Music is an art-form which was intended for acoustic and lyrical expression; an outlet for anger, love, political and social opinion, and abstract expression of the state of mind, it was supposed to be a representation of its time and its people. Music has slowly over time been turned into a factory-line in order to reproduce the latest trend in sound. Today it has become a prostituted art-form only concerned with profits.
Over the past ten to fifteen years, digital recording hardware and software has become relatively cheap to buy, giving the everyday and ordinary person the ability to produce and record their own music. The Internet has facilitated the distribution of such music and in theory music should now be diverse, varied, and completely free of corporate puppetry. In truth however, popular music is the most mediocre it has ever been since the Disco-era of the 1970s where everybody clambered to sound like the next person. Instead of expressing themselves, singers and producers whether at home or in the studio have been quick to adopt the latest musical style and sound in an effort to become popular and make as much money as possible. Money-hungry, fame-obsessed musicians have saturated the music industry with bad production, rushed lyrics, and generic music videos. This watered-down music has a very short shelf life due to it’s inability to stand out from the deluge of other mediocre efforts and this in turn has affected sales. Consumers hearing this poorly constructed disposable art have been forcing the price of music to as close to zero as possible. This is a reflection of what consumers feel is the true worth of contemporary music.
The cheapening of music as a product has made the industry very aggressive and closed-minded and currently it keeps its output strict and stays well clear of experimental or emerging genres and styles. These days the industry needs guaranteed hits in order to compete with the ever-growing illegal download threat. If everybody (or almost everybody) likes a song, only a small percentage will illegally download it and any lost earnings are made up by heavily publishing each popular song to numerous advertising campaigns. A song is then kept on constant rotation on all mainstream radio stations in order to garner repeat sales through product awareness. Because of this we keep hearing the same song over and over again in adverts on TV, radio and the internet as well as in films. Competing labels hear a money-making trend in sound and follow suit, and therefore we hear more and more acts sounding alike in order to sell what is perceived to be in demand. In truth this sound is manufactured by the industry itself and is not representative of emerging or popular genres. This model has left the listeners bombarded with musical repetitiveness.
If somebody is old enough to remember a time when a music act was appreciated for its originality, they can hear the difference in what is currently being pushed to the consumer. If you take a random year in music history such as 1992, you will find pop acts such as Madonna and Prince in the charts alongside counter-culture pop acts like The KLF. Ice Cube had released “The Predator” and regardless of explicit themes and non-populist styles, songs such as “Check Yo Self” &” It Was A Good Day” were played on mainstream music television networks. Dance music was making it’s voice heard with the likes of The Prodigy. Rock was represented by Pearl Jam and Nirvana and children were playing Kris Kross and C+C Music Factory. Regardless of what you were into, music was diverse in style, content, and delivery.
Now fast forward 20 years to 2012; the charts are full of hybrid genres and referenced material from the Hip-Pop Club R&B wackness that is Flo Rida, to the wannabe-hardcore-but-need-pop-money Nicki Minaj. Madonna is still in the charts trying to fit in by collaborating with the latest Hip-Pop hybrid Nicki Minaj but unbeknownst to her, Nicki is not the latest Hip-Hop sensation but rather someone who sold out rap for singing in order to sell more records. This doesn’t matter to Madonna because she is the perfect vehicle to diversify her ageing fans. If the 50 year old white gay guy can listen to the same music as a black teenage girl then all bases are covered, surely? Never mind if this helps ruin music and creates a converged medium which is unsure of who and what it represents. Everybody these days whether it’s with a one-verse featured artist or a full blown collaboration, seem to want to cross-sell to other genres. This crossover sell-out method has been the most successful with the Black Eyed Peas. Originally an ethnically diverse (shades of brown) wannabe-Dead-Prez-without-skill Hip-Hop Trio, it added a permanent white lead “Singer” in order to sell to the masses. Moves like this have unfortunately worked and Black Eyed Peas are now a household name, even though adding a lead singer didn’t affect their mediocrity.
That’s not to say that pop-friendly genre hybrid acts or catchy Pop songs didn’t exist back in ’92; the likes of Stereo MC’s, PM Dawn, and Arrested Development did this perfectly but this was not typical of the majority of music. It seemed that record companies didn’t obviously pre-plan and package music for a specific audience. For every targeted demographic (such as Kris Kross for kids) there was something which defied convention such as Das Efx or the Fu-Schnickens. If a music genre was relatively new and untested (Techno and Rave for example) there were Pop-friendly versions like 2 Unlimited, Opus III, and The Shamen but there were acts like SL2, Liquid, and Altern 8 to balance this out. Regardless of taste; a Dance act did not sound like a Hip-Hop act, and a Rock act did not sound like a manufactured Pop act. Every artist and genre gained respect with it’s own look and sound, and did not feel the need to consort with each other for fame and recognition.
