This article by Steven Hyden over at Grantland got me thinking-
The link was broken when I tried it, so you’ll just have to track it down at some point and read it. He linked to a song by One Direction. Yes, that One Direction.
It’s actually not a bad song. If someone had played it for me and said it was a lost Flamin’ Groovies or Exploding Hearts track I might just believe them.
But he is on to something with his article. Genre is pretty well dead at this point. There is pop music and there is stuff that just isn’t good enough to be popular.
Which isn’t to say that something has to be good to be popular, only that there’s no reason for something really good not to be. Trends have flattened out so much that I could turn on the radio and reasonably expect to hear music that could have existed in any decade. I might listen for a half hour and hear Adele or Lorde sounding 60’s, Daft Punk sounding 70’s, Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga sounding 80’s and a half dozen pop stars sounding like early Brittney Spears. It just doesn’t matter anymore.
And that’s a good thing. I grew up in a tiny town miles and miles from any decent music store. The one that did exist I vaguely remember hearing was just a money laundering operation for a drug dealing owner, which might explain why I once ordered Germfree Adolescents by XRay Spex and it didn’t arrive FOR A YEAR. I had completely forgotten about it by then.
Getting music was tough back then. Even knowing what was happening was difficult. Somehow I heard about a magazine called Maximum Rock and Roll. I bought a copy at Tower Records (remember them?) on a trip to San Diego and kept ordering from the labels that advertised in it. It was a lifeline to the outside world.
BUT the problem with doing that is that I never knew what kind of music would arrive on my doorstep. There were other people in town I could trade music with, but it was a crapshoot at the best of times. And little labels in Geary, IN or wherever were probably looking at the $3 I sent them for 7″ record by DEATHSKULLS (or something like that) and going, where in the fuck did this guy hear about this band?
I hadn’t! I was just guessing. Lots of times I guessed wrong.
Anyway, there was the other thing about that era that sucked and that was music snobbery. Those days are gone. You can’t really act superior to someone for not knowing about a band when that person can just pull out a smartphone and look it up on the spot.
But it was about people protecting their hard-earned position as part of the scene. People wanted to buy something with that cultural capital earned by sending out for those $3 records. I get that. But now there is nothing to protect. And that means no shame in admitting that we can listen to whatever we want. For musicians it means making whatever music they want.
I know some people say they miss being able to discover things. I disagree. I discover things all the time on Youtube. Just now I don’t have to wait 2 months and pay $5 for something I think sucks.
But I meant to talk about current music so I will. I like that One Direction can make a good power-pop song. I like that white ladies can make passable rap songs. I like that there’s disco on the radio and rock music too.
I mean, yeah, these guys are douchey, but this a good song. It’s got energy, it’s got hooks. Listen to it with the video off, you’ll like it more.
My son and I were looking around for live Lady Gaga videos yesterday and came upon this one:
With her recent string of underwhelming songs it’s pretty easy to forget that she’s actually a hugely talented performer. I still think Telephone is one of the best pop songs maybe ever.
I may have just blown whatever credibility I have with you, but I make no apologies for liking trashy things, and this song is trashy as a song can get.
I kind of lost the point I was going to make, except to say that people complain about music today and I disagree. It’s pretty much impossible to argue with someone saying that because the only way to convince them that music today isn’t so bad is to find a contemporary artist who sounds like something from the era they consider the best and then play that for them. But that doesn’t actually prove anything.
Not that I think you, the reader, are like this.
I like it that now I can listen to the pop station and hear some music that sounds like punk, some fairly hard-core rap songs and some pure pop. About 60% of it is crap, but that’s always been the case on pop radio. But in other ways I feel like I’m living a really exciting time.