Contemporary popular music

Discussing art and media trends and organisations generally

Contemporary popular music

Postby Gavin » 07 Sep 2011, 19:51

No doubt it will come as nothing new to people who frequent this forum that popular culture is in a dire state in the western world. I believe that it has now become an extremely pernicious influence that ruins lives in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of young people. Perhaps legislation is needed to limit the extremely bad values that popular music now routinely promotes to the young and impressionable. I leave this for discussion.

I have been meaning to write some posts for the forum for a while but have been extremely busy escaping London moving house. What motivated me to write this post was a visit to the gym today where I was exposed to a programme called US Hotties Pop Riots! Top 20.

It is easy pickings as it is so obviously morally corrupt, but first of all we might note that it has "Riot" in its title apparently for no reason except perhaps because this will appeal to the mindset of its audience.

First of all we should note that this selection in Top 20 Hotties is not very different from the music chart in general, which as David Starkey recently said has been enriched by a black gangsta culture ever since the early 1990s. This shows no signs of receding.

Here are some of the videos that were featured (I'd like it if you would watch them):



This song is largely cretinous and you can find its lyrics here.

It is essentially saying that nothing matters except the present moment (dancing) - damn all consequences and get as drunk as possible. Of course, "Lady" Gaga is also simulating sex with a blow up dolphin. She is recognised in the Time 100 list as one of the most influential people in the world.

The next one that appeared was, I think, this one:



The lyrics may be found here and are worth reading in order to observe their stupidity and depravity. The song is essentially pure pornography as found in mainstream popular culture.

We were then treated to this one:



This struck me as more interesting in that it glorified the same delinquent lifestyle, but these individuals had no qualms about speaking of their open greed and grotesque desire for great wealth, presumably without doing much to earn it: the exact thing they and the people who buy this music would be likely to criticise in others. This reminded me somewhat of Jessie J's track Price Tag, which even commenters on YouTube have noted as being blatantly hypocritical (though still thousands bought it).

Finally before I left we heard this one:



In this a girl of 19 imparts saccharine pearls of wisdom, generally doing much to encourage the already over-inflated self opinions of the young (especially young women) today. The message is essentially "anyone can be a film star or even president" - enough to strike fear into any educated person.

I could easily present proof that popular culture has declined to this level over the years but will instead point to Mike Stock doing so on the often irritating programme Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4. He admirably objects to the utter sexualisation of music in the post feminist era, finding himself having to combat the ubiquitous (at least on the BBC) Laurie Penny, though this is hardly difficult since the evidence is entirely in his favour.

It strikes me that music corporations bear the responsibility for peddling this trash to impressionable teenagers and glorifying all that is wrong with society, but I am undecided about what should be done about it. Frankly I have not had sufficient time to consider solutions. So, for now, I turn it over to you, fellow "Dalrympians" and invite comment.
Gavin
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Re: Contemporary popular music

Postby Andrea » 07 Sep 2011, 20:41

Spot on! I couldn't have said it better myself. This sort of low class, downward culture has been slowly eating away at our civilisation for the past 20 years or so, I'd say. I was shocked at how my nieces and nephews (from 13 years to 4 years) have been listening to this kind of filth because it is mainstream now. Children are no longer children because this sort of "music" is brainwashing them into adopting adult behaviours (poorly-judged adult behaviour, at that) well before their time.
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Re: Contemporary popular music

Postby John » 07 Sep 2011, 20:45

At present our society seems so far gone it is difficult to see anything that could be done about it. At one time there would have been all kinds of social restraints on this kind of entertainment. Concerning pornographic content there would have been legal restraints as well. These have mostly been swept aside, supposedly this is progress. I say mostly swept away because thankfully there still seems to be social and legal restraints on music videos featuring hard rather than soft pornography. I'm sure there are many in the music industry who would like to see this restraint swept away as well. The direction our society is heading in that would unfortunately seem to be the next step.

I think a major part of the problem has been caused by modern media such as film and recorded music. Before the advent of film and records entertainers were not so highly regarded. Of course you did have famous actors and singers but their fame and wealth were much less than that of the 'stars' of the last century or so. While music and drama have always been popular they were of necessarily less central to the culture.

The major problem with this elevation and glorification of popular entertainment is that in order to keep its audience the tendency is always to greater and greater sensationalism. Popular entertainers themselves are often highly flawed characters, a fact that was recognized in previous ages but is ignored today. I think this elevation of some of the worst aspects of our culture has, I think, a great deal to answer for.
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Re: Contemporary popular music

Postby John » 07 Sep 2011, 20:57

I should make clear that I do not wish to tar all actors or singers with the same brush. Nor do I wish to say that all song or all drama is immoral. That would clearly be both a great exaggeration and unjust as well. It must be observed however that there is, and always has been, a tendency in popular entertainment to sensationalism and immorality. This tendency was, until recently, always recognized by society and restraints were made on popular entertainment accordingly. Today, however, the breaks seem to have been taken off almost entirely.
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Re: Contemporary popular music

Postby Gavin » 07 Sep 2011, 21:07

I couldn't agree more, John. The issue is, I think, that it is the most popular music, the music bought by most people, that is the most depraved: a very serious problem for civilisation.

