres. If the lyrics weren't always brilliant, the melodies were rich, psychedelic, innovative, even gorgeous. The Moody Blues may have been kitsch, but they were sincere kitsch and at the very least were musically ambitious. Metal bands, spiritual successors to the psychadelic movement carried on this tradition--the lyrics are rarely as poetic as Simon and Garfunkel's, but they're at least somewhat lucid, and the skilled musicianship is often the focus anyway. However, folk, prog, etc. managed to maintain a high standard of lyricism in at least some acts. There is both technical and lyrical brilliance in spades, even in popular acts, in the early 1970s. Where music is hopelessly sappy, not technically proficient, and appealing to, arguably, the lowest common denominator--see John Denver--at least it's shot right through with pure, primal, universal emotion. At least almost all of what we've got left--from the grittiest, grimiest, dumbest heavy metal to the most vapid retirement home-friendly easy listening music and all the good/bad/brilliant/stupid stuff in between--had some kind of soul. Like art!

All of this music was made before my time, and I was introduced to most of it well into my teenage years, so nostalgia is not a factor.

Here's will.i.am. I tried to find one of the best Simon and Garfunkel songs, and I am sincerely trying to do the same for this character, though I can't be sure. There's some explicit language, but honestly, this seems to be one of his more palatable songs.

[video=youtube;VRuoR--LdqQ]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRuoR--LdqQ[/video]

Art should enrich the soul, should take us to a higher spiritual plane or illuminate our innermost thoughts and emotions. It should tell people something about us.

I am not so concerned that this type of music exists, but that it seems to be forming a picture of our collective cultural legacy. To be sure, there are still plenty of talented musicians--see Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine, the revival of Swans, etc.--but in "The Big Picture," it's absolutely buried by will.i.am, Pit bull, Bieber, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj. If the long road history helps clear the air of forgettable garbage that may have co-existed alongside the good stuff of an era--much like we've forgotten all the forgettable 60s bands and we remember The Beatles--then popular consensus seems to be that our generation is to be represented solely by pounding beats, lyrics about sex, and vapid grade school philosophy about believing in yourself.

If this were one or two artists or bands, that'd be expected and fine. But it seems to be everyone. Is there anything pure or beautiful left in the most-listened-to music?

Who among these artists is profound? Who helps illuminate and describe our moral conscience? Who writes our collective poetry?

Talented bands with middling popularity that, for the most part, may be forgotten by all but their fans by the time I have grandchildren.
 
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Shroom

The Artist Formally Known as Deku Shroom™
Joined
Jan 21, 2011
Gender
Fun Guy
I'm working on a project, so I'm a tad sidetracked, but I'll just go ahead and list my big problems with current Pop music that you have listed:

-I'm not too fond of current themes and trends in modern pop music. I hate that it's hard for me to find songs that aren't about flaunting wealth that they may or may not have, and trying to paint this picture of a good time they have in a club. I don't connect with club culture, and I'm not too found of it, so that's just a reason I find it.

-Themes I see are: Wealth (which leads to instant respect and "*****es"), drugs (but most the time it's not painting this picture I would find in the old days, it's kind of lazy in my opinion.), and love songs. These aren't themes that are new, but I feel like now these theme are done so lazily in these days. We'll leave love songs out because those are such a norm these days, but:

All these songs seem to be about material wealth that I see, and I just can't stand it. I see quite a bit of it done with lazy writing, I see way too many pop artists not writing their own material ,which irks me, and I just can't connect.

There are plenty of artists out now that have some great material, and the internet allows us to search and find some gems out there, but most the time I don't want anything to do with songs that media is pushing at me in a way that they say is popular. I find most of that styled music to be toxic, but maybe that's just me.

I can come back and elaborate a little more later, but that's kind of the gist of how I view pop music today.
 

Garo

Boy Wonder
Joined
Jun 21, 2011
Location
Behind you
First, I want to make a notable distinction: despite their linguistic similarities, "pop" music and "popular" music are not the same thing. A lot of popular music belongs to the genre of "pop music," but not all "pop music" is popular. A lot of the music I listen to definitely fits squarely within the "pop music" genre, but is decidedly not popular.

