People have been going on about how bad new music is for years. “X-Factor has topped the Christmas charts for half a decade.” They wail, beating their heads against the nearest old fashioned record player they can find. “Pitbull rhymed Kodak with Kodak. Crazy Frog exists. I don’t want to live on this planet anymore!” Looking at mainstream music today, upon first glance it seems hard to disagree, with plenty of manufactured X-Factor style acts such as One Direction and Cheryl Cole dominating the charts.
Also, if you look at a few statistics, there are plenty of depressing figures, such as Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” selling more than any Beatles single, ever. However, I feel that all the doom and gloom about modern music needs to be given a bit of perspective.
First of all, those who cite figures such as the fact that Flo Rida’s “Low” has sold around the same number of copies as The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” fail to take several modern factors into account. First of all, the cost of music nowadays is far less expensive than it was in the 60’s and 70’s, during the Beatles and many rock legends heyday. Whereas back in 1968 it cost about $0.50 to buy a single – about $3.65 in 2012 – nowadays the majority of songs cost $0.99 on iTunes, which millions of customers the world over have access to. This is because music is far more accessible now than it has been at any point in history. Whereas back in the day you would have to make the trip to your local record shop to buy music, nowadays, thanks to the internet, new music is just a click away.
About 6 million of “Low”s sales were from digital downloads alone. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that the total world population has exploded in recent decades, more than doubling from three billion in 1960 to over 7 billion in 2012. That’s more than twice as many consumers, many, particularly in the Western world, who are more wealthy, buying cheaper music through far more efficient means.
This may help to explain why modern artists such as Justin Bieber seem to be smashing all sorts of sales records, but it fails to answer the fundamental question: is music itself actually getting worse? This is a much trickier question to address, as this obviously comes down to personal opinion, but I think that it is an extremely simplistic view to simply categorise modern music as just being ‘bad.’ To set the record straight, much of the music I listen to is actually decades old, particularly from the 90’s. However, this doesn’t mean that I think all modern music bad; I just simply prefer music which is slightly older.
It’s easy to point to the Justin Beibers, Jedwards and Rebecca Blacks of the world and proclaim the downfall of civilisation, however, with singles such as “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred being number 1 in the U.S for three consecutive weeks back in 1992, there’s a long history of plenty of crap clogging up the charts. Manufactured acts aren’t exactly new either, with the likes of Westlife and the Spice Girls being some of the biggest names in pop over the last 20 years or so, and the likes of The Monkees, who could barely play their instruments, dating back to the mid-sixties. Also, singles such as Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know” getting number 1 in more than 20 countries should restore some faith in humanity.
If you hate chart music, and plenty of people do, take about ten minutes to look up some music that doesn’t appear in the Top 40. There’s plenty of great music out there that’s less well known which can easily be found if you actually look for it. Many of these acts actually are well known, but just don’t regularly appear in the charts, such as Wild Beasts, City and Colour, the xx, Crystal Castles, Rodrigo y Gabriela, PJ Harvey, Metronomey, Little Dragon…the list goes on and on, but the point is that there is still plenty of great music out there if you’re willing to put in even the slightest bit of effort to look for it.
With that said, certain genres of music are clearly suffering badly, with the most obvious example being rock, which had its best years long before the turn of the century. However, this has happened to musical genres before, with genres such as jazz becoming less popular as modern audiences have different tastes. Like jazz, rock will undoubtedly still be around for years, and indeed there are actually several outstanding bands still around, with bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Strokes still going strong and bands such as Mumford and Sons and White Lies making a name for themselves.
Meanwhile, several genres have flourished during the new millennium, most notably pop and dance. While personally I prefer as rock and rap, it’s good news for those that are into newer genres of music, with certain sub-genres such as house and dubstep nearly creating new genres by themselves. Elecrto has also had a surge in popularity in recent years, with artists such as Daft Punk and the Prodigy achieving both critical and commercial acclaim.
What also has to also be considered is that many popular artists who we now idol were held in low regard until later in their careers. Led Zeppelin were regularly savaged by critics before the release of their fourth album cemented their status as one of the greatest bands of their era. Pearl Jam, after their breakout success with their second album Ten, were blasted as being commercial sell-outs by many sections of the music industry, including Nirvana icon Kurt Kobain, who referred to them as “corporate puppets that are just trying to jump on the alternative bandwagon”. Even Elvis, after a performance on the Milton Berle Show where he started grinding through “Hound Dog”, was proclaimed by noted New York Times critic Jack Gould to “have no discernible singing ability.”
This isn’t to say that Katy Perry or Lady Gaga are definitely going to become future music icons, but that it often takes time for music to be appreciated, and although there may be few contemporary artists regarded as being truly great, that perception may change over time, fuelled by a changing taste in music. The next Elvis may well already be among us, with artists such as Lady Gaga looked back on in decades to come as examples of great artists. We can only pray that Justin Bieber isn’t among them.
What do you think of today’s music ?