As for the music above, it is not sophisticated, but some of the tunes are in my view quite good. The lyrics and images are of most concern, idiotic and harmful as they are.

I like a very wide variety of popular music. Two of my very favourite artists are Babybird and Chicane. At the same time I know by heart each note of a good deal of classical music. But the music above - the most popular - is very damaging.
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Re: Contemporary popular music

Postby Mike » 08 Sep 2011, 02:12

The basic problem here is that desperate-to-be-cool cultural commentators have long ascribed value to worthless junk, as TD noted over ten years ago here (there's a similar description of this phenomenon in Robert Hughes' excellent book Culture of Complaint).

Sting, to give credit where it's due, foresaw this sort of thing over twenty-five years ago when he said that, largely due to the rise of rap, pop music was already becoming very "reactionary and racist" in that white and black performers were becoming pigeonholed into their own specific styles. For black musicians this meant rap or treacly boy-bands singing banal teen-friendly lyrics (the style which is now known, laughably, as R&B - one wonders how Booker T and the MGs would feel about that). For white musicians, since the end of the eighties and the rise of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, your credibility is in direct proportion to your stubble and the negativity of your lyrics.

It's no coincidence that the best popular music being produced these days emerges from either the survivors of the eighties, or younger musicians who admire that period or earlier periods. Neil Finn is still a big hero of mine for resisting all the pressures of the age and continuing to write worthwhile and often moving songs with intelligent, searching lyrics. Check this out, for instance, from only four years ago:



,,,and compare to 99.9% of the pop music being produced today.
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Re: Contemporary popular music

Postby Rachel » 08 Sep 2011, 18:18

The thing with that Neil Finn song you posted is that I never heard it on the radio or TV or played in the background anywhere. I had no idea he was still writing.

It's really up to all the people who run or work high up in the largest TV channels, mainstream radio stations, newspapers, record companies to chose to hype up quality type music and performers instead of other kinds.

I remember watching a Cliff Richard interview once when he said that he was surprised at seeing young people at his concerts because he doesn't know how they get to hear of him as no radio station will play his records at all now. I'm not a big Cliff Richard fan, but the point is that it is those specific outlets that have the power to decide what we hear in our daily lives.

I don't think there is a conspiracy between these media outlets to only promote the trashy music and drugs. I think it's just a general "zeitgeist" of the age as Dalrymple would call it.

Apologies if this post sounds a bit rambled. I've got brain fog and it's been a long day.
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Re: Contemporary popular music

Postby Michael » 09 Sep 2011, 01:44

Socrates: You know also that the beginning is the most important part of any work, especially in the case of a young and tender thing; for that is the time at which the character is being formed and the desired impression is more readily taken.

Adeimantus: Quite true.

Socrates: And shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up?

Adeimantus: We cannot.

Socrates: Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorised ones only. Let them fashion the mind with such tales, even more fondly than they mould the body with their hands; but most of those which are now in use must be discarded.

-Plato, The Republic, Bk. II

This section of The Republic deals explicitly with music, under which Plato groups poetry of all sorts. It's not very hard to imagine what Socrates and his interlocutors would have made of Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars. Of course, they are imagining a state without a founding, without a history, and ideal policies are always easier to dream up than they are to implement.

On a less erudite level, was anyone else grossed out by the tattoos on the rapper in the Bruno Mars video?
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Re: Contemporary popular music

Postby Gavin » 09 Sep 2011, 08:46

Good post, Michael.

I think the problem is surely that politicians are encouraging the least intelligent and responsible people to have children, while giving those who are most responsible every disincentive to so do (q.v. failing legal system, dysfunctional schools, social breakdown). This policy will of course lead to all the least virtuous things becoming the most popular things and in due course surely lead to an idiocracy. Our self flagellation over the achievements of the west only exacerbates the process.

As for the rapper on Mr Mars' double platinum selling profane and vulgar song, his name is Travie McCoy and he belongs to the record label "Nappy Boy". (What is it with these rappers and names? See also "Chipmunk".) The tattoos were indeed unpleasant, as were the gun signs with the hands and the flesh tunnels. Back at the turn of the 90s with NWA these things were still quite underground, now they are commonplace and mainstream.