To the topic of your thread: I do not think that the quality of music has degraded at all, and you are very correct in saying that there is in fact more quality music now than at any point prior. The wide availability of instruments, teaching tools, recording equipment, and distribution avenues has made the landscape of modern music incredibly varied, diverse, and massive. More people than ever are picking up instruments, joining with friends, and turning out music. Not all of it is good - in fact I would wager that most of it is bad - but the sheer volume of music being produced has ensured no shortage of truly fantastic music. However, what has happened is a massive fracture in the music world. When there is so much music being put out, there's no way that people can keep up with it all. There's no way that a single person can adequately track all of the growth and progression of all the many different genres out there. It happens too fast. Things change and progress and evolve within months. There is no longer this ideal of "popular music" that encompasses a cultural spectrum of music; that spectrum has grown so wide as to make it impossible.

Instead, there are now subcultures and genres. There's a subculture of punk music that encompasses pure punk, punk-rock, pop-punk, folk-punk, anarcho-punk, glam-punk, noise-punk, skate-punk, street-punk, garage-punk, and countless other genres and subgenres. It's incredibly common to find a person whose musical horizons are contained almost entirely within punk music. Is that the "wrong" way to listen to music? Not at all - they listen to what speaks to them, to what energizes and validates them. And for some, that's punk. For others, it's rock. For yet more people it's rap/hip-hop. And for a lot of people, a single genre - or maybe two or three - is all that really encompasses their musical taste. And that's totally, 100% okay.

So we've got a music-devouring culture that is sharply divided into genres. Sometimes there's animosity between fans of different genres - metal has a bad reputation that I think is mostly unearned, but it's still there - but overall people tend to keep to their separate spheres of musical taste. So how, then, is there "popular" music if everybody has a different sphere of genre inclinations, where different music is deemed popular based on the sensibilities of fans of that genre?

There's a curious trend if you look at the "popular" music of the day: it's almost impossible to pigeon-hole into a single genre. In fact, it's the stuff that tends to blend genres that becomes incredibly popular. I submit that this is not because of the relative worth of that music itself, but rather because of the intersection of various genre subcultures who all find that music good.

Let's take your example. will.i.am's "Feelin' Myself" has a lot of genres contained within it; it's got the tell-tale signs of pop music with its generally higher tonal range on top of a low bass soundfloor. It's got the lyrical stylings and strong sense of rhythm associated with rap and hip-hop. It's got former country darling Miley Cyrus. It's got the electronic synthesized sound common with electronic dance music (EDM). It's this amalgam of so many different genres and styles, and fans of any one of those styles can find the things that speak to their sensibilities within it. Is it the best representation of any of those styles? By no means. But it is a representation of so many different styles that the intersection of genre fans of those styles boosts its signal and makes it a "popular" song.

You can see this with a lot of popular songs; "Some Nights" by fun. (a personal favorite of mine) is heavily influenced by hip-hop, big band, and musical theater. "Suit and Tie" by Justin Timberlake (another favorite) is a soul/funk fusion with a hefty dose of rap and modern pop. The truly popular music is the stuff that blends genres.

But, and this is key: rarely, if ever, do the most popular songs represent what people consider their favorite, or the music that speaks to them the most. The whole romanticizing of the "underground" and demonization of the "popular" is a direct result of people's favorite songs being unique to their "scene," or their genre sphere. People intuitively know that the popular music is not the best representation of what music today is, nor the heights of what today's music can achieve. But the best music of the day? It's all polarized on genre lines, or waiting to be discovered in the depths of iTunes and Spotify. The popular stuff that rises to the top is popular because it's agreeable, and in an age where there is so, so much music and people cannot possibly hope to consume it all, the agreeable stuff is almost never the best stuff.

TL;DR? Popular music is popular because it appeals to the broadest audience across many genres; the best music being made today lies clustered within separate spheres of genre and influence, and thus does not so readily rise to the top.
 

Hanyou

didn't build that
-I'm not too fond of current themes and trends in modern pop music. I hate that it's hard for me to find songs that aren't about flaunting wealth that they may or may not have, and trying to paint this picture of a good time they have in a club. I don't connect with club culture, and I'm not too found of it, so that's just a reason I find it.
True. I've been in a club exactly once, and I really have no experience to speak of with it. I think this has been a trend since the 80s--glam metal bands were JUST about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and lots of bands just sang about dancing--I don't relate to any of that. On the other hand, the VERY popular "The Times They Are a-Changin'" is about something everyone can relate to. Again, the collective conscience, not hedonistic garbage.


