Although this article comes a bit late after the fact, I wanted to at least mention it since it’s a topic that people seem to get rather passionate about for better or worse. As most of you trend following kiddies know, the Grammy’s aired this past week on NBC and brought out the usual controversy we’ve come to expect from the assortment of pre-madonnas and self entitled brats that populate the ‘music industry’ these days. However, no issue seemed to ignite the twitter sphere to such a point as the moment when 30-year music veteran Beck defied the odds and took home the award for ‘Best Album of the Year’, all the while angering countless teenage fans of Beyonce everywhere. Now if you’re like me and possess a music IQ (or any IQ for that matter) that ranges in the above average category, you’ll think to yourself ‘who the fuck cares about the Grammy’s? Real talent doesn’t get noticed on the national stage anymore!’ Admittedly, I stuck to my yearly tradition of not staying up to watch the Grammy’s but found myself pulled into the debate nonetheless. While I concede the argument that the Grammy’s have become more saturated than a college degree, I will admit that the nineties kid inside me did a jig when I saw that Beck had usurped the pop music dominated throne and received his long overdue award. Sadly, my faith in humanity was trumped by the fact that the hashtag ‘#whoisbeck’ managed to trend much higher up than it should but then again I’ve come to realize overtime that the majority of people who actually take the Grammy’s seriously aren’t exactly re-inventing the wheel. This leads in to my larger point and that is ‘What the fuck happened to the music industry?’
You could argue that the question I ought to be asking is ‘What the fuck is wrong with people?’ and you’d be right but that’s something I just don’t have the energy for at this moment. Another time perhaps.
If you’re going to go by the billboard ratings and what you see on television you would almost certainly come to the conclusion that modern music is populated solely by either: Hip-hop or pop music, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Yes, there are plenty of alternative bands or hipster groups that your one friend will rave about but you’ll never listen to that manage to pop up but those just don’t make it big enough to merit any sort of airplay and for better or worse get pushed down into the mire before anyone hears of them. A few exceptions can obviously be made in the non-pop genre i.e. Imagine Dragons, Ed Sheeran, Fall Out Boy etc. but more often than not that doesn’t speak to the level of their talent as much as much as it concedes the fact that people still get a kick out of seeing cute boys play the guitar. A good example of this standard is the country music genre which has a massive following of pre-dominately white teenagers and young adults who get a kick out of wearing flannel shirts and ripped jeans while listening to a man-child with a 5 o’ clock shadow and a comically big hat sing about how a well-cared for truck is an analogy for his woman. Something tells me the popularity of such a thing is directly correlated to the amount of alcohol one consumes but I suppose that can be said for most things in today’s music world that become ‘cool’.
So why do these artists become so popular, are they really that ‘good’ ? Or does it all fall into the category of ‘all hype’? In case you’re wondering the answer is most certainly the latter. American’s, more specifically young adults and teenagers make up the biggest demographic that contemporary music appeals to and moreover markets to. How do I know this? Well I can tell you that my parents generation certainly didn’t listen to The Beatles and Paul Simon because of how good their asses looked covered in Crisco, and most certainly didn’t label them ‘great musicians’ because of their ability to generate buzz or “YouTube Gold”. No, they listened to them and regard them with such high esteem because of what their music said and how it made it touched upon the culture that they lived in. Keep in mind this was an age plagued by uncertainty in a nuclear age, my parents were born in the fifties and lived through Vietnam, The Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Reagan years. Kids these days assume that ‘culturally significant’ means how many videos someone has that went viral or how many awards they won. Being culturally significant transcends more than just fame, it means having material that is defined by the time period that produced it. John Lennon and the ‘Give Peace a Chance’ crowd helped define a generation who saw music as a means to bring issues larger than themselves into a bigger discussion. Music took on a sound that is clearly distinguishable from any other period and became a staple of the ‘flower power’ and hippie movements which protested the War in Vietnam and usage of nuclear weapons. Today’s generation has no identifiable genre with which to tie itself to like my parent’s generation did. My parents experienced a clear evolution of music from the days of: Bobby Vinton and Buddy Holly, the phenomenon of American Bandstand and Ed Sullivan, Elvis and the British Invasion, the 70’s music scene which produced glam and hard rock, funk and punk music and early synth pop. They were a generation of young adults who lived through easily one of the most exciting periods of music and got to experience a myriad of new and innovative musicians who sought to evolve their art to a place where they could influence countless talents for years to come.
