By Juma Sei
WANT Original Content
Children of my generation are plagued with the notion that the music of our time cannot hold a candle to that of the past (note that when I say past, I am referencing the late 20th century). For the most part, this is an undeniable truth, however, please take notice to the phrase, “for the most part.” While the bubblegum pop hits that run rampant on the radio stations of America, such as Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and Ray Sremmurd’s “No Flex Zone,” suck as quality pieces of art, there are a few diamonds in the rough. Now, before I spend too much time delving into the good versus the bad in modern music, there is a greater question I’m trying to answer — while it is clear that the music from “back in the day” was of higher quality, but I often ponder why? My simple answer is that as generations have gone by, the reason popular music has gone downhill has been due to a change in the ideals of common artists and the wants of the common people.
The music industry has grown astronomically since 2000 spurred mainly by the sheer number of people trying to “make it.” In order to do so, an artist’s primary goal has to be to get their songs into the heads of the masses. This is why we get mediocre music that may be catchy on the radio, but that turns the artists into one-hit wonders. Because artists are now so incredibly focused on make these catchy singles, their attention has been drawn away from creating quality collections of work, and that is where things have gone wrong.
Other than Taylor Swift, modern pop artists are now typically recognized for their single tunes rather than a collection of greats on an album, as they were before. In the past, artists focused on creating “concept” albums composed of individual songs linked by musical style, a story line, and artwork on the album covers. They spent their time to create something enduring and amazing – think of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, U2, and many others. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that modern day artists aren’t making quality albums nor saying that there weren’t artists in the past that were one-hit wonders – just listen to the ubiquitous oldies stations and you’ll hear plenty of those. I’m simply saying that the ratio of these two things has changed from the past to the present. Nowadays, we see a vast number of one-hit wonders. This contrasts with the golden era of music which was filled with album after album where, even when the individual songs were not all hits, the collection of songs made an impact.
Now, some of you may say that this viewpoint is a vapid one, considering that as a modern day teenager I only listen and hear about music from the past that met the test of time. Or, you might say that pop music, old and new, is about whatever is the most popular music of its time. It’s not about enduring but about selling music. To address the first point, yes, good songs lasted, however, we know songs from the past were better simply because we can find teenagers of today loving them just as much as they were loved decades ago. By contrast, the catchy radio tunes of today cycle on a monthly basis. If truly good songs are still cherished decades after they are introduced to the world, how can we call today’s hits “good music” if they have a shelf life of mere weeks or months.
Referencing the latter assertion, namely that pop music, old and new, just means the most “popular” music of the time, the point I am making is that the number of pop singles tied to good albums in the past was far greater than occurs today. Because those tied to albums had time and attention put into the whole collection, when particular pieces stood out, they were of a greater value.
It seems as if the passage of time has caused both artists and consumers to care less about the whole puzzle, and both put more emphasis on the individual pieces. In my view, this reality is the causative factor in creating to the decrepitude of music today.
Image Credit: Ralph Arvesen