An Unfortunate Encounter with Pop Music.

Last night: restocking, reorganizing, refolding after hours. As soon as we closed shop, my fellow employees changed the radio station to some Pop Top 50 thing. I avoid music from those charts like the plague, but this time I was locked in with my paycheck riding in the balance.

And I left with one question: WHY??!!

Let me give you the overview:

Lyrics: Damn, girl, you lookin' hot. Damn, boy, I'm lookin' hot.

Beat: Same canned hip-hop beat we've known since the early 90's, looped bass line, annoyingly repetitive sample from old song or movie.

Message: Male = woman user. Female = meat.

Musicality: I don't know words with more than 3 syllables.

Seriously. Depressing. Tell me how this falls under the same artistic category as Bach, Beethoven, Glass, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Sigur Ros...it's blasphemy, I tell you! I know I'm a music snob, but, honestly, this is the popular music of our generation? It's like I'm inside an Ayn Rand novel...


Peter Lance said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. But I'll try...
Americans are lowing their standards so far that soon we'll simply and finally implode into oblivion. Too many people are content to appeal to the lowest common denominator in society. You see this not only in art, but also in politics, in the work-place, in families, etc. It's everywhere. I'm not quite sure how it came to this, but somehow, along the road of humanity, society has made it widely acceptable to consistently LOWER the standard of excellence instead of RAISE it. The question again presents itself: WHY? That, I guess, is the seven-hundred billion dollar question, and we may be obliviated before we find an answer to it.

Shar said...

Let's buy a Christmas Tree farm and all work our hands to the bone. Nature, hard work, a special holiday, togetherness, what more can you ask for?...money!?!?!?

Andrew said...

Let's get one thing straight -- Pop music is BAD. By definition. It always has been, this isn't something new. A myriad of factors had to come together to make this happen, including mass-marketing capabilities, distribution capabilities, and manufacturing. In the late nineteenth century, we had mass-marketing capabilities through the radio. Problem was, there wasn't a product to sell that didn't just benefit advertisers. By the 1920's we had manufacturing capabilities (records were being manufactured in great quantities as 78's), but it wasn't until after 1945 that we had an explosion in all factors -- the migration to the 45, the invention of the "pop single" with a flip side song, and the distribution capabilities to sell it broadly. With the ingredients finally mixed, music started being produced for no other reason than to sell it, and sell it broadly. For every Elvis, Beatles, and Zep across those initial 30 years, there were a million "pop" bands and one-hit wonders. And they sucked.

Generation after generation must, through its art, politics, social structures, etc. distinguish itself from the prior. They don't do that by doing the same crap the last generation did, and so they push the boundary further, which is why you and I think it's so much "worse." Let's also not underestimate the role technology plays, as increased digital "correction" capabilities are developed, raw skill and talent aren't as much of a requirement.

Now -- these are all opinions, fully debatable. One last comment though. Pete's "glass-is-half-empty" standpoint is uncharacteristically defeatist to me. Sure, we can complain all we want about the mediocrity that surrounds us, but that causes stress and strain, and undue conflict. I think a much more content position, certainly a happier one, is to let mediocrity be mediocre, and surround yourself with the things that truly challenge and inspire you!

Look, Kristal and I actually watched the MTV Video Music Awards this year, and it was the most shallow, uninspiring, vomit-inducing things I have ever seen on television. And I complained about it for days, and read all sorts of commentary and inside felt satisfied reading how much everyone else hated it as well. In the end, what did all my angst do? Made me tired. That's it.

The world may be going to hell in a handbasket, it doesn't mean there aren't a million inspiring and challenging things to grab on to. A few months ago I realized I didn't really have any hobbies. So I made a list of the things I really enjoy doing -- playing music, studying and playing chess, listening to classical music, screwing around with video production, writing, and reading books. Add to that the joys I get by spending time with Kristal, Damion, and Miles, and sharing time with friends and family.

Worrying about who the next Vice President will be or how crappy the next pop record released is going to be just isn't high on my list of things to do with my life.

Now, I could TOTALLY get behind the christmas tree farm idea! :-)

betsy said...

yes! looks like a whole family of ranters! good to know i'm not the only one...

one point in your post, andy, that i don't see...you say the next generation is pushing the boundaries, and that is why we dislike the music. i see where they're pushing, but i don't think that it's within pop music. i think you see it in the indy scene, and the ambient/electronic scene. the pop charts are pushing no boundaries..they're using voice modification to make up for the fact they can't hit that high note and they're using loops because they can't play. and there's no excuse for the pitiful lyrics.

and, yes, i do surround myself with things i love...maybe that's why this is such an assault to my senses. and it makes it kind of hard to relate, when i find such offense in what is an everyday, assumed part of their lives. i never realized how much of a snob i am until moment like this. :) but it's probably good for me.

