Is popular music bad? A rant on the charts, music quality, and the power of nostalgia

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Truly popular music

Popular music is sooo bad

Just how bad are the charts and is popular music getting worse, Getintothis’ Ryan Craig looks to the past to uncover if these questions are even worth answering.

Yes, popular music is bad.

Well, that’s what all those YouTube comments would have you believe if they’re anything to go by, you know the ones. Those who claim they’re born in the wrong generation because they like a song by Pink Floyd or The Beatles.

Pretty much this type of comment.

A typical YouTube comment.

For the most part, the bulk of the argument against ‘popular music’ is the charts: full of generic, bland and often over-saturated music. It is often made to appeal to the most people possible for the maximum amount of hits and therefore, more money.

And how do you appeal to the most amounts of people without alienating any? The answer is with mediocrity. A middle ground, nothing too adventurous or daring.

The fault with this argument is that the charts have always contained ‘bad’ and ‘mediocre’ music. Argue as much as you want, but from any given decade there is some (a lot of) quite shit music, much of which topped the charts. The reason people forget about this is because that music doesn’t deserve remembering, leaving those arguing that the charts today are bad with a cherry-picked argument.

Just look at the year 1981. Aside from high unemployment, riots, Rupert Murdoch furthering his grip on UK media, 1981 was a glorious year, at least for music – excluding Bob Marley’s death, of course. May he rest in peace.

Out of the poor economy, all sorts of ‘new’ musical styles like hip hop, new wave, synth-pop and independent punk-rock started to develop and become more wide spread. Artists such as Depeche Mode, New OrderThe Cure, Madness and Blondie all seeing joy in ’81.

In fact, it was also in 1981 that Prince truly announced himself, with his first appearance on Saturday Night Live, followed by a release of his album Controversy later on in the same year. The album, often regarded as the bridge from the innovative Dirty Mind to the funk-like sounds of 1999, was a voice for the people living in the margins of America – people of colour, gay people, poor people and everyone in between.

You know what else was a success in the same year as these icons? The goddamn Birdie Song. Aka the Chicken Dance. Yes, that song your aunt attempts to dance to at family gatherings.

Not only did this tacky tune hit the charts, it stayed there for SEVEN WHOLE MONTHS. Gaining international traction along the way, it reached the dizzying heights of number two in the singles chart for the UK in October 1981.

To no one’s surprise, a poll from the year 2000 seen this version of the Birdie Song voted as “the most annoying song of all time“.

YouTube comments are gold.

Jumping back nearly a decade further to the year 1973, German krautrock band known Faust released their third album, The Faust Tapes. The album sold immensely well gaining Faust a new audience outside of their home country and, in doing so, giving themselves a platform for future endeavours.

The main reason for the album’s success? A marketing gimmick.

The album was sold for the price of a single – 49 pence at the time – causing the masses to pick up a copy regardless of whether they had any interest in the band at all, or had even heard of them at that point. The band had conquered the market with manipulated consumerism. A smart move.

The system can so easily be overturned or influenced and proof of this can be seen when Rage Against The Machine‘s Killing in the Name became Christmas number one in 2009. Intended as a middle finger to X-Factor winners who would top the charts year in, year out, Killing in the Name was pushed to the top with the help of a Facebook campaign to stop the manufactured artists taking the Christmas number one spot.

In band guitarist Tom Morello‘s own words, “The people in the U.K. are tired of being spoon-fed one schmaltzy ballad after another and they want to back their own charts, and we are honoured that they have chosen our song to be the rebel anthem to try to topple The X Factor label.

The campaign of rebellion was supported by the likes of Dave Grohl, Prodigy and Sir Paul McCartney, which seems rather comical from the former Beatle. I wonder if he’d have shown the same support to prevent The Beatles from taking over the charts during Beatlemania, or a campaign to stop the song FourFiveSeconds from reaching the number one spot – which it did in many countries, including the US.

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Now, it’s a fact that nostalgia plays an active role in people’s fondness for the past, whether that be for people, culture, technology and obviously, for music. Perhaps this adds an explanation for the elitism that comes with not being born a millennial.

Music is one of the strongest triggers for nostalgia, acting much like a pair rose-tinted glasses. Wearers favour the soundtrack to their youth over today’s ‘mumbo-jumbo’ regardless of how good that music may or may not be (yes, I see the silliness of relating wearing glasses and listening to music).

It begs the question, why is the opposition to the charts so strong and why are they even taken seriously at all? The top 40 is simply a list of the most purchased/streamed songs.

It’s not definitive list of all that is good in music. Sure, much of the charts is rather blatantly recycled bullshit, but it’s a cycle perpetuated by itself – popular artists get into the charts because they are already popular. Popular music remains in the charts because more people are listening to it simply because it’s in the charts. Rinse and repeat.

Personally, this writer likes to think of the charts as a sort of ever-evolving creature. One that has no set features, no distinctive traits and no music preference. However, the more money you feed it, the more powerful it becomes. If you manage to tame this majestic beast, it’s yours to ride upwards.

Whether you think I’m making about as much sense as today’s music or not, it’s no lie that people will forever dislike anything that garners an audience through this money making monopoly; dismissing the charts because the music that they constantly play, it says nothing to them about their life.

But hey, whatever your stance on today’s popular music, just remember, even the late, great Oscar Wilde quotes that ‘everything popular is wrong.’ But that quote is fairly popular, making it wrong… right?

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2 Comments

  1. There has not been a single decent song written in years, all genres have been explored, music has nowhere else to go. All melodic composition and combinations have been used up.

  2. Andrew Scully on

    It’s all been done, the best has came and gone, we’ve seen all the best stuff from the mid 50’s up to the late 00’s. I knew it was over by 2009-2010 when I realised that my favourite artists and bands suddenly stopped having top 40 hits, they could not compete with all that r’n’b, autotune, or even talent (I use that word loosely) show winners and dull piano-led ballads. No longer do you have rock and indie in the singles charts anymore. “Killing In The Name” was the last good Uk No.1 and then after that I stopped caring, which is a shame because there have been some other good bands to emerge since then but none of them can get a hit now, and the charts used to be about diversity but now it all sounds the same and is minimalistic in sound and approach, hell we’re now in a time where you need a team of 5-10 songwriters to make a song, especially for a pathetic attempt at a chorus where they take one word and stretch it out to give it more syllables, so it sounds like “you’re going to hear me ro-o-o-o-o-oar” which I think is lazy songwriting. That’s the perfect example of how awful it has become, You think about all the most influential bands and artists we’ve seen over the years: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, The Smiths, Echo & The Bunnymen, Nirvana, Blur, Oasis, Pulp, The Libertines…etc and where are we now? We’ve hit a brick wall and it’s just monotonous. What are we really going to remember the 2010’s for? Justin Bieber, Rihanna, X-Factor winners that’s what. RIP Singles Charts 1952-2009.

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