All these songs seem to be about material wealth that I see, and I just can't stand it. I see quite a bit of it done with lazy writing, I see way too many pop artists not writing their own material ,which irks me, and I just can't connect.
I agree with you about not relating to themes of material wealth. Even if I had it, I can't imagine wanting to listen to songs about it. I don't mind artists not writing their own music because plenty of great pop artists--like Andy Williams--WERE just performers. But there does seem to be a correlation in the present era between performers who don't write their own material and crappy music.

There are plenty of artists out now that have some great material, and the internet allows us to search and find some gems out there, but most the time I don't want anything to do with songs that media is pushing at me in a way that they say is popular. I find most of that styled music to be toxic, but maybe that's just me.
I've said their name too many times already, but really, the Fleet Foxes represent to me what modern pop music should sound like. Everyone in my circle of friends likes them, and I would describe them as well-known, but their videos don't get the hits of, say, Nicki Minaj videos on youtube, and I doubt they're played on the radio or MTV. I think Helplessness Blues is an example of what I'm talking about when I talk about good art helping to define its era.

The Fleet Foxes are popular enough to be remembered, but plenty of other resonant stuff that's accessible and deserves to be remembered will fade into obscurity while will.i.am will endure. Obnoxious.
 

Ganondork

you touch her butt and she moves away
Joined
Nov 12, 2010
Interesting analysis. I don't particularly agree with what you have to say, though. It has to do with how the people who listen to pop have changed. The teenagers of the 1960s are very different kind of teenagers from the 00s and 10s. As such, pop has drastically changed over time. Pop music nowadays is played in the background at a party. You're not going to find a single person who listens to Zedd outside of a party, simply because his EDM is trash in comparison to Glitch Mob, Infected Mushrooms, and Tycho.

The deeper, yet still popular music - like STRFKR and Low Roar - are still enjoyed, but while alone or with a nice circle of friends. The fact is that a lot of people my age hang out in huge groups a lot instead of a group of three or four. The pop music that you're discussing is the common denominator for a big group of people. It's simple music, easy to enjoy, and pumps you up. What isn't to like about it when it's just background noise?

If I were to put on Radiohead's Kid A in the middle of a party, everyone would look at me funny. They'd probably say, "Hey man, you're really bringing the mood down with that music." And yet, Kid A is an amazing album. But it's not good party music. There's a time and a place for everything, and pop music is at its best at parties.

With that being said, I'm going to tackle a few things head-on.

Hanyou said:
All of this music was made before my time, and I was introduced to most of it well into my teenage years, so nostalgia is not a factor.
You'd be surprised as to how far nostalgia can go to. I feel nostalgia for last September because I was jamming out to Smashing Pumpkins and The Paper Kites while talking to the girl of the month that I, "Really liked." I don't think there's a cut-off time for nostalgia. I'm still a kid, so I'm still going to yearn for a time in the past when all in the world seemed great, and there was nothing troubling me. That's what being a teenager can be like.

Here's will.i.am.
No. No. No. No. Will.i.am has been viewed as absolutely garbage for years now. I don't know a single person who likes him. He has a "Formula," that he has bragged about for making the next big hit, except he hasn't gotten much radio time since ~2010 when he was still with the Black-Eye Peas. Comparing him to Simon and Garfunkel is like comparing America's best Olympic basketball player to Serbia's worst one.

Art should enrich the soul, should take us to a higher spiritual plane or illuminate our innermost thoughts and emotions. It should tell people something about us.
Questionable. Art is a very subjective, and extremely personal thing. Do I sometimes like sitting down to some Neutral Milk Hotel and just really getting lost in Jeff Mangum's lyrics? Oh, you bet. But sometimes I like to just be a teenage boy and enjoy a Future song. Am I going to say, "Wow, that song was really enriching?" No. I can assure you I'm not. In fact, I might laugh at how horrible it was when he tried to hit that high note. But he has a catchy beat, and a nice flow on occasion.

To be sure, there are still plenty of talented musicians--see Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine, the revival of Swans, etc.
Great bands. I was jamming out to Fleet Foxes' debut album earlier today. Was also looking at "Our Endless Numbered Days," but opted to listen to Bon Iver instead.