The majority of acts from the early-to-mid nineties are altogether ignored today. It seems modern day broadcasters have a very selective memory of this period in music. Acts like Boot Camp Clik with the likes of Heltah Skeltah, Fab 5, and Smif-N-Wessun used to overrun the mid-nineties music video channels but today you can only view them on YouTube. Music Television is now oblivious to this period in Music History. If any TV show claims to be showing 90s music for instance, you’ll never see these aforementioned artists on there. Instead there is a prejudicial playlist catered to making money for record labels who are still active and profiting from “Best Of” and “Greatest Hits” material. It seems we are being forced to forget periods of creativity and the past is made to look as mediocre as today.
There are of course very skilled and diverse acts today too. But contemporary artists and music which is either creative or genre-singular such as No Lay or D Double E, are not promoted with the same vigour as something which is perceived to be a sure-fire hit. You have to trawl through all the social media sites in order to find something which satisfies your musical tastes these days. The underground is much more underground and unfortunately acts are all too happy to change format in order to get money once they’re finally signed. Grime which was Britain’s equivalent to the early 90s New York Hip-Hop scene, has also become a Pop-obsessed genre sell-out. Whoring itself out to the charts with pointless collaborative efforts. Anybody who was a fan of OG’z in 2008 looked in bewilderment at the Cher Lloyd featuring Dot Rotten (and others) track of 2011.
This collaborative trend leaves the chart full of drivel wavering between R&B, Dubstep, Grime, and Hip-Pop with stripped-down Euro-Pop choruses. It seems that record companies are trying to satisfy everybody at once, but instead have created a bland music-by-numbers format which makes the Billboards sound like the lamest mixtape ever. Every song is about clubbing, partying, drinking, and fucking, and every lyric seems to be promoting some brand or label without even getting a cut of the profits. This would be understandable if Gucci was a record label or if this was a clever advertising ploy, but instead it is because ignorant and talentless hacks’ only lyrical references are company identities; I guess that’s all you see when you are a trend-obsessed corporate slave. And songs these days which are not selling a product or selling-out are not readily broadcast.
Contemporary music is now always constructed with the paying-fan in mind. Today you will never hear a song without a chorus or a composition which is a non-vocal instrumental. Instead you will be barraged with music which is heavy in chorus repeatability and catchiness. Songs like Future Sound of London’s “Papua New Guinea” or Cubic 22’s “Night In Motion” would never be released today because of this, coupled with the fact they make no reference to a sellable commodity. You will therefore no longer hear a solely lyrical song like “Broken Language”, you will never hear a seventeen minute song like “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”, and you will never hear a song with narrative like “Luka” or with a message such as “Fight The Power”. It seems paying consumers do not want abstract lyrics like that of Warren Zevon, or comedically violent lyrics like Big L, they just want something which they can dance or sing along to without thinking and whilst partying.
Added to this standardized method of making music, labels are quick to pay the latest producer to create a repeat of their last Gold or Platinum effort. Because of this, we have had for the past decade numerous producer-led years from the Neptunes, Timbaland, and David Guetta producing a plethora of music in a single period, making a whole year or years sound like their personal musical trophy-case. If Jellybean had a popular track in the early 90s, you can bet that an act like Onyx or Alice In Chains didn’t collaborate with them. Today we get whole years with genre-varying artists who have similar sounding songs and recently we have even had a trend in similar music videos too. So if a new release with a “Party” themed video makes it to number one, then all wannabe number one tracks must have a party video. We then gradually see more and more tight-ass shirts on muscular men and women posing like lap dancers-on-heat writhing around next to a bunch of forced-together we-are-the-world racially diverse dancers. These videos also try to appeal to the widest cross-section of 18-30 year olds as possible, so every performer is a caricature of what the labels assume is the listener; sexually ambivalent, metro-sexual men, and scantily clad objectified women. Strong females such as Heather B do not exist in contemporary music at all. There is of course the aforementioned No Lay and Lioness in the Grime genre, but the charts only know feminized and commercially compartmentalized female acts like Jessie J, who dress in skin hugging leotards to appeal to heterosexual men and lesbian women, and who alternate styles to appeal to mainstream middle aged listeners and teenagers alike. Speaking black slang in one song then singing like a bird the next. When would a middle-class white girl speak the words “Man Dem” in real-life Essex?
These “musicians” know that their time is limited, because anyone who doesn’t carve a niche in any art-form will disappear in history with all the other wannabe copy-cats. So while they can, all the lame and mediocre acts band together in a musical daisy-chain, bigging each other up and blowing smoke up each other’s arses. Label-created hype keeps these singers feeding the producers and vice versa, and everybody is happy writhing around in their incestuous self-absorbed mire.
So what went wrong with music? The industry did. Music like everything these days has become focussed on the profit and stopped any mainstream creativity. Music itself is still varied and diverse but you have to search for it. What is fed to us by the radio, the TV, and the charts is some of the lamest music anyone will ever hear.
Go and search for underground and truly independent music and once you find it, buy it (if you can afford it). Whatever you do, don’t buy what the labels tell you to.