Andrew said...

Call me old fashioned, but I'm constantly shocked by what's "acceptable" by mainstream standards. In 1988, Appetite for Destruction was considered offensive. Now, it's almost radio-friendly in comparison to albums by artists recently like Eminem and marilyn manson. MTV "reality" tv shows (that are really actors, but whatever) that are all about sex and partying, and VH1??? The ultimate in human depravity. Justin Timberlake ripping the top off of Janet Jackson just to "shock and awe", that's pushing boundaries. Lil' Wayne is now the top 40 rapper, and dude has facial tats and piercings all over the place. That's pushing boundaries.

Don't confuse innovating, which is what you're getting at, I think, with pushing boundaries. Two different things.

And we've just begun, these are just observations in mass media. How about kids these days?? I'm afraid for my boys to go to High School, what will it be like for them compared to when we went? Kids these days have so much more baggage to deal with it's not even funny.

I realize all what I have said makes me sound incredibly old and old fashioned. You mentioned you sound like a snob, but I don't think it's that. We like what we like, period. The snobbish thing to do is put other people down for liking what they like. Look, I can say "I don't like listening to Miley Cyrus because it doesn't challenge and inspire me." I don't think there's a human being on the planet who thinks Miley Cyrus' music is challenging. And yet millions of tweens worship her. Fine, no problem, I don't care because they like her for different reasons.

I would debate all day long if someone wanted to claim that the latest Britney Spears new single "Womanizer" was an incredibly innovating song, breaking new ground and experimenting with new sound structures unlike anything we've ever head. I wouldn't give a rats ass if someone claimed they "liked it."

So you see the difference? Just to summarize: I HATE pop music as much as you do. I'm not arguing with that. I absolutely abhor it, its image, and what it stands for as an "art." And I like, as much as the next person, to debate the merits of different types of music, and even rant and rave about how crappy different types of music are. But at the end of the day, I'm over caring what other people listen to.

Kristal said...

Mostly, I'm going to stay out of this conversation because I think music and art and all sorts of stuff are such individual tastes. There are lots of songs that I enjoy listening to, not because they are technically great or even just musically great, but because they remind me of great times in my life.
Also, I had to comment on Andrews last comment. Andrew, you said, "Look, I can say "I don't like listening to Miley Cyrus because it doesn't challenge and inspire me."" Andrew, wasn't there a Miley Cyrus song that you were actually pretty into? I remember you listening to her for a while. ;-)
I can't wait til we are all on the west coast again!

Andrew said...

I was NEVER "pretty into" a Miley Cyrus song. Just want to clarify. I did listen to one of her songs a couple of times because it had a chord progression I happen to be a sucker for. That's it.

Shall I remind everybody that you were glued to the TV watching the New Kids on the Block reunion show when we were in St. Thomas? :-)

Kristal said...

Haha! I'm not ashamed to admit that New Kids on the Block bring back happy memories for me. It's like 5th grade all over again.
You should also mention that one of the reasons WE were glued to the tv watching the reunion show was because we had 3rd degree burns over most of our bodies and couldn't easily move to get to the remote!

betsy said...

Andy, just admit that you like Miley...before I lash into you...hehe...

And, it's one thing to listen to poppy crap when you're a kid...it's sort of a right of passage. And of course now and then there's the pop song that just grooves and you like it for no explicable reason -- you just do.

But when you get into your 20's and 30's, and you become more aware of what's being said in those songs and what kind of culture it promotes...I guess I just expect people to start caring and thinking more as they get older.

And, while Pete's argument might be defeatist, if the boundaries keep being "pushed" as they are, think of the consequences: At younger and younger ages, you've got kids with sex on the mind, girls trying to be sexy for guys at ages 10 and 11 (miley, anyone? she's 15!). You've got a culture obsessed with the lives of the outrageously and undeservedly wealthy (the hills...*vomit*) and dreaming that this is their life. I mean, how does a society like this function? There's no restraint, no self-respect, and no valuing of greater things than indulgence and status.

I am grateful that there is indeed a strong counter movement to all this crap. And I don't expect everyone to love Beethoven's string quartets like i do (amazing!). But when I see those entrenched in this type of culture (what they listen to, read, and how their lifestyle reflects that) i can't help but be a little apprehensive about the future.

Andrew said...

Bets, I'd love to hear a little more about something you mentioned in your last comment:

"I guess I just expect people to start caring and thinking more as they get older."

Can you expand on this?

Gosh, your blog hasn't had this much action in a while! :-)

betsy said...

I know! This rules...I need to rant more often.

Caring about more than just partying, hooking up, being perceived as hot, or trendy, or bad-ass. Looking at others as more than just "hot bods". Thinking about how what we read and watch and listen to effects the way we view others and how our society functions. Valuing challenge, hard work, and commitment. Realizing that there's a lot more going on in the world and even right here in our cities than our wealthy, middle-class lives. I guess I just expect people's perspectives to get bigger as they get older. It's like people pride themselves on being vulgar, excessively indulgent, and just plain superficial.