"The Big Picture," it's absolutely buried by will.i.am, Pit bull, Bieber
No it's not. I already discussed Will.i.am., but Pit Bull and Bieber are two common singers that adults think kids really love, but in reality we don't like. Bieber had a few catchy songs in the past, but it's been a few years now. Time's have changed, he's trying to be a rapper, and no one but 12 year old girls are buying into it. I'm not someone who trashes on Bieber. I liked, "Boyfriend," honestly. But I hate the new stuff he's making.

Now Pitbull? I don't know why he occasionally gets radio time. No one likes him. Every time, "Timber," came on, all of my friends groaned and changed the station. And this was fairly recently. He's never been a popular guy. I think he only gets radio time because he's from Miami, and that's where I live. His whole, "Mr. 305!" shtick is old and tired, and everyone around here hates being associated with him.

Katy Perry
Come on, you have to admit she has a great voice. Maybe her lyrics aren't the best, but her vocal chords are astounding. I feel the same way about Beyonce.

Nicki Minaj.
There's a divide on her. "Anaconda," was a terrible song. No one liked, "Stupid Hoe." She had a few good songs on her solo album after Lil Wayne got her big, but that's been about it. Iggy Azalea is much more talented than Nicki Minaj, and most of my friends recognize that nowadays. I only know of one girl who still really likes Nicki, and when I asked her why a few months back, she told me, "She was able to break into an industry full of men, and she doesn't take **** from anybody." And you know what? That's admirable.

Who among these artists is profound?
The ones that you mentioned were cherrypicked. Of course the artists that you play at parties (only Katy Perry on the list you gave) aren't going to be profound. But you're sorely mistaken if you don't think bands like Fleet Foxes are huge. They are so well known at my school. I found them through a circle of friends, and have since then found ~20 people that love them as much as I do.

Who helps illuminate and describe our moral conscience?
I think that bands like The Shins, The Antlers, The Middle East, and many other bands do a fine job of that. Are they a little harder to find? Yeah. But I would be very much shocked if you told me that you only listened to bands that were on the radio. Am I wrong to assert that you went to the record store, looking for the record with the single song that you liked, and ended up finding a handful of other great songs? YouTube has made that possible for my generation, and now it's free.

We don't have to pay absurd prices for one good song, and a bunch of other trashy B-sides. And you know what else? We can still enjoy music from your generation, from your father's generation, and so forth. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, these people live on. Everyone knows them. Everyone loves them like they're at Woodstock all over again. These people, and their musical legacies live on, alongside many new bands.
 

Hanyou

didn't build that
To Garo and Cain: Good responses, and this reply doesn't encompass much of what I have to say about them. I have to turn over your points in my head for a day or two.

What I will say is this: I'm talking sheer numbers, in terms of popular music. I'm talking about radio play, about what's featured in movie trailers and what's pounding from car stereos I pass on the road. And, whether these are an amalgamation of multiple genres or not, whether they really are popular with the kids or not (I doubt many kids were actually listening to John Denver in his time, but he was a popular radio artist) these songs and artists are getting precisely the same kind of attention Bob Dylan used to get, while many of the better artists are second or third-tier in popularity. So yes, this phenomenon may result from the fragmentation of music into genres, but it is still happening. Invariably, time filters out certain music and brings other music to the fore. Rarely do any but the most popular come to define an era. Whatever the cause, is there a reason to believe this won't happen?

The obvious answer is that information is widely available enough that much of it won't be lost to time. I just doubt the wide availability of information will keep us from developing a singular narrative concerning music. It still happens all the time in politics, why not art?
 
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Batman

Not all those who wander are lost...
Joined
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40 lights off the Galactic Rim
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Dan-kin
I really don't have much to add to this discussion, but I feel like this video belongs here. It's well worth watching.

The trio is called the 'Axis of Awesome'. They're an Australian comedy music group.

[video=youtube;5pidokakU4I]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pidokakU4I[/video]
 

キラ

Yo!
Joined
Feb 14, 2014
Location
Illinois
popular consensus seems to be that our generation is to be represented solely by pounding beats, lyrics about sex, and vapid grade school philosophy about believing in yourself.
**** artists who encourage people to do something with their lives, right?


Anyway, it seems as though you just like a lot of bands from the 60's. Sorry, not everyone likes 60's music, man. Not everyone shares the same taste.

Now, are you talking about pop music, or popular music? They are two different things. Pop is popular, but I think hip-hop/rap is pretty popular, R&B, and mixtures of those genres put together, as well as sometimes some other genres.

