The Quality Of Popular Music Has Declined
February 21st, 2012 2:00pm EST
When you look at someone who succeeds in a certain field, there are always numerous factors on why that person’s particular talent is above the rest and seems to always excel. You look at Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Denzel Washington, and even Albert Pujols, and it is evident that these special talents have not only shown the world their skill, but also inherited the proficiency of their particular area. But the most important thing that we must focus on is that they do it for the art of their field. Not that sports and music goes hand in hand because they don’t, it’s just that those particular athletes love their arena. And because of that, their talents have always spoken for itself.
For music, it was once upon a time when our favorite artist was our hero and our voice. But the landscape has changed so much that record execs have relied on "the machine" (writing music to dumb down the masses, promoting and glamorizing, making artists well marketed and calculated) that artists are labeled "overrated" now more than ever and have assisted in the decline of pop music. When I say overrated, I’m saying quite a few recognize that artists are marketed more for appeal and to turn basic songs into radio hits, instead of actual talent. Bulks of songs that are out today don’t have meaning. Therefore, the music today has been declining as a true art form that everyone appreciated. Simply because of the successful marketing that’s dumbed music down for the masses to gravitate too.
When I look at the songs that topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts this past year, I only see two that warrant my attention as timeless authentic pop records that could mean something and be considered as true art. My picks are “Firework” by Katy Perry, and “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele. (Someone Like You, also by Adele, is an honorable mention.) The two songs had meaning and its music is something that we can look back on and remember as a song that pushed our brains limits in terms of music. I can even say Lady Gaga’s Born This Way is a song that means something. But I can’t sit and consider LMFAO’s Party Rock or Rihanna's S&M is a song we will remember when we get old and gray. Just because you can put a catchy melody together and extend a song to four minutes doesn’t make you a great artist. Majority of music execs and artists have forgotten that, and it’s why older folks have scoffed at music of today the last 25 years.
Not too long ago, I was in theater class and my professor described to the class what exactly art is. He didn’t just say the standard “art is what you are and what you do” type lingo, but he rather initiated that art is a thing that we humans create, that has a perception of order, shows emotion, and that someone has to find the work attractive. I personally felt so intrigued by his lecture that it made me wonder how often we have said we love this song because we actually found it attractive? Not like how a fine woman with short shorts showing her cleavage walks past you attractive, but actually a woman that pulls you in with her mind and looks? The state of pop music that we are in now is the stage of only dressing to attract the masses for its simplistic themes and music instead of its soul. But sadly, it didn’t use to be that way.
In the last few decades of the 20th Century music was made to not only be an expression of an art form and channel energy, but something we could all relate to and it became the unofficial voice of the people. For example, look at music in its art like Prince’s “Little Red Corvette”, look at it in a social need like Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”, or look at it as memorable songs that are timeless like Rolling Stones “Can’t Get No Satisfaction” or The Beatles” Let It Be”. Each of these songs either made it number one or placed in the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 in their respective eras. Music was driven by artists like The Beatles, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Stevie Wonder who made well composed songs as well as albums that became the soundtrack to their generation’s life. It meant something to them and as you can see, many of their songs still carry on today. Even the love ballads were genuine and relatable songs that actually had purpose. It wasn’t the modern-day “pop it for a real n***a” or “men aren’t nothing” type songs that were played back then. To be fair, I'm not going to say that dumbed down music never occurred, it was some watered down music back then, but it isn't nearly as prevalent as it is today. Some of my favorite love songs came from the 1960’s when The Temptations had “My Girl” and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles had “A Fork in the Road” and “Ooh Baby Baby”. I’ll go ahead and stop at Stevie Wonder’s “Hey Love & Al Green’s” I’m Still In Love With You”. Those artists I’ve mentioned stood the test of time artistically, and that’s why they are revered as legends today.
Instead of relying on the raw talent of performers, songwriters, and producers music executives decided music needed to become more about the revenue. If you compared legendary artists and songs from the 1970’s & 1980’s to the artists and songs from the 1990’s, the stark contrast is extremely noticeable. Take Bob Dylan’s classic “Like a Rolling Stone”. I noticed on how Dylan used and created emotion, great lyrics, and most importantly a complicated musical structure to create what Rolling Stone magazine calls “The greatest song of all time”. I remember I read in an article that Bruce Springsteen stated that the song “kicked open the door to my mind”, and that “The way that Elvis freed your body, Dylan freed your mind”. All of that was stated, because of how the song was written and composed. Record execs around the time of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, started to use music to become a more toned down, intrinsic type sound just to cater to the masses. Simple beats, simple words, and a simple music structure as a whole were used. Low & behold, you have a number one on your hands. It is now common for music today, and artists that many hardcore music lovers would disapprove of are the artists that the commercial masses actually love. With that said, in today’s music climate, all an artist has to do is supply a few simple and dumbed down songs that the radio will play, get a number one, or a top 20 hit, create album filler, sell a few album copies, and go sellout arenas across America.