I hear it walking around town, at work, in restaurants...

I know I'm totally idealistic and naive, and I certainly am not perfect in all aforementioned areas. But I think a lot of adults (and sadly, many kids) could use a good dose of idealism and even just plain old innocence, and we need to think about what sort of message the media we imbibe in portrays.

Andrew said...

Yes, I completely agree with you. I think the US media by and large is absurd. And quite damaging. Thanks for expanding on that.

Peter Lance said...

Geez, you guys are going crazy on this thing! I need to get in on this more. Bets, I liked what you said about people having self-respect. I think a lot of this is perhaps due to a lack of respect for one's own person. I think we can all agree that promiscuity and public vulgarity, violence and degradation as well as the materialization of other humans, all stem from a basic lack of love for who you are as a person. They all have at least one thing in common: they seek to get attention from others, to get a reaction of some type, be it negative or positive. Now, seeking attention is a very common thing, something most, if not all of us deal with to varying degrees, and I think that the need for attention is proportionally related in some way to your level of security in who you are. We could go on about that topic for a while, but to bring it back around, these specific aforementioned manifestations of this attention-seeking mentality are particularly intrusive and degrading to the public, and therefore are particularly attention-getting. Why does the media seem to be getting worse and worse? Perhaps because those involved are needing more and more ways of getting attention.

It may seem that as the media goes downhill, people seem to follow that path as well, but I think that it starts with the individual, and culture follows accordingly. Why do people allow themselves to be exposed to these mediocre examples of music and pop art/culture? One might answer, "Because it's there. It's a part of our culture, and it's forced on us. We are surrounded by it, and there is no escaping it." In essence, they are saying that pop culture came first, and they have no power to change it or stop it, as if culture is some entity with it's own power, running on it's own steam. No. WE are culture. WE are the driving force behind all that is produced in the media, art, politics, economics, business, etc. All of these things start with the individual, and grow from multiple individuals putting their ideas into the great melting pot of culture. If a song is bad or the "news" is excessively violent, or a movie is shallow, there is no one to blame but the individuals who, not only physically created it, but the individuals who allow themselves to view, listen to, and support those types of productions. If people enjoy watching violence, it's, in my opinion, because they're bored. Why are they bored? Because they don't get out and do what they really want to be doing. Why don't they? Because they don't know what they want. Why? Because they don't believe in themselves enough to dream, to have ideals. It takes guts to dream and then try and act on those dreams. I think so many Americans are just lazy. They have gotten so accustomed to accepting what's handed to them that they don't know how to get up and do things for themselves. They have forgotten how to dream (I know that sounds like a bad 80's made-for-television Christmas film, but it's true). I think this is a direct outcome of low self-esteem. People have the power to change these things, it just takes a little bit of courage and self-motivation.

Just a bit more, and then I'm done.

Andrew, you said earlier that lately you've been re-discovering the things you like to do, and you've been making an effort to spend time cultivating those joys. That is so encouraging to hear someone say that, and not just someone who is in their last few remaining months of life, like in "The Bucket List". It's coming from someone in his early 30's who has nearly a full life ahead. That's great! What better joy is there in life than to spend time doing the things that YOU want to do. That is an utterly selfish thing to want, yet also one of the most beautiful things about humanity (it makes you want to question our accepted definition of selfishness). You value things, and you are willing to work for those things, be it family, hobbies, money, whatever. I think this is a trait that so many people lack, and that is why our culture ends up the way it is. So many people don't have the courage or will-power to do the things they want to be doing. They do what they do for other reasons, be it peer pressure, power, recognition, self-assurance, etc. This ridiculously long comment could be viewed as defeatist, but I see is as an extremely positive view. We have the power to be happy, to make ourselves happy, and it just takes a choice and some hard work to make it happen. If more people believed this, I think our society would not be in the state it's currently in.

ok, I swear that's all...for now.

betsy said...

Pete, good points all around.

You can see the effects of people choosing to be counter cultural by the popularity of small-time indy bands, the d.i.y. scene, and the interest in local/handmade goods over mass-production (Etsy, anyone?). We can choose our culture, and all the aforementioned movements are in fact very widespread and often quite lucrative.

I agree that we just need a little self-esteem, to believe that we can choose, and can think for ourselves, and can determine what media we consume. I think a lot of people just turn on pop radio, go to a popular movie, read Cosmo magazine because it's assumed they should like it. We need to start thinking about whether we really do like it and whether it reflects what we believe in.

It could almost be an ad on PBS after Reading Rainbow: (Group of average, smiley face people, cheering) "We can!" (Sparkly shooting star logo).