Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Everything that's old...

This isn't the best essay on the current state of pop music,  but there's enough going on that I'm itching to do a point-by-point analysis. A lot of it just rings false. I don't know how old the author is, but I'm guessing she's much younger than I, and while it's easy to chalk a lot of what's going on with music today as generational, things like class come into play but still get very little lip service.

She leads off by stating that kids today don't hate their parents' music the way previous generations did:
I’ve heard Gen-Xers complain about hippie music, and I know my Boomer dad resented his parents’ polka. But in this day and age, the reverse is truer: kids are more likely to love the music their parents hated the first time ’70s soft pop, which, to my dad, is music for waiting out death to on brown polyester. Even the rock I like from the ’60s isn’t his bag—I once played him Bubble Puppy’s “Hot Smoke and Sasafrass” thinking he’d at least remember the riff fondly, but he thought the guys held their guitars too high.
I don't think this is entirely true. I liked a lot of music from the 60s and 70s that my parents ignored: Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Dylan, even the Dead.  (Mom preferred country, dad blues or jazz, bu the way.) This was true for a lot of my friends, too, however, something I've always thought of as universal is probably uncommon: I'm a Gen-X'er with Boomer parents. A good percentage of millennials writing these "think pieces" have parents the same age as mine. So, yeah, the generational line between my folks and me is a little blurry.
Musically speaking, I love the freedom of punk, and the idea of music as a collective tool. But I see huge problems with its ethos, which substitutes political for personal angst, and to be honest, sometimes I just wish the music were better. Emo is in revival (or “did it ever die?”), and while I loved it the first time around, I sort of hate the part of me that loved it—the version of me that saw my problems as monumental, and assumed that because I was sad, I couldn’t also be an asshole. I loved the all-ages shows and the feeling of safety, but I hated the performance thereof; loved the sincerity, hated the whining. And I hate, hate, hate the fact that post-emo indie rock—indie rock in general, really—hasn’t changed significantly since the ’80s, and that it’s performed by more or less the same people.
Punk has gone through various incarnations since the late-70s, so I'm not sure which version of punk she's referring when she says that punk's ethos substitutes the political for the personal, but plenty of music in the punk tradition was personal. By the time "emo" was a genre, I was well into my twenties and found it laughable. (Okay, maybe for some reasons that were fairly misogynistic, given that my favorite singer-songwriter is a guy who sings about his feelings quite often.) It wasn't a perceived lack of sincerity that bothered me, but that it used personal pain as a form of currency. Punk, after the Clash and before Nirvana, was an insult in my high school. Calling yourself a punk meant that you weren't one. (The punks were skaters.)

"Indie" has changed quite a bit since the 80s in that you don't have to be independent to be considered "indie." Then it wasn't a genre yet, instead a business model. A band started on an independent label, if they were lucky, scored a big contract with Sire or Geffen, then usually failed grandly and ended up in the hole. (Or, in the case of a band like Sonic Youth, expanded their fanbase without ever really breaking into the mainstream and managed to live relatively comfortably -- not a bad thing.) That model doesn't exist anymore -- again, not necessarily a bad thing -- but it's also rendered the word "indie" meaningless and now it applies to any band who got their start organically.

At the risk of sounding like an old rock fan, the change has come not necessarily at the sonic level, but more as a wholesale lifestyle change. No one is ever at a loss for resources. A new artist can record, produce, and market his music to the masses with a click. But to say this has made artists more creative is false. Sampling, cut-and-paste culture, once a staple in hip-hop, is now grounds for lawsuit. Historically, it always was, but now just using the same chord progression could land an artist in court. (Does anyone really think Sam Smith sounds like Tom Petty?) Resources may be vast, but there's a sameness within music that comes from everyone having equal access.