The date: June 26th, 2019. The article: “More Pop than Pop”. The author: Christian Abbatiello. The verdict: “Music stinks and I don’t like it.”
Last week, the editor and chief schlub of this blog, Christian Abbatiello, published a piece on the state of music in today’s melodious atmosphere. His composition embarked on a sonic journey that led him to the conclusion that music, specifically pop music, in the current era struggles to capture the complete compositional congruence that made the magic of the ‘60s and ‘70s classic tunes. Abbatiello surmises that current singer-songwriters lack the necessary mix of personality, originality, talent and compositional intelligence to craft songs of lasting impact. He argues that audiences focus entirely too much on the personalities behind the keys, strings, and chords, rather than the sum of their parts. Social media pushes these personalities to the fore-front, leaving behind the very platform they stand on.
…if a somewhat decent vocal group started into “I Get Around,” the genius in that song would be immediately apparent. The music alone speaks for itself.
Mr. Abbatiello is correct… a little.
While there are glimpses of the picture Abbatiello paints in his article, there are several key differences between the modern era and that of the past. One of these differences are the mediums on which people absorb music.
Streaming has led to radical changes in the musical landscape. No longer is every album as far as your closest record store. The entirety of the world’s library is in your pocket. Up until the ‘90s, a great band was in the ears of the complete population of listeners. Now, the catalog is enormous. There is wealth of eclectic talent in the modern era, each genre containing superstars of their own with fantastic technical skill and compositional excellence.
Artistry in the music industry is exceedingly different than forty years ago. I agree with Abbatiello on the argument of personality outweighing talent in the modern age. Social media exemplifies this. People have never been more connected. What was once a correspondence of a few days has been reduced to seconds. It’s how the Amish must feel when a day’s journey is completed in thirty minutes by the asshole in the Corvette. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have all pushed personas to center stage, encouraging this above all else. Music has been compromised to make room for this “connection” between fans and stars – but not all of it.
Countless virtuosos have left their mark on today’s industry, without compromising their sound for the attached personalities. Here’s a list of musicians that consistently have a hold on the top ten artists: Rihanna, Lil Wayne, Adele, Chance the Rapper, Childish Gambino, Meghan Trainor (really holding back a joke about her dating Juni Cortez from Spy Kids), Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce, and Jay-Z. Of these artists, I have witnessed three that have truly swept my generation by storm with each album drop:
Childish Gambino, Beyonce, and Adele.
Of these three, Childish Gambino (who seems to be the closest thing we will get to this era’s Renassaince Man) has the right mix of original composition, uniqueness, and widespread talent. His song “Redbone” is instantly recognizable and fantastically catchy. If you didn’t know what “groovy” meant, this song would have you submitting your definition to Webster’s in the first 30 seconds. The beat winds and slinks down the road while Donald Glover’s falsetto contrasts the lo-fi mix. I’m playing it right now as I write this, trying to stop myself from rambling on too long (too late I think). And while Chance the Rapper has the closest to “pop” tune I can think of with his track “All Night“, it doesn’t seem to have the complexities of “Redbone”.
A major point of contention I have with the Christian’s publication is that not only has music become “specialized and texturized”, composition itself has also taken this turn. Music is orchestrated uniquely, specific to each genre’s niche market. The structure of an amazing rap song will never be the same as Toby Keith. Genres have been nearly explored to their fullest extent, forcing each new artist to compete with a litany of talent. I believe this to be something good for music. By delving into the different shades and nuances of music, the art-form itself grows and branches out to create songs we have never heard before.
The modern era of music is missing much of the magic of the past (this may be the increasing education on drug abuse, but who knows). However, so much of our music now was unfathomable to artists forty years ago. Music has evolved and diverted into several methods of composition that didn’t exist in Led Zeppelin’s era. This evolution is good, and will lead to more invention, exploration, and discovery. To me, the future of music is exciting, as long as there isn’t more autotune.