Rewind to the 60’s, a time when the Beatles and the Beach Boy’s innocent anthems flooded the airways. A time when bands were still iconic based on the music they released, and fans lived or died by the genre that represented them. Fast forward to today, we still all know the lyrics to “Hey Jude” and “Surfin’ USA,” but in 50 years will anyone remember the lyrics to the latest Justin Bieber song? We live in a time when even icons barely get 15 minutes of fame, so what will we remember of this strange time in music? This month we’re going to look at some of the factors that led to Top 40 becoming so disposable.
The first is a subject we touched on before, the idea that music no longer has a genre. While EDM cannot be totally credited with the destruction of the genre, by submerging itself in Top 40 through artists like David Guetta, who we chronicled last month, we have arrived at a point when there is no way to tell what is a dance track and what is a pop anthem. Even Hip Hop has evolved into sounding heavily electronic, and apart from the bpm, there is no way to identify what category it would fit in to. Major artists like Rihanna and Nicki Minaj often release a major electro-infused dancefloor banger and follow up the hit with an off-tempo Hip Hop track (these two seem to love 75-85 bpm i.e. Birthday Cake, Beez In The Trap). How are fans supposed to know what genre of music they enjoy if the artists they admire are always switching up their sound. Or maybe they aren’t switching their sound because it all sounds the same and the ONLY reason we, as djs, recognize them as different genres is again, because of the bpm. Even Top 40 rock songs began to sound heavily electronic over the last few years, all the pop/punk bands that tweens listen to seem to sound just like everything else, with fat kicks, heavy synths, dubstep breakdowns, and less focus on guitars and percussion. Then you have the teen pop idols like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez whose releases contain the same bubblegum lyrics and hooks they always have, but are paired with fat drops that seem to come out of nowhere. I mean, what is this song?
Beauty & The Beat – Justin Bieber ft. Nicki Minaj
So we already know that genres no longer really exist in mainstream music. Everything sounds the same, feels the same, and in theory, appeals to everyone. But the music industry does not solely rely on supply before demand, so what factors led to the generalization process? ViVi had the pleasure of djing a high school prom last week, for a prestigious Toronto high school at one of the cities leading venues. While preparing she had assumed that she would have to satisfy all the different high school cliques: pop for the jocks & cheerleaders, hip hop for the gangsters, edm for the ravers, rock for the rockers, alternative for the stoners, etc. etc. But upon arrival she realized that these cliques no longer existed, that all the kids liked all the same music based on only 2 contingencies: it was new and it was on the radio. They popped off equally to Pitbull and LMFAO, Jay-Z and Kanye, and of course Gangnam Style and Harlem Shake. At the very least we assumed there was still a divide between Dance and Urban, but it just doesn’t seem to exist anymore. We have artists like Macklemore who is described as a rapper, but can you really label this as rap music?
Can’t Hold Us – Macklemore
So, we figured that one of the reasons music had become so disposable is that young people, for the most part, are no longer defined by the music that they listen to, so they lack the passion that it takes to influence a songs ability to stick around. They don’t care, and a big part of that is the third reason we think that top 40 has become disposable: packaging.
Do you remember the first CD you bought? Or Tape? Or Vinyl, for those of you as old as us? Holding the package would be magic. You’d sit and read every word in the booklet, read along with the lyrics to get the most out of every song, And, when you wanted to listen to it, you had to grab the physical thing, fire up your player, and manually set it to GO! It took passion and interest to do that. Now, everyone just downloads 128 kbs files and tosses them on their iPod shuffle until the next week when the new anthem comes out. How can a song have a lasting effect when it is no longer tangible?
Thriller Album – Michael Jackson
And if we still need evidence that the existence of genres has dissipated, Top 40 djs could tell you, the way we arrange our music has changed. While we used to file songs under ‘Hip Hop’ or ‘Electro,’ we now find ourselves sorting music into folders such as ‘Mainstream Anthems’ which have a huge bpm range and contain music from trap to festival electro. Everything is sorted based on it’s popularity, not on it’s genre.
So we guess the only question left is what fleeting genre will strike big next? Could it be innovators Daft Punk’s new chill funk sound heard on “Random Access Memories?”
Doin’ It Right – Daft Punk ft. Panda Bear
or how about Justin Timberlake’s nearly drumless single “Let The Groove Get In?”
Let The Groove Get In – Justin Timberlake
Realistically, it’s almost impossible to call. In our genreless and youtube influenced era, songs can change the face of music overnight, without really being able to trace their history. It’s no longer a question of who innovated something, just who made the most money off of it. And, in a time when artists can’t make money off making music anymore, what would drive them to actually create something with lasting substance? If genres in music cease to exist, and the drive to create something that will live in infamy is gone, I guess were all just stuck waiting for the next Guetta/Beiber/Will.I.Am/Minaj ElectroHouseTrapHopStepRiddim to be released and fade within weeks. Yikes. This doesn’t look good.
Yeah, and we still hate Flo Rida.
ViVi Thinks: It’s hard to see any of this as a positive. I miss when music meant something. You might call me a dreamer,
but I hope one day it does again. I hope the awesome things that are going on with Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, Alabama Shakes, etc. can have a positive effect on how crappy new music is.