Things change. Its inevitable, and I can accept that, but I'll try to be the optimist here and say that realistically things probably "ebb and flow" rather then just strictly evolve. Lately I've begun to question this rational. Let me explain.
It's easy to look back and follow the trends in pop music over the last 50+ years, but it saddens me to realize that the current "trend" may be one in which being an artist, writing songs, singing, and performing ranks rather low on the scale of importance when it comes to popular music; if at all.
If the 80s were the era of slick-dance-infused hits, and the 90s an alt rock explosion, then I guess that would make the 00s the decade of... well, I don't know what that would make it the decade of to be honest, (the rebirth of indie?) but what I do know is that one year into the 2010s, we are looking to make this the decade of "I can out-crazy you."
Everything has to be over the top these days or not at all. Everything is cross marketed. You have to link up with a sneaker company to make 'viral' videos about how as a recording artist you like to make records. You can't just licensee your music any more, you have to actually be in the ad also! It's bad enough that we have to put up with your tepid remix album a mere 3 months after your perfectly fine actual album, but is it really necessary for you to assemble a cast of all over the map musician "friends" to record painfully dull versions of marginally ironic covers? song by song? and film it? does the world need that?
Nor is it enough to simply release a song on your own anymore. It can't be successful unless it has the oh so fashionable (Feat. ____, ____, & ______) after it. And the more ironic, and dissimilar the better! If you're a rapper, you're best off seeking out a cute-little-indie-girl-du-jour, or your reverb lathed garage band will most easily flex its "diverse record collection" by covering a Robyn song that you've heard twice on a blog you pretend not to read.
There'll also be a video, and these days there are four letters that get fingers a clickin' faster then any other, and they are N,S,F,W. I can't even begin to count the number of NSFW videos that have been released this year. It's a bit mad. It's lost its edge. It's not shocking, it's just standard issue at this point isn't it? Look-- videos aren't good for much these days. I get that, and I understand that if you're going to spend the money, you might as well try to grab some headlines, but when we're at a place where we're 3 or 4 years past "2 Girls 1 Cup", is there really anything left?
There is no room for subtly anymore. How can there be? Subtly requires that there must be some quality, and quality songwriting in 2010 is about as rare as other strange things like, books, and newspapers.
Gone are the days when Madonna left something to the imagine, and could exude more sex by rolling around on the ground, then all of the production, lights, makeup and backup dancers in Ke$ha's entire army. Even when she did turn up the dial, it was in the form of a cone bra, or a grainy black and white voyeuristic video piece. But this year we got a meat dress. Literally, GaGa covered in prosciutto. A plain sailing attempt at distracting her audience from her colossal lack of singing ability, dancing ability, even middle of the road good looks, and terrible terrible songs. (not to mention whatever 'else' she is trying to hide)
Sensationalism has always existed. This is the entertainment business after all right? I mean, Keith Moon drove a g*damn car into a pool, Ozzy bit the head off of a bat (you get the idea) but can you see the difference? Yes, Bowie sang on one of the most famous Queen songs ever, yes Michael and Janet had a song together, but there is one major distinction: believability.
Believability is all the difference here. Keith Moon was out of his mind. It wasn't just an extension of his act, he really was drinking his face off and destroying the world, not to mention his drum kit. I'd argue that it's just simply more believable that Moon crashed his car into a pool because he was too drunk that day, or simply thought it would be funny, as opposed to premeditating the headlines it might generate. Or that Bowie and Queen would get on well with one another and record a song together. They were both wildly talented, both from the same city, and not unlike minded when it came to the types of music they'd each created at various points in their career. (might I also point out it was the first time Bowie had collaborated with anyone else, and only wrote such an impromptu masterful track after their original plan of having Bowie sing some backup vocals on another song didn't go as planned. Born on out of creativity and likemindedness, rather then on a chintzy glass table in some A&R's office)
As I write this Kanye West has just released a new album and has flooded the industry with buzz. He really is one of the clearest examples of this 'I can out-crazy you' philosophy, or deflection if you will. If you were to ask anyone walking down the street to list the first 3 things of the top of their head about Kanye West in the last 5 years, I'd venture to guess that none of them would involve music. Is that his fault? Maybe. The media's responsibility for choosing to focus on only the silly stuff? Possibly, but Kanye knows. Sh*t-- everyone knows, America loves the drama. I'm not sure whether to feel sympathy or empathy for him over this latest timely flare up with him and President Bush. Both meticulously using each other as fodder to promote one another's "new release," I can't be sure who comes off worse.
Even looking at the artwork for, arguably one of the biggest pop stars in the world, whose budget probably doesn't have an actual number, I can't help but recoil from the hard to swallow attempt to cash in on the 'lo-fi'/raw artistic sentiment.
To be fair, I don't mean to rag on Kanye. In fact I quite like his music, or at least his early stuff ;). But whats so disappointing about him in particular is that he is talented, he does meet the fundamental requirements of fantastic pop music, but never the less he's gotten distracted. Gone off the rails a bit, and in doing so, seems like he's begun to believe that he needs all this drama and attention to cut through the rest of the noise. Maybe he does, but if I were to place one last bet, I'd bet that his first two albums, wherein he was focused on choruses, will be remembered after people stop talking about the ones where he was just mad, and trying to yell louder then everyone else.
In any form of art whether it be music, fashion, film, there can be no absolutes, and for every snarky example above, I'm sure that there are tenfold that contradict it, but there can be no argument that the internet isn't the only thing contributing the decline in album sales. I guess I just don't understand whats wrong with just being a band these days, and simply making music, or actually playing live. If there is to be any silver lining in this, I think its that even in 2010 elbow grease is still one of the best tools in the toolbox, and hard work can pay off.
I suppose in the end all I'm trying to say is, I don't want to see the music industry taken over by the teachings of Sarah Palin's team: Keep the focus on anything but the music; at all costs.