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Progressive Themes To Keep Pop Music Fresh

July 25th, 2013 5:30pm EDT

Wiz Khalifa The acceptance of formerly taboo themes in music serves as a contrast to music of the past.
An argument could be posed that musically, we live in a ‘post-innovative’ period.  What does  that big, fancy label mean in simple terms? It means that at least a majority of new musical ideas have already occurred and now music is basically in a period of recycling trends.  A generalization? To an extent, BUT after centuries of gargantuan innovation in music, it is certainly hard to invent something that somebody else hasn’t already done before.  I have a rebuttal to the argument though.  Even if total innovation has ceased in favor of recycling and tweaking certain trends, etc., there is an expansion of formerly taboo topics that has become widespread in music. Among things featured more freely in music spanning multiple genres are references to recreational marijuana usage, an expanded palette of curse words, and the expansion of sexuality.  That is not to say that pot has never been mentioned or that the f-bomb was never uttered previously, but the widespread occurrence and acceptance is now a ‘new normal’.

Recreational ‘Mary Jane’ Usage
Marijuana is a trend that seems to only being growing in its references in music and of course society itself.  The modern ‘stoner’ movement doesn’t necessarily have to even mention ‘Mary Jane’ to make an impact.  The ‘sound’ associated with pot smoking musicians has become particularly notable in establishing a new, eclectic identity in urban music, transcending rap and branching out, notably in R&B.  These days, it seems that lighting one up is nada. Wiz Khalifa may have said it best himself on 2012 album O.N.I.F.C., “it’s nothin’, it’s nothin’, it’s nothin’”.  With the legalization of marijuana in some places, one can only expect the marijuana culture to continue to grow in frequency in all forms of media.

An Expanded Palette of Naughty Words
The days where only ‘baby’ profanities like the occasional damn are far behind us. Today, regardless of morality or amorality, few give such swears a second thought. Honestly, years ago could a teen pop star (regardless of age) like Justin Bieber have gotten away with a line like “Loving you is so damn easy to me…” (“Die In Your Arms”).  Think about this, how often do you hear the word ‘butt’ used anymore? It’s much rarer than before.  Shocking to me was the fact that Wale kept it semi-classy on his club banger “Clappers” (The Gifted) by opting for ‘butt’ instead of… you get the picture (“Shawty got a big ole butt, oh yeah!”).  Also, what about the free flowing name-calling? Seems as if a**hole is acceptable as well.

To the current generation of music listeners/lovers (those like myself in their twenties and younger), it’s not unusual to be accustomed to songs with excessive profanity and words that would make our parents and pastors cringe. Sure it’s been going down in rap and edgier metal, rock, and R&B for sometime, but it’s expanded beyond those styles.  Maroon 5 added some salty language on their ubiquitous number two pop hit “Payphone” which raised eyebrows on the chorus (“…All those fairytales are full of s**t / one more f**king love song, I’ll be sick”). On recent Panic! At The Disco single, frontman Brendon Urie once more adds “god” in front of “damn” as an ‘intensifier’, much like he did back on 2005 triumph, “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”.  Chris Brown seems to love f-bombs, as it seems like many of his collaborations in particular find an occasion for him to utter the formerly tasteless obscenity.  And what about the suave Robin Thicke? On “Blurred Lines”, he doesn’t call his girl the ‘hottest chick’, but goes all in to call her the “hottest b***h in this place!” with emphasis.  Likely doesn’t help take the heat off any misogynistic accusations about the song, but, yeah.  Whether it’s a positive attribute or not, the profane has become trendy.

An Expansion of A Three Letter Word… 
Music has always thrived from themes of love and relationships.  Sure in the past many of those relationships were perhaps more invested emotionally, but the physical also played a role in the past.  Teddy Pendergrass’ “Turn Off The Lights” oozes with sex.  And more popularly, what about Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”.  The role of physicality has increased though, as more sensual language and innuendo has become predominate in music.  Before if it was making love, it’s definitely ‘having sex’ or just plain… the ellipses speak for themselves.  Face it, we are not afraid to drop some pretty tasteless references about things that should likely stay in the bedroom.  The bedroom door is no longer closed, but ajar.  Artists like R. Kelly, The-Dream, Trey Songz, Chris Brown, and The Weeknd have all infused ‘the nasty’ into their music.  The-Dream’s 2013 effort IV Play takes sex in music to new heights. That’s not necessarily a compliment either.

The other side of the expansion of sexuality is beyond heterosexuality.  This is still a growing aspect of modern music, but references to homosexual relationships is becoming more acceptable, and it doesn’t necessarily arrive courtesy of gay individuals.  Recent examples of this include Adam Lambert’s “Fever” (For Your Entertainment, 2009), penned by Lady Gaga which finds the openly gay pop star singing “him” as opposed to “her” when referencing a potential lover.  On “Same Love”, Macklemore (who is heterosexual) tackles equality with gay rights, etc., truly brought home by a memorable chorus contributed by Mary Lambert: “And I can’t change, even if I tried / even if I wanted to / And I can’t change, even if I tried / even if I wanted to / My, my love, my love / she keeps me warm…” Perhaps the greatest example is openly gay country singer Steve Grand’s viral “All American Boy”, which completely flips the script, with a gay themed love story.  That would be unlikely to happen perhaps even a few years ago.

Whether it’s for better or for worse, music may not be near the levels of innovation of the past, but themes are growing progressively more liberal socially and culturally, which is notable and perhaps even atonement to an extent. Sure  you may not want to hear f-bombs as a commonplace cue in your music, but the brash and overt doesn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon, only increasing.

Filed under: Alternative, Country, Feature, Hip-Hop/Rap, Music, Opinion, Pop, Pop Culture, R&B/Soul, Rock, Urban Tagged: Adam Lambert, Adam Levine, analyzing music trends, Brendon Urie, Chris Brown, cursing in music, feature, Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis, marijuana in music, Maroon 5, Marvin Gaye, Mary Lambert, music themes, musical trends, opinion editorial, Panic at the disco, post-innovative, profanity in music, R. Kelly, sex in music, Steve Grand, Teddy Pendergrass, Trey Songz, Wiz Khalifa

Related: Wiz Khalifa, Music, R & B, Rap/Hip-Hop, Pop

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