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Will We Ever See a Classic Pop Moment Again – or Does Nostalgia Cloud the Way We See Modern Music?
MUSIC is a truly subjective medium…
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and not one that imposes rules and absolutes. I am one of those people who are open-minded and do not like to constrict my horizons. That being said; I am not as ‘broad’ as I could be and do avoid some genres. It is hard with music, really. You try and embrace as much as you can but nobody likes every single thing that is before them and you overlook some things. What strikes me about modern music is how much choice there is available. I am stunned by the range and openness that means we can access pretty much anything – artists are splicing sounds together and there is endless choice. I am reading an interview the Beastie Boys gave and thinking about their regency. I am also looking ahead to next month and the fact a few Kate Bush albums are celebrating anniversaries. I am always pumped when legendary artists remain and continue to release work. I am also excited reflecting on the albums and songs I grew up around. The reason why I wanted to raise this article is down to the split between older music that I grew up around and what is available right now. I listen back to music of the 1980s and 1990s and wonder how far we have really come. In many respects; music is more open and the market is a lot more widespread. Artists who, decades ago, wouldn’t have been heard on the radio or discovered without a record label, in this age, are free to share their music and get it out to the world.
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One is amazed seeing how digital platforms have transformed music and what options we have now. I wonder whether that mass of newcomers has made it difficult to discover genius albums and wondrous songs. We all have songs we grew up around and, whether they were cheesy or cool, they have remained in our mind and are in our head. Popular music has no real scenes and clans the way it did decades ago. We do not have the Punk revolution or Britpop; there is no Beat Invasion and we have few of the communities that used to bond us. From those groups came defining anthems and works of brilliance that seemed to sum up the world or a particular group of people. Other masterful works arrived outside of those communities and the scene was more enriched and bold. I can recall a load of Pop classics from my childhood – by ‘Pop’, I do not mean a limited genre but what was considered popular. Whether a Madonna classic or a wonderful offering from Blur; a Beatles anthem or something from Destiny’s Child – I was spoiled for choice and was being brought up on new music and the stuff my parents listened to. We can all name those songs that scored our childhood and got us interested in music. Whilst there are great songs being released each week; when was the last time you heard a song that stopped you in your tracks and matched those classic songs from way back?!
Maybe The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army is the last real anthem I can compare with the greats but that was back in 2003! I love music now but the Pop mainstream does not have the same icons of the 1980s and 1990s. So many tracks are written to appeal to the streaming generation and create something easy and uncomplicated. Maybe modernity and technology have made it impossible to create anything generations-lasting and fresh. I look at the Pop genre and there are some wonderful artists but nothing that gets into my head. Look around every other genre and, again, you get some stone-cold classics but the joy only lasts a certain time. Most of the music I listen to on a daily basis is from years back. I still hanker and hark back to the music I grew up around and that usually ends at the start of the last decade. If you had to do a list of the top-twenty songs of all time; how many ‘recent’ songs would be in there? The same goes for albums, too. We all know the classics but I wonder whether any record from the past decade would be anywhere near the upper leagues. Again; brilliant albums have come and every year sees some brilliant albums come through. Maybe one or two records from the past decade could make it into the top-fifty all-time albums but, again, most of the top-ten/twenty would be from the 1960s-1990s/2000s.
IN THIS PHOTO: Michael Jackson/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
The Pop mainstream has always had some rather tragic artists plugging away but we had those icons like Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince. I am going to write a piece about 1994 in a day or two and it is a year that amazes me. Not only did we get legendary albums from the likes of Jeff Buckley and Oasis but songs from around that time stay with me. Grunge was still (just about) around and there was great Dance music; female artists like Madonna and Tori Amos were leading the way and new genres were coming to prominence. I can rattle off a list of brilliant albums and songs from that year and I can name countless years where songs (from that year) have remained with me. How long has it been since we saw a Dance classic or a Pop anthem that will last through the decades?! Maybe it is too early to make a declaration but I think we are less interested in making anthems and genius albums. One can argue whether the album is dying – I do not think so but many people do not listen to them – but there is argument Pop music (whether a specific genre of the mainstream as a whole) is getting worse. Reports suggest Pop music is getting less fun and slower; there has a case of diminishing returns. This report, from 2012,
“Reuters reports that researchers in Spain used a huge archive known as the Million Song Dataset, which breaks down audio and lyrical content into data that can be crunched, to study pop songs from 1955 to 2010.
The report says that a team led by artificial intelligence specialist Joan Serra at the Spanish National Research Council ran music from the last 50 years through some complex algorithms and found that pop songs have become intrinsically louder and more bland in terms of the chords, melodies and types of sound used…
"We found evidence of a progressive homogenization of the musical discourse," Serra told Reuters. "In particular, we obtained numerical indicators that the diversity of transitions between note combinations - roughly speaking chords plus melodies - has consistently diminished in the last 50 years…
The research adds that modern pop has a more limited set of sounds, and it offers advice to musicians saying that old tunes re-recorded with increased loudness, simpler chord progressions and different instruments could sound new and fashionable”.