Finally, yes, 80s music was far more diverse, melodic, intelligent and inventive than today's material (in part, I believe, because of the invention of the synthesiser but also of course due to the cultural rot being nowhere near as advanced).
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Re: Contemporary popular music

Postby Jonathan » 11 Sep 2011, 10:28

"It strikes me that music corporations bear the responsibility for peddling this trash to impressionable teenagers"

Missing in this discussion is the role of the parents. It is with them that the responsibility lies for guiding their children away from this trash.
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Re: Contemporary popular music

Postby Michael » 12 Sep 2011, 03:28

Does anyone here believe that there is a cultural expectation in the West that young people will rebel against their parents beliefs, and that this is somehow beneficial? It certainly occurred to me, when I was younger, that most of my peers picked their music/fashion/etc. primarily because their parents did not like it.
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Re: Contemporary popular music

Postby Damo » 13 Sep 2011, 18:01

Michael wrote:Does anyone here believe that there is a cultural expectation in the West that young people will rebel against their parents beliefs, and that this is somehow beneficial? It certainly occurred to me, when I was younger, that most of my peers picked their music/fashion/etc. primarily because their parents did not like it.


It's rebelling just for the sake of rebelling. Today's adults like to indulge in it as well.
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Re: Contemporary popular music

Postby Caleb » 20 Oct 2011, 06:03

Whilst I agree that a lot of modern music is pretty bad, and I don't listen to much of it, I think we have to be careful not to get carried away as there is plenty of good music out there. I think it's harder to find good music now, but that's perhaps a reflection upon the media of distribution these days. On the one hand, it's harder to find the good stuff a lot of the time because it's promoted differently (often self-promoted or through online discussion boards such as this), but on the other, it means that artists can produce music that might not get released through major labels.

Anyway, there was plenty of music thirty, fifty, even seventy years ago that was in a similar vein, though perhaps not as widely known, at least by the white middle class. A lot of blues music (and the rock it influenced) contains thinly veiled lyrics such as, "Squeeze my lemon 'til the juice runs down my leg. Squeeze it so hard I fall right out of bed." I was born long after the fact, but remember how Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13 year old cousin?

Also, jazz -- which these days is regarded perhaps only second to classical as the mark of "civilised" music -- has a history full of sordid characters involved in pimping, drug use and murder. Jazz musicians were, in many ways, the gangster rappers of their day.

Way back in the day there existed vaudeville and burlesque shows which could hardly be described as tame.

I think to some extent there has always been (and probably always will be) an element of sensationalism and racy lyrics/images/behaviour in popular entertainment, and not just in the West. Perhaps the difference today is the degree to which it permeates society at large and lowers the overall tone.
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Re: Contemporary popular music

Postby Gavin » 23 Oct 2011, 00:23

Hi Caleb and welcome to the forum! I enjoyed reading your biographical post.

On this issue, while there is truth in what you say, I think it is important for us not to fall into the "Twas ever thus" group often occupied, incidentally, by left liberals. Lyrics are explicit, not implicit, now, and this "music" is mainstream, not underground, and it is promoted to and admired by the young (and indeed by many adults, who Dalrymple has noted are all too often like big children now, looked after by the state).

I think things are certainly now in a worse way, and the reach and variety of media is so much greater that it is hard to escape this brainless material. Here is another example, actually. This is Britney Spears' new song "Criminal" which openly glamourises the fact that some (perhaps many) women choose brutish men in preference to decent ones. As documented by TD, they often come to regret this (but then do it again). I am reminded of the line in a Dalrymple essay when he asks a victim of wife beating: "And were he to walk into the room now, would I see that he was a 'wrong un'?" "Oh yes, doctor", she replies, "You could tell straight away". Also of cases such as that of Katie Piper.

Another point worth emphasising, I think, is that music such is this is reviewed favourably by broadsheet newspapers too now, which would I think not have been the case for the underground music you mentioned, with The Independent , for example, writing favourably of "Criminal" (which has been viewed on YouTube over one million times in five days).

The digital revolution is perhaps in some respects responsible for the decline of sales and marketing of the decent music you rightly point out is still being made, but so, I think, is the relentless promotion of bad values by corporations, the nature of our ever growing underclass, and above all the fashion for relativism, apathy and hedonism (call it liberalism) among our middle class.
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Re: Contemporary popular music

Postby Mike » 24 Oct 2011, 01:45

Caleb wrote:Also, jazz -- which these days is regarded perhaps only second to classical as the mark of "civilised" music -- has a history full of sordid characters involved in pimping, drug use and murder. Jazz musicians were, in many ways, the gangster rappers of their day.


This is true, of course, and one of the many frustrations I had during my time on the fringes of the jazz scene here in Sydney (I had ambitions as a muso at that stage, now it's just a nice, enjoyable sideline), was the fact that several of the young musos were desperate to emulate the lifestyles of Miles Davis et al. as well as their musical prowess. There was still the lingering belief that the latter was impossible without the former, which is a truly poisonous attitude to any artistic endeavour.

Jazz at its best can be very fine art (in my opinion), but it should be possible to admire its creators while holding a responsible moral position on their "extracurricular" activities.
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