If you turned on the radio right now, and flipped it to an average pop or ‘Top 40’ station, what songs would you hear? Would there be a nice medley of old and new, with some songs from big name bands and their new album, mixed in with some one hit wonders? Or might there be the same songs as yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that, maybe arranged in a different fashion as they climb or fall on the charts, but the same songs nonetheless?
Just to clarify, I have nothing against pop music or the like. All genres are special in their own way, and that is what makes music such a beautiful thing. The problem lies not in the fact that pop dominates the airwaves today, just as punk got its own era, and disco its own, and so on. The problem is how quickly music and artists appear and, just as fast, fade away.
Of course, there have always been one hit wonders. Ask most teens about any other song by Haddaway besides “What is Love?” and all you’ll get is a blank stare. But those one hit wonders are actually still loved today, even if some are played rather jokingly (looking at you, Rick Astley). Pop music from this decade doesn’t really seem to have that charm. In this respect, the fact that today’s music lives such short lifespans is actually quite worrying.
It seems like every four months or so, the ‘Top 40’ becomes completely different. The old hits are now long forgotten, their artists cashing in on the quick success. The DJ’s on the radio and at the club will play the same songs until they are dead, then move on to the next big hit. What does this say about our culture and our society? It feels as if music has lost its value when it comes to the mainstream, especially when songs sound like carbon copies of each other. If music loses its soul, or its message, it becomes nothing more than a money making tool, especially in an era when the label gets much more of a cut of the artist’s success than the artist ever will.
Music doesn’t necessarily need to be ‘good’ and requested to make it onto the radio any more, it just needs to be profitable. Milking a song for every play it can get will certainly generate revenue, but it doesn’t contribute to culture in the way it historically has, and this leads to the mainstream fascination with ‘generic pop’. The song that gets everyone up and singing and dancing is no longer the cultural phenomenon, just the most popular song of the night. Will the song playing in the background of your grad dance or your first kiss be as memorable as your parent’s?
Because songs need to be profitable to make it to the mainstream, product placement has also become increasingly worse. Music used to sell or glorify a brand name should not be considered part of the art form, because all it is, is advertising. Does anyone find any soul in a song about waking up in a Bugatti, or simply an entire line of a verse consisting of the word ‘Versace’? This may seem like cherry picking, but it is what makes radio and pop culture these days.
What happened to music that changes the world? What happened to music that would stay on top of the charts for years at a time, the music that would go on to define generations? Are we ever going to experience that again? Personally, I cannot think of the songs, or albums, or even artists that defined and shaped the 2000’s. The time for artists to spring up out of nowhere and shape the future of music has long since past. That time died after bands like Nirvana, the Beatles, and The Four Seasons expired.
It doesn’t have to be this way, however. The internet has opened up so many avenues for aspiring and established artists to get their music heard, and for music fans to be even more connected to the artists they love. One visit to a site like Soundcloud, Bandcamp or Datpiff can net you a new favourite artist (some mixtape artists actually have the decency to mention their producers in the title of their songs. What a concept!). Maybe, just maybe, this musical era will be known not for a specific genre, but for how easily all genres could circulate and make an impact in an individual’s life.
Photography Courtesy of Matthew Jacula