You can say music has got stronger in many ways and there is a lot to love about the modern scene – even if there has been a change regarding Pop and its sustainability. I feel the fact we have opened the doors and created better access for unsigned artists means we are often not that focused and too busy trying to get to grips with everything coming through. How often do we stick with an artist and play the same song/album? Music, for the most part, is evolving but I feel some of the fun and quality has been lost. I have been spinning song great tracks from back in the day and maybe it is the production or the scene at the time but it pops and makes me smile. These tracks will remain with me until I die and I wonder how much music from the past decade will remain in my brain as I approach middle and old age. There is subjectivity at play but I wonder whether nostalgia and our natural inclination to reflect on ‘better days’ clouds our view of modern music.
Nostalgia can be good and makes us remember where we came from but, as this article shows; nostalgia can be unhealthy and does not allow us to appreciate the past:
“Did you know that nostalgia was once thought of as an illness, a terrible malady that caused fever, stomach pain and even death? Sufferers of nostalgia were largely Swiss mercenaries who experienced symptoms after they were posted to the plains of France and Italy in the 18th and 19th centuries. They missed the mountains and the air and the St Bernards, and who wouldn’t have a funny turn at the thought of no more fondue and raclette?
Physicians – for doctors of old are always described as physicians, aren’t they? – put the peculiar condition down to demons before deciding that actually, it was caused by all the clanging of all the cowbells in the Swiss Alps. The cowbells damaged ear drums and brain cells and essentially sent people bonkers, you see”.
I do the same with T.V. shows and decades like the 1990s. We all tend to talk more about where we came from and how good things used to be as opposed focusing on what is good these day. Maybe music was better decades back but that is not to say the modern climate lacks inventiveness and potential. Maybe there are not the same sort of Pop classics and brilliant albums we grew up around but there are a lot of advantages and positive changes. The fact we have access to a lot of great new music means we are more educated and broader consumers than pre-Internet.
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Do we all tend to get mired in nostalgia and want things to return to the past? Are we all becoming a bit tired and stressed with the modern world and want to reset the clock?
“…And as a country we are gripped by a collective anxiety that the world was a much better place in the past, even if in the past it was touch and go as to whether or not you’d have electricity for a whole day and in the past women could look forward to a life of cooking and cleaning and hoping that the rubbish would actually be taken away. A YouGov poll earlier this year found that 71 per cent of Britons think the world is on the slide. You’ll know the usual complaints, because you’ve probably used them yourself at least once in the past month: our young people are no longer safe because of the rise of social media; the internet and smart phones have made us impolite and insular; it is only a matter of time before we are finished off by robots or climate change or designer babies or immigrants”.
Many people, myself included, think music was stronger years ago but I wonder about those songs that shout at you and obsess your thoughts. Is an overly-nostalgic viewpoint and subjective haze clouding our appreciation of modern music and making us too closed-off?!
I think there is some truth but I wonder whether we will see those songs we’ll recall and sing decades from now. There have been books published that ask where the Pop and Rock stars have gone. Perhaps T.V., film and other aspects of popular culture made some decades shine and means we have transformed a lot now. I have not given up on modern music or feel it is weak in any way. The industry has changed and it is harder for artists to cement a legacy and create something world-beating. Although many artists keep decades likes the 1980s fresh in their music; it lacks the same spark and authenticity as hearing it first-hand. Again; is that nostalgia blocking our receptors or is music weaker now?! I do wonder where the Pop anthem has gone and whether any album released in the last decade will, decades from now, rival the best twenty or thirty. I love modern music but ask myself why I spend most of my free time revising music from way back. I do not feel it is pure nostalgia and wanting to be somewhere happier and safer. For sure; the music I listen to holds fond memories and I can recall where I was when these tracks were unleashed.
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The Pop genre has lost some of its fun and melody; ultra-modern production and platforms have hindered a sense of organic and personal expression. I do think time itself and the march have technology have made music good in some ways – borders are open and there is more choice – but means, alas, we will never see music that hits us in the same way as the sort we were raised on. It is interesting weighting up that argument of fact vs. nostalgia and seeing whether there is an absolute truth. It would be stupid to say modern music is invalid and lacks soul because that is not true. I think a lot of its stems from the mainstream and what is promoted and how that is done. Even if you look at years like 1994, 1982 or 1967. These years are all vastly different and wildly eclectic. There were duff tracks festooning the charts but you had that variation to keep the mind active. I recall the great Dance music of the 1990s would be in the same chart and nook as Pop gold and Grunge.
There is more homogenisation at the top and the fact we do not really view the charts as a good indicator of quality shows has music has come on. Maybe changes will never come or we have gone too far to rekindle some of that fun and variety we saw years ago. I agree that music is a lot more challenging, open and broad than ever. We have opened the industry to unsigned acts and many things have improved. I agree nostalgia does cloud how we see things and can be quite intrusive. I think, mind, the reason why I am going to dedicate (yet ANOTHER) piece to 1994 and other classic musical years is because, sadly, modern music has lost a lot of its joy. In relation to the question I pose at the top of this piece; will we, alas, ever see a true Pop classic or album that can rub shoulders against the greats?! Having weighed everything up, and looking at the potency of modern music, I feel, in many ways, the very best and most fun days of music…
ARE way back in the past!