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Talkin’ Bout My Musical Generation

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These days I rely a lot on MP3 downloading from music blogs and sites such as Pandora to get my musical fix– especially since my record player is broken. If I do happen to listen to the radio, then it’s public stations such as Minneapolis’ The Current for which I turn my dial (internet dial, that is). I need to have this kind of control over what I listen to becuase I can’t stand a lot of modern commercial music that gets shoved down everyone’s throats.

The pop landscape has become a wasteland of sad imitations and lazy productions. When I hear The Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow” or Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face” blaring at the gym or at various storefronts several times a day, I worry. How can musicians get away with this? Prince had exceptional lyrics and innovative beats during his heyday. That’s why people still listen to his music today. “Boom Boom Pow” is the opposite of that. It has no rhythm, beat, hook or even real singing to speak of. Yet, it’s one of the top hits of the year.

My theory is that we’ve hit the ceiling. In the 1950s, rock came to fruition and the hits born out of that period will be around forever. In the 70s, there was disco/dance and heavy metal. In the 80s: new wave, hip hop and techno. In the 90s: rap, alt rock, grunge and electronica. Now, however, there’s nowhere else to go.

Musically, there’s no major genre left to invent. That explains the popularity of groups such as The Black Eyed Peas. Will.i.am and Fergie’s solution to the problem of finding an original voice is to sample from the best and call it their own, and to create music without the “music” aspect. Throw in an expensive marketing campaign and a schnazzy video, and you’ve got a hit.

In a recent essay on the LA Times music blog Pop & Hiss, Ann Powers had this summation about the modern musical landscape:

In the 1980s, pop was long scorned by many as a time of superficiality and crass commercialism; only in recent years have its champions found room to argue for its importance, and most still applaud that era of giant hair and sequins in fun. But that plastic moment was also a time of great diversity in pop, when Prince and Public Enemy rose alongside Guns ‘N’ Roses and U2. It’s harder to contain the 1980s within a single word like ‘Woodstock,’ though the millions mourning Jackson have been trying with Thriller. In fact, the 1980s looked a lot like now: a time when no one presumed that a particular musical statement or style spoke for all, and when the generational ideal felt a little hollow.”

I would say that it’s not so much hollow, as hard to find. Especially in the aisles at Wal-Mart (which has disturbingly become an exclusive distributor of new music in recent years). Thankfully, there are millions of other choices out there, too. As sour as I am about what’s on the billboard charts, I will recognize that many indie artists do, in fact, “get it.” There’s some great post-modern artists sprouting up who know how to expertly fuse genres and find a voice of their own along the way. They’re just not the ones making money, that’s all.

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