Yet, somewhere around the turn of the century that sort of evolution stopped and the music industry became what the hipsters at Starbucks who sip their caramel macchiatos refer to as ‘mainstream’. People started being indoctrinated with the 24 hour non-stop media circus which would pummel you with images of what is ‘hot’ and more importantly what’s not. The reality show became the next big phenomenon, where for hours at a time you could watch the lives of the rich and famous be put on stage for all to see, ‘warts and all’. We became a society infatuated by the most pedestrian and boorish ideas and entered a world where watching people allegedly ‘just like us’, bickered, drank, fought and got arrested all in the matter of an hour. “Wow,” we’d say, “this is so crazy that I just have to show my friends.” Pretty soon this sort of “did you see that” culture reared its ugly head and moved onto the music industry where people with little to no musical skill realized that you didn’t need actual talent to produce a record, you just needed to tap into the pulsing vein of society which valued these sorts of things. Not only could you produce a ton of D-quality music like this but you could market cheap sound-alikes and copycats for little to no effort and sure enough you’d be an overnight billionaire in no time. Actual musicians and instrumentalists were largely pushed aside in favor of those who had an image that could be slapped on everything from a cellphone wallpaper to a billboard in Times Square. Sure, such things might get stale after awhile but when they did you could even market their collapse too, as a cable reality show where a camera crew followed that person on their disgusting and pathetic journey of redemption, where gluttonous housewives could smirk on their self-righteous thrones of pizza stained La-Z-Boy furniture and watch the musicians that used to play on the ‘teevee’ scrounge around in the mire of rehab facilities and glumly look at the camera almost begging for their collective approval. Real music has died out in large part because people allowed the most reprehensible and base aspects of human nature to dominate their interests. People don’t like to stretch their minds anymore, it’s easier to look up answers on wikipedia for the inner meanings of a song or film or book these days than actually ponder and interpret. Young adults aren’t being forced in large part to think for themselves and are being encouraged to just ‘know’ the right answer instead of seeking it out for themselves. Music has stopped being about artistry and is purely sex, violence and hashtag worthy ‘moments’. It’s gotten to the point where ‘controversial music’ is someone making a video or a statement which people don’t unanimously agree on or can’t wrap their brains around. Opening up a discussion shouldn’t be synonymous for ‘controversy’ and moreover ‘controversy’ shouldn’t be looked at as a dirty word.
Music has the power to do many things but what it shouldn’t be is a soapbox for bad behavior or disrespect for others. People like watching award shows these days like the Grammy’s not in the hopes of seeing good music but waiting to see if something ‘crazy’ or ‘controversial’ happens. We’ve become a society of bystanders who instead of trying to better the world around us just stand there and videotape bad acts in the hopes of becoming ‘famous’. Kanye West’s ‘rant’ after the Grammy’s easily overshadowed any sort of talent or art went on act the actual ceremony and honestly that’s really sad that we are so easily taken in by stupidity as to put it on this pedestal where it proceeds to make millions of dollars. Writing songs about going out drinking, fighting with your girlfriend, doing drugs and gyrating asses isn’t art, it’s trash. It’s the sort of thing which should be isolated and mocked rather than viewed as ‘deep art’ which defines an entire generation. This past week Drake released a new “mixtape” of the usual sort of tripe that he usually produces or should I say, he and 5-6 other people produced, that was being hailed on twitter as something akin to The ‘White’ Album by The Beatles or Tommy by The Who. That’s like your teacher in school taking the half-assed report from that one slacker in your class about how “Football is the best sport Ever” and putting it on the bulletin board over your piece about “How Head Injuries effect the Sports World”. The music industry has become a joke and not a particularly good one because most bad jokes people tell you to get lost after telling it, not throw you billions of dollars in revenue in the hopes that you’ll create more just like it. Sure you could argue that the music scene is starting to open up the discussion to civil liberties like in Ferguson but aside from Common and John Legend who wrote the song for the film ‘Selma’, who else is really leading the charge in the industry against police brutality and the shooting of innocents? People will also cite the stunt pulled last year by having over 50 gay couples marry on stage as a ‘culturally significant’ music moment but let’s be honest it’s not like gay marriage is really a taboo subject in this country for the most part other than in shit states like Alabama, so it really wasn’t taking much of a risk by doing so. If you want to take a risk, have 50 transgender individuals come on stage with you and really make a statement with your support. But no, that doesn’t sell records, that’s too ‘controversial’, better wait til enough people make it popular before you start doing stuff like that. So in the meantime we’re stuck with the boring mass produced pop acts that dominate the industry who are essentially poster boys for the endless line of talent shows and award shows until they become too old or unpopular and are quickly shoved aside in favor of someone much younger and hotter to take hold of the limelight.
I guess in closing, if you’re looking for an answer to the question I posed earlier: “What the fuck is wrong with music?” the answer is: we are. We are what’s wrong with music these days.