I think a lot of pop music sounds alike today. The chorus has some type of simple synth or keyboard chord progression that repeats the same chord 4 times relatively quickly and then jumps to another chord that plays 4 times, jumps back to the first one that plays 4 times, and then a deeper one that plays 4 times, and then it repeats - with a synth bass drum that pounds every half a second. They have some generic lyrics that don't mean much - they're about love or being strong or something (which mean something but not in the way they present it). No, not all pop sounds like that but most of the lyrics are too simple for my tastes. But see, the thing is, everyone has their own tastes.

A lot of hip-hop/rap is filled with trap beats and talks about money, drugs, women, cars, and sometimes guns. A lot of the singles sound the same, but some beats are more creative than others. I think Eminem's producers make beats that are more original and diverse and he talks about stuff that matters. He might be my favorite artist. I also like Tyler, the Creator; Earl Sweatshirt, Hopsin, and a little Danny Brown nowadays. I think rap needs an overhaul though cause the artists are talking about the wrong things.

But yeah, different tastes.
 

Hanyou

didn't build that
**** artists who encourage people to do something with their lives, right?
Absolutely, if they're not being particularly artistic about it. They're not Mr. Rogers--they use adult language and have an adult audience, and adults and even older teens should never think themselves sufficiently nourished by empty, cliched exhortations.

Everyone's seen The School of Athens, right? It's an uplifting and encouraging work of art. It helped encourage me and probably thousands of others from a very young age to unfold some of the rudimentary ideas it presents. This is good. I am not against artists encouraging people to think, dream, strive, love, weep, laugh, feel. This, to me, is part of the purpose of art.

Telling someone point-blank that they're beautiful or special via the impersonal delivery method of modern radio music just seems trite and unambitious. It's validation without flourish. But it really sells.

Anyway, it seems as though you just like a lot of bands from the 60's. Sorry, not everyone likes 60's music, man. Not everyone shares the same taste.
Not just. Heck, my favorite bands are mostly from the mid 90s to the present. I named some modern bands I like in my first post, and that's scratching the surface. Metal and prog are up there with folk as my favorite genres, and neither reached full fruition until the 1970s. So I'd say my taste is pretty diverse.

Of course not everyone has the same taste. I said as much at the very beginning of my first post. I don't expect anyone to agree with me.

Now, are you talking about pop music, or popular music? They are two different things. Pop is popular, but I think hip-hop/rap is pretty popular, R&B, and mixtures of those genres put together, as well as sometimes some other genres.
I've always assumed they were the same thing, an obvious mistake on my part. Garo's explained that pop is a genre, and I guess I understand that. So a couple of more recent bands I like--They Might Be Giants, Fountains of Wayne (admittedly, a band with silly lyrics--it's okay to have a few of those!), The Dear Hunter--fit into that genre without being mainstream. I have no problem with modern pop music in that case.

I meant popular. I tried to change the thread title, but I guess I can't.

They have some generic lyrics that don't mean much - they're about love or being strong or something (which mean something but not in the way they present it). No, not all pop sounds like that but most of the lyrics are too simple for my tastes.
We agree here.

But see, the thing is, everyone has their own tastes.
Naturally.

A lot of hip-hop/rap is filled with trap beats and talks about money, drugs, women, cars, and sometimes guns....I think rap needs an overhaul though cause the artists are talking about the wrong things.
I've tried so hard to like rap. I'll tend to get in to a certain type of music when a work makes me think or shakes me, emotionally, to the core--without that, there's nothing. Rap has never done that for me, unfortunately, but your commentary is interesting. Perhaps there is still better stuff out there to find.

But yeah, different tastes.
Yes.
 

misskitten

Hello Sweetie!
Joined
Jun 18, 2011
Location
Norway
I think popular music definitely has taken a dive in the last couple of decades, including my own teen era. But I think that it still introduced new musical concepts/sounds that better artists have incorporated into their own style and made good. So while popular music nowadays generally isn't really worth listening to, it still brings something to the table in terms of expanding what music is.
 

キラ

Yo!
Joined
Feb 14, 2014
Location
Illinois
Absolutely, if they're not being particularly artistic about it. They're not Mr. Rogers--they use adult language and have an adult audience, and adults and even older teens should never think themselves sufficiently nourished by empty, cliched exhortations.
Particularly artistic? What does that mean to you?
 

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