It’s occurred to me recently that the music we listen to is subtly changing. This change is understandable as music (like many things) evolves over time. But, in recent years, can we say we’ve had a part in this evolution?
Music used to be complex. Calling yourself a musician was an accomplishment because of the time and effort put into it and not just in classical music either. Take a listen to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It’s an American classic which almost everyone loves. Yet, it is musically complex and fiendishly difficult to play.
Allow me to compare this musical masterpiece of the ’70s, with the more modern song “Sexy and I Know it” by LMFAO.
The most appealing thing about this type of music is that it sharpens my reaction time in changing the station. The lyrics are uncreative and hold no deeper meaning. In “Bohemian Rhapsody” you hear, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” This is a thought provoking statement in any light. In “Sexy and I Know it,” you hear guys yelling, “Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.”
If it was just lyrics I would understand, or maybe just one person got lazy with their music, but this is unfortunately not the case. As it is, more than 40 songs use the same chords and rhythms. Many of these have even been combined into a single song such as the “Four Chord” song by Axis of Awesome, which is actually fairly ingenious I’ll admit, but the creativity stops there. It’s unfortunate that of all the chords in the world, many of our modern pop stars use the same four over, and over, and over and over again.
However, it is important to note that we have accomplished something musically over the years: Our music is louder. That’s it. It’s more generic, and it’s louder. According to the Nature Publishing Group’s report “Measuring the Evolution of Contemporary Western Popular Music,” the creativity in transitions between chords and melodies has greatly diminished over the last 50 years, and in fact our timbre pallet is shrinking. This means that songs will feature fewer new sounds and more of the same old, same old.
Pop music isn’t the only genre of music in which this laziness (for lack of better term) is occurring. Much of classical music uses many of the same devices systematically. Especially in Western music, many compositions use similar rhythmic patterns, scales and chord structures. Naturally, the world of classical music doesn’t take the hit as badly as there is more variety and more composers, but we forget, more composers means more mediocrity.
As a whole, our musicians and “artists” as they call themselves, have become less adventurous. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times: Don’t try to rock the boat, don’t try anything new, but that mentality scares me. In George Orwell’s novel “1984,” pop music was made by machines. It was so generic that one couldn’t really tell one song from the next, and it seems to me we are heading in that direction. Our music no longer speaks for itself. Our performers draw people in, not by talent (which many of them lack, relying on auto-tune to fix their singing), but on showmanship. We go to concerts not for the music, but for the cute boy in the band, or to see what Lady Gaga has rolled around in this time after her weekly glue bath.
I say it’s high time we bring back musicianship instead of showmanship, and we craft masterpieces, not moneymakers. It’s time we bring the creativity back to music.
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