There's nothing worse than listening to a crotchety old boomer explain how music was better back in their day. Everyone seems to think that what they experienced was the best – and that today's kids are ruining it all. The thing is, though, what if the boomers are right? Is pop music getting worse? It's horrid to contemplate but consider:
1. Sales don't lie
For the first time ever, old albums are outselling new ones. It's not just a digital-physical divide, either; those Soundscan numbers take all into account. Maybe it's because kids are doing all their downloading illegally, though studies show download habits track pretty well with album sales. The fact is, it's not exactly obscure artists who are pushing these sales. The top-selling old artist is Whitney Houston, and presumably any big fans who were alive when her albums came out bought them in the first go-round — that seems about a wash. And, not to be all capitalist about art here, but money, or at least the mass attention it implies, talks.
2. Four out of five experts agree
Rolling Stone just updated its 500 greatest albums, which was important to do, because not a single one of the top 21 even so much as changed position from the last list in 2003 (and none of those were spring chickens even then). And, fine, maybe RS is full of BS, but it's not completely off in the woods: this handy meta-chart only counts five albums from the last 10 years in its top 50.
3. Extremely loud and incredibly similar
OK, so maybe these lists are all subjective. Enough of your mushy feelings and tastes, we want facts. Fine. Science says music is getting worse, too. Analysis from the Spanish National Research Council says that since 1955, the range in chords, melodies and types of sound has decreased, a homogenization compensated for by turning the amps up to 11. There's a reason Beatles albums still sound modern, in other words.
4. Talkin' 'bout my innovation
Of course, the lab results are easy to explain when you figure that the two major melodic instruments of modern pop, the electric guitar and the modular (now digital) synthesizer, are about 80 and 50 years old, respectively. A lot of what they can do has already been done. (There was a time when you could say "Nothing out there sounds like this!" and mean it.) That doesn't mean they can't still be beautiful, but it does mean a lot of what's going on these days is more like playing in the city than building it (on rock and roll). The effects can even be seen in how we talk about music. Those instruments created entirely new genres (blues, rock, electronic). These days we have to slap a series of ever-cleverer adjectives onto something existing.
So, well, you know, if you can't beat 'em, and all that stuff. If anyone needs me, I'll be looking for a rocking chair and a porch.
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on Aug 08, 2012