FEATURE: What Attitude Problem?! Are Modern Artists Fighting Against the Bland?




What Attitude Problem?!



Are Modern Artists Fighting Against the Bland?


I wonder whether there is personality and spark…



in the modern music scene. Following the death of Aretha Franklin and what she gave to music; I asked whether there are modern artists and will we ever see someone who has that true gift to elevate about the average and stand the test of time. After writing that, I got to thinking about modern music and the characters that stand out. I chose IDLES as the cover stars because, right now, they are promoting their album, Joy as an Act of Resistance. It is their second effort and will be released on 31st of this month and a lot of attention has been swirling around the Bristol band. Their music is mixing the attitude and physicality of Punk but the subject matter is much deeper and more profound. The band are striking against toxic masculinity and values that have actually been passed through society for decades. There was a time – and it still happens now – where a certain way of living and expressing was seen as ‘manly’ and normal. It involves bottling things and being tough; being hard, lary and keeping emotions down. IDLES want to speak out against that and show how stupid that way of life is. They manage to perform music that has spit and plenty of grunt without subscribing to that notion a band needs to be all about sex, violence and promoting bad messages. They have vulnerability and sensitivity but mix that with youthful, everyday and relatable subjects.

Not only is their music and lyrics packed with depth, humour and intelligence but the band seem like the genuine deal. It has been many years since Punk died and there are very few modern bands that match the energy and inspiration of the past masters. Whilst few of the Punk bands of the 1970s talked about anything emotive or vulnerable; their music and electric spirit captured a mood and there was that rebellion – the ability to ignore crowds and strike a chord. A lot of modern bands are producing music that fits into the mainstream and does not really stand out. Aside from bands like IDLES and Goat Girl; Shame and Wolf Alice; I wonder how many groups have genuine personality, depth and resonance. It has been years since artists like Madonna and Michael Jackson ignited the scene and compelled people with their personality and incredible music. There was something at once edgy and revealing that stood them out and means, this many years down the line, we think of them and keep them in the mind. Modern Pop and R&B has some inspiring artists but I am rarely compelled by what I hear on the radio and T.V. Those genuine personalities and characters are fewer than they used to be and I wonder whether we are too spoiled and less concerned with vigour and true depth – too distracted and involved in technology to look up.


IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna/PHOTO CREDIT: Luigi & Iango for Harper's Bazaar

Maybe there is a definition difference between ‘edgy’ and ‘soulful’. This article, where the author recounts experiences of the 1990s compared to today seems to back my general thoughts:

Compare how people partied back then to how people party now, you'd think the '90s partying was conservative. Let's not forget American Pie of all great things, creating the word "MILF" as well. Things were peachy in retrospect; the driving force was teenage angst and that's how great the '90s were. We could afford to have the countries main musical reflection be because of teenagers being teenagers, not because we had war or the country was in a major economic slope. Nirvana, Offspring, Pearl Jam, Sublime all appealed to the rebelling youth emotionally, and because you could smoke to them all. As baffled as I am, things were entirely great, plus I was born. America was a Triple-A economic powerhouse, eventually being led by Bill Clinton leading just the very beginning of what would dramatically change the next generation; the technological evolution”.

I would not go as far to say modern music is boring and lacks soul but it seems like there are few artists talking about things that matter today in a meaningful and interesting manner. There are artists fighting against the Government and evil in the world but most artists tend to speak from the heart and write in many familiar and safe ways.



Perhaps we will never see true icons and decades-enduring artists emerge but I wonder whether music has lost its fun, edge and force. Alongside the promising R&B/Pop artists and new bands; how often do you listen to a song or see an artist play and are genuinely moved and stunned? I started my looking at IDLES because you can never accuse them of being boring. There is so much to their work and they have so much heart and soul to go alongside the brilliant songs and sweat. Bands, once the reliable source of rebel, fascination and drama, have become a little restrained. There is invention and great albums being released but the sense of cool and swagger seems to have gone. Maybe it is still here but seems less real and exciting as it did years ago. It is a strange time where we have all sorts of artists, sounds and options available. The industry is as varied as it has ever been but there is not much brightness and boldness among the beige and lacklustre. It goes back to my feature regarding icons and whether the market encourages artists to make a difference and speak out. I listen to a lot of music but I rarely see interviews (or listen to them) and are hooked by what is being said; listening to songs and feeling here is a hero/heroine that is saying something new and compelling. The only real idol we have – who has been performing since the 1990s – is Beyoncé, I would say, and that seems rather sad.


IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé/PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Pillai for L'Officiel (2011)

Like Aretha Franklin; Beyoncé is more than an artist who performs her songs and that is it: she is an activist and modern-day figure who wants to inspire generations and, as such, is fascinating to watch. I love a lot of her R&B peers and, whilst I think their music has edge and firepower; I am not overly-drawn to the person behind the songs. Do a quick Internet search – asking questions around music’s lost cool, magic ad substance – and there are articles that look at older artists and what is coming through now. I understand how hard it is being unique and saying something real and fitting into the modern scene. So many artists have to compromise and watch what they say. Mainstream artists of the past had to follow rules and watch what they say but you did get those genuine articles who whipped up a storm and caused eyebrows to raise. Can you see that happening in the modern market? Music is always interesting and meaningful but there are far fewer characters and creators putting genuine enticing and enigmatic albums; we do not have many bands that can get the eyes widened and linger long in the memory. I wonder why there are few willing to take risks and turn their noses against the rather controlled, conservative and conventional music scene.



I think we owe it to those musical pioneers and icons to look at modern music and encourage free spirit and excitement. I am being rather harsh on modern music and I know full well there are exceptional writers and performers who are doing wonderful things. Aside from the odd band and solo artist; so little of today’s market and offering blows my mind and get my standing up, excited by what is coming from the speaker. IDLES are a small example of a band that can have fun and genuinely rally against the ordinary but deliver a potent and emotional truth. The music world has so many brilliant artists doing great things but I think a lot are holding themselves back and not exploring their full potential because they fear commercial backlash and criticism. We are becoming safer and more scared to be bold and create these fantastic and original artists – talking about politics, sex and modern life in a very fascinating and new way. Maybe it is impossible to reverse reality and modern music so we can please everyone and set the world alight. Music has changed vastly over the years and, like it or not, what we hear now is how much will sound and fare for many years to come. I can accept that but long to discover artists who break rules and the mould and stick their tongue out – where have all the pioneers, big personalities and rebels gone?! I have not lost all hope but, as I listen to older music more than what is coming out now, I yearn to see the day when we see something interesting and inspirational…


 IN THIS PHOTO: Unsplash

BACK in the music industry.