How Music is Being Marred
Joel Tennant probes into what’s affecting the music industry most negatively.
It’s far too easy to harp on and on about how Justin Bieber was a parody of himself before he was even born, how Miley Cyrus could be physically assaulting people in the street and cause less damage than her painfully predictable music career, and the fact that One Direction are a sign that the world’s religions are in fact correct and that this really is the End of Times – so I’ll try to be more original.
Despairing at modern music isn’t new, just search online for what Bill Hicks was saying on stage about Rick Astley, George Michael and Barry Manilow back in the 80s and 90s. But it feels like things have gotten worse, and perhaps they have, and yet if we’re going to have a frank discussion about the damage to good taste, we need to first identify some possible perpetrators of the crime.
Ever since nothing was done about Tiny Tim in the sixties, it’s been a rocky road. We allowed Engelbert Humperdinck to be named Engelbert Humperdinck, stood by while Rick Astley set up a career as an internet meme before we even had dial-up, and then let Weird Al keep recording music after he did “Amish Paradise”. U2 masqueraded for some time as credible dad-rock artists, but the show didn’t last long when they became so pally with Bob Geldof, who, if it weren’t for his charitable endeavours, remains unforgivable ever since he sang Pink Floyd songs in the film adaptation of their masterfully miserable album, The Wall.
When the noughties came along, we were all optimistic about hover boards and turquoise – and it may have been this optimism that allowed lyrics to be less… lyrical, ever since. The Killers sort of got away with “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier” back in 2005, because if you imagine the words to be utterly meaningless, then that avoids the problem of assuming that they mean something. But the real poetry is set aside for the more conventional chart-toppers nowadays. Selena Gomez, sadly snubbed by poetry critics everywhere, sings in the metrical steps of Shakespeare and Wordsworth and challenges our mental faculties with “I love you like a love song baby”, whilst 2 Chainz’ show of their love for the letter “b”, back in 2012, still brings a stunned silence to any audience, “She got a big booty, so I call her Big Booty.”
The problem now though is, how do we define taste? Who’s to say that Bach is better than Bieber? Or Nina Simone more soulful than Nicki Minaj? The thing is that artistic taste is subjective – David Hume sorted that out a while back – and so when we ridicule people for liking a certain musical artist, then we’re not saying anything worthwhile. But, ridiculing the values that they communicate? No, that’s fair game. When Bieber doesn’t set a respectable example for the legions of his young fans who are looking for a role model, when Robin Thicke trivialises a sickly ideology in society, and when Miley Cyrus pursues, not the original or the good, but the shocking and the cliché, then we can moan and complain all we want, because that really is ruining music. The obsessive cult followings that these stars create should be scary to us, because their idols seem to them to be infallible – and because we’re living in a media-driven society that either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.
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