Justin Bieber serves as a perfect example for this. Bieber is an amazing musical talent, but musically his work isn’t up to par in my opinion. Of course, Baby was played all over America; the video was played on MTV and watched on YouTube etc. But to me his album was filled with the same music that was supplied on "Baby". His music is geared toward his teenage fans, and because he’s seen as attractive towards teenage girls (and adult women), and can sing, it didn’t matter to them that Baby was very bare from the lyrics to the song structure. Bieber sold because the machine of simple pop songs and appeal worked for him to an advantage, and it doesn’t help that he actually has talent. Rihanna can fall in that category as well. Her looks are captivating, but her voice is considered average. Although she has 11 total number one singles, her albums are always seen as average at best to the majority of critics and not the blockbuster the way her singles are. Again, it all goes back to successful marketing and imagery used to gain chart hits instead of relying on good talent and signing rappers/singer that love and breathe music. Even rappers that many deem aren’t good such as Lil’ Wayne or that rap group D4L have/had music that was extremely commercial in how a song was architected and used vastly limited lyrics and rhyme schemes focusing on derogatory instances of women, jewelry, drugs, guns, money or whatever the buying public will try to grab. D4L's Laffy Taffy was released late 2005 and went straight to the top of the charts. If you’ve heard the song, you would know that the production is as basic as it comes and the lyrics don’t help its cause either. Sadly, this trend is still going on effectively today as music continues to make a decline from an artistic standpoint.
The 2012 Grammy awards featured a very exciting and dismal night of performances, as Adele and Kanye West took home multiple awards and Nicki Minaj had an infamous performance that hasn’t helped her stock as of late. For Kanye West, his last five solo albums have all went platinum/multi-platinum, featured number ones, and four of them have taken home Best Rap Album Grammys’. But the two biggest snubs Kanye West has always suffered is the Grammy for the Best Album. In the past, the Grammys' use to be the benchmark of rewarding artists in the recording industry for their outstanding work. As of present day, it appears to have catered to the more popular record instead of the most outstanding record. Lil’ Wayne’s “Tha Carter IV” was slammed all over from the media/fans alike, but it was still recognized by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences as one of the five best rap recordings of the Grammy calendar year. For Kanye, his 2008 pop/electro/r&b album was essentially overlooked for a Grammy nod, and his last solo album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” despite its universal critical acclaim, was snubbed for Album of the Year in favor of albums like Rihanna’s “Loud” and Bruno Mars “Doo-Wops & Hooligans”. I’m not by any means, knocking Bruno Mars at all, but his songs were extremely simple in comparison to the overall musical diversity Kanye offered his audience on “MBDTF”. It has been said by many that Kanye produced the most acclaimed record in recent memory, but why is he still snubbed from winning one of the Grammys most prestigious awards although on each album he stretches his musical boundaries better than any artist out? There have been many artists who have been snubbed by the Grammys despite garnering critical acclaim. But for "MBDTF" it just strengthens the argument of the state of the recording industry in terms of the music audience and its award shows. Today, sometimes the best albums are the lowest selling, so the record companies don’t want to take a risk in gambling on those artists who won't fit their protocol. The supply and demand rate for music that's not calculated is extremely low.
It’s not to say that sticking to your artistic value won’t work, it’s just the likelihood of it happening is slim to none. R&B artists Maxwell and Sade sold numerous of copies in their first week of their last released albums and both were certified platinum, but we can properly accredit that to the long delay album and their fans yearning for their music. Even with that said, the fans were excited and anticipating the release of their respective albums because these two artists know how to supply great artistic vision in their music. The respect level is high, and they are one of the few artists against the pop music machine to actually sell records. It happens, but not enough for other artists to rely on it
This is mainly why many artists today and older music fans speak out against “the machine” and this generation’s current choice of music. Popularity is what matters now, and it’s essentially irrelevant if you do know how to rap, pen a song on social change, or can sing or play an instrument that can contest the audience ears. The tragedy of it all results in record execs caring mostly about the dollar instead of the talent. To the record executives, if you don’t sell off of their heavily calculated formula, they will leave you alone and find another one who will. Music is an art, not something to be exposed or exploited for. It’s supposed to mean something to the listener, to be the song that we can remember where we were when it came out. Music is supposed to capture the moment, magic, and essence of an era. But it is now seen as entirely too late.
Jordan, KaShawn, thank you.
Related: Adele, Al Green, Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, D4L, Justin Bieber, Kanye West, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Lmfao, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Nicki Minaj, Prince, Rihanna, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones, Starpulse Exclusives, Rock Music, R & B, Rap/Hip-Hop, Pop
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