As the Now… compilation album series reaches its centenary, Getintothis’ Matthew Lear reflects on the brand’s ongoing appeal.
You always remember your first Now That’s What I Call Music. Normally bought for you between the ages of seven and 11, that first Now… is forever ingrained your musical palate.
For many it is beginning of an individual, personal music taste. The array of genres, singers and bands allows for you choose what you do and don’t like.
Unlike tailor-made compilations fabricated by music streaming series, often with a very specific focus – see Spotify’s overly attentively titled Country Coffeehouse or Deep Dark Indie, playlists, there will most likely be tracks that you don’t love.
Music taste and self-identity as a whole rely as much on what you like as what you don’t, and the variety of Now… certainly helped younger listeners, myself included, define themselves for perhaps one of the first times.
With Now… celebrating its 100th edition in July, I decided to check back on the series and see if it has maintained the typical mixture of genres and artists in its modern editions.
Considering the increasing popularity of all the ridiculously specific online Apple or Spotify playlists, I though the variety characteristic of the Now… format would be pushed further as its ‘unique selling point’ or at least still hold its foundational values. How wrong was I.
The centenary edition follows the usual two disc format, the latter disc; a collection of fan-favourite tracks of years gone by – an understandable choice, featuring Phil Collins, Kylie and Bon Jovi amongst others.
The primary disc, which I presumed encompassed the Now part of the format’s title, was, to my surprise, completely and entirely comprised of pop music.
I suppose it could be argued that every Now… is compilation of pop music; for the songs to make it into any edition, they must be, by definition, popular music.
Yet it is similarities the songs hold musically rather than the similarities of their audiences that differs from older editions of the format. Song structures are noticeably alike on this edition- as I presume a compilation of 90’s grunge or metal would be; that is no criticism of pop song structures themselves but rather representative of the complete and utter lack of variety.
In this vain, the instrumentation of the songs blend well together and suit each other – but this is what you can find anywhere; the personally catered cohesive music compilation.
Where are the odd choices, the weird artists you hate at first then grow to like, or even the downright dreadful picks? Its all gone, replaced by a new shiny smooth Now… format.
The very first anthology in the series saw Tina Turner next to Men At Work and Madness, my first edition (65 if you fancy a look) had David Hasselhoff paired with the likes of Shakira and Paolo Nutuni.
What a shame to see this variety has gone. But surely this must be for a reason. Perhaps a more focused, poppy compilation is a sign of the times; a signifier for a changing demographic.
Though it has gone through many format changes and evolutions – starting as cassettes and vinyl records, now, any Now That’s What I Call Music, when purchased at a shop, is bought as a CD – a format unpopular with the majority of children and teenagers.
Skipping numbered tracks by the button isn’t a reality for young people nowadays with iPods, phones and music streaming services so easily accessible and readily available.
People who buy and listen to the new Now…s must have a CD player to do so, – most probably play the albums in their cars, and burning a disc is increasingly perceived as an a outdated process.
If drivers and disc burners are the primary consumers of these CD’s (and no longer children), then variety isn’t such a big concern. Usually by that age, everyone knows what they like to listen to and aren’t looking for more experimental or differential tracks.
The first disc of the new edition being purely ‘pop’ aligns with this assumption. Now…, it seems, caters to a changing, more passive demographic – an audience that would rather be presented with likable tunes than explore back-catalogues.
But surely this more mature audience has to shrink, and with a new generation finding Now… style playlist on their phones for a lesser price and in a more convenient format, it is hard to see the series thriving far into the future.
Five years ago this prediction was just as applicable, yet all the figures speak otherwise.
This 100th edition is set to be one of the year’s biggest-selling CDs, while last year, the series sold 3.2 million albums, surpassing Ed Sheeran in CD sales.
The series seems to defy every difficulty: the decline of the CD’s popularity, the rise of personal streaming playlists and changing audience demographic.
Logically, it shouldn’t continue to succeed as it so has done; yet for some strange reason I think it might just do that. If it somehow continues to adapt within its abilities and maintain its momentum against such resilience, what’s stopping another hundred?