Very deep and meaningful, I guess...
Well, let's just pull the bandage off as quickly as possible so the sting only hurts for a little bit, because, yes, while we are living in a different trend, that doesn't automatically make music worse today. A lot of the things we hear pop songs today were done ages ago. Let me go through some of the common criticisms I keep hearing so I can show you that your favorite songs does the same things you criticize.
1. They All Use the Same Chords. So unoriginal!
Don't you just hate it when you find out all of the pop songs use the same chords? No wonder why it all sounds the same. It gets even worse when you find out the same artist will go back to using the same chords. That is how you know you have talentless hacks like J.S. Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.
Oh, did you think I was talking about contemporary artists?
Well, crap. If a bunch of people considered to be musical geniuses get caught doing the same things as modern pop artists, I guess we kind of can't complain about it anymore...
The thing about music is that there are only a handful of chord combinations that actually sound good to people. Sometimes, we can experiment, but what usually happens is that somebody will have a good melody and the composer will stick chords underneath the melody and they'll stick with the ones that work. But, what's usually more important is how the chords are played and how the melody is constructed, which is probably why you never noticed that a lot of songs used the same chords until some people pointed it out to you.
There are even songs I like that uses that four chord structure. So Lonely by The Police and Walk Away by Franz Ferdinand. One of those songs can barely even be called a hit.
But that's still pop music. Surely other kinds of music would be better than that, right? You can tell which ones are the no talent ones, because they only use three chords in their song. Ya know, artists like:
Creedence Clearwater Revival
The Sex Pistols
Every blues artist ever
They've gotten so old and never used that time to learn more than three chords.
Well, jeez, that covered a lot of people in different genres. You'd sure look silly if you criticized an artist for only using the same three chords in their song only for you to like another artist that does the same thing, wouldn't you?
2. All of the music now is meaningless bullshit. Back then, people had something to say. And they were more popular too!
Here's a nice little 70s song called Disco Duck. It reached number 1 on the charts...I have nothing else to add.
3. Music is too loud and scattershot. It's like it's made for people with ADHD
I saw this one guy going into the "problems" with modern pop music. But the arguments he makes are so off point in so many ways it's like he just read a study and heard what other people had to say who put in as much effort as he did in listening to what's current in pop music.
Speaking as someone who did bother giving a brief look on what the pop music seen looks like...it's honestly a lot weirder and different than that, but I'll get into that later.
But, what I found interesting of what this well meaning person, but still kind of an asshole, said was that, apparently, artists are putting multiple "hooks" in their songs. People can't stay focused on just one hook because they can't pay attention to anything anymore.
First, let's decipher what a "hook" is. Let me google it and copy and paste what comes out.
"A hook is a musical idea, often a short riff, passage, or phrase, that is used in popular music to make a song appealing and to "catch the ear of the listener". The term generally applies to popular music, especially rock, R&B, hip hop, dance, and pop." - Wikipedia
Huh...that can almost mean anything. You could probably think it's a repetitive catchy riff like The Beatles' Day Tripper, but I can apply that definition to almost anything. Since most people listen to different things in songs, a hook to me might be different than a hook to you..
The Beatles had multiple hooks in their songs as they usually followed the verse/bridge/verse structure to keep a song from being boring if it just stuck with a verse.
But, even more complicated songs delve into multiple things. The Who's Baba O'Reily starts with a hook with it's repetitive synthesizer part(1) that then adds the bass(2), then the guitar and drums(3), then the vocal melody(4), then the bridge(5), then it continues on until there's a guitar solo(5), TEENAGE WASTELAND(6), instrumental breakdown(7).
Wow, that's a lot going on in just one song.
But what about the current music scene? Well, from what I can hear, there are generally less hooks in a song. Some songs leave me thinking there aren't any at all. But, for comparison purposes, I'll have to use one of the only songs that sound even vaguely similar to some of the older songs that we can say have "hooks" in them. This has a bit more of a funk and disco feel to it.
The song opens with a guitar riff. Hook #1. The main melody comes in, but I don't find it particularly that interesting, so I won't really count it. But, it doesn't matter, because the song actually has my attention at least and I find the melody good enough. Then it goes into that talky melody in the pre-chorus which I actually do find interesting. Hook # 2. Then there's the chorus, and choruses should obviously be a hook to the song. Hook # 3. And that's it. There's the instrumental breakdown, but it's basically just the same thing over and over again. The song actually plays the same chords throughout the entire song, but they add onto it with subtle guitar parts to keep it from being boring. Should those be considered hooks? Maybe. But they're not in the forefront of the song. And since it's repetitive, it doesn't really add much, but...
Wow, I can't believe I like a song from an Ex-Jonas Brothers guy...let's see if I can explain why later.
But what about one that's not all that similar? Probably the hottest song right now is Rihanna's Work, probably one of the worst pieces of shit songs to enter the music scene, but let's have a look at it anyway.
It starts off interesting with it's instrumentation. Okay, Hook #1. And then there's Rihanna's annoying, but still catchy and very repetitive melodic phrasing throughout the song. Hook #2.
That's it. Seriously. There's Drake's part at the end, but that's so lacking of any kind of melody or any kind of musical ideas as it feels like the writers were just throwing random notes around just to see if it would stick. I guess it did, because it's the hottest song right now.
Honestly, let's just stop using the word "hook" because it hardly means anything. All it basically means is a part of a song that you like. I can explain why I like a certain part of a song without ever using the word hook, even if it "hooks" my attention.
4. It's all corporate bullshit right now...Nobody writes their own songs, nobody plays their own instruments.
Okay, here's a challenge for you. I'll show you two different artists and you can answer which of these two is a corporate band that was created to capitalize on a really popular genre at the time.
First up, we have The Clash.
Hell yeah! One of the best Punk Rock bands to ever show up when Punk Rock was becoming a thing. What mattered most wasn't that they could play their instruments particularly well, but that they had ideas and they had raw talent. Not only were they fun and catchy, they stay trued to themselves and were a big "screw you" to having to put up with corporations bogging down the band with commercial bullshit.
Next up, a K-pop group...doesn't really matter which one since you probably don't care.
K-pop is notorious for nothing but manufactured groups with songs written for them to capitalize on the music market right now by blatantly copying what's going on in western pop. These guys are so obviously being told what to do. They have dance choreography, you can tell their voices are being manipulated so none of the singers stand out too much from each other, and the song was obviously written to stick in your head all day. Bo peep bo peep bo peep Bo peep bo peep bo peep Bo peep bo peep bo peep.
Okay, so, let's ask again. Which of these groups was a manufactured group to capitalize and exploit the current music market.
Answer: Both of them
Well, fuck! If a punk group like The Clash can be manufactured, a group all about giving the finger to the corporate market...what is even life anymore?
But at least their songs are still good, which is the only thing that really matters.
Bo peep bo peep Bo peep bo peep Bo peep bo peep Bo peep bo peep Bo peep bo peep, yeah!
Sorry, I have that stuck in my head.
5. Okay, smartass! What can I complain about in music then?
Well, the good news is that it really just all comes down to a subjective opinion. If you like a part of a song, then you like it. Not really much I can say about that. The bad news is that if you have a limited musical vocabulary, it's going to be really hard to express why you like a certain part of a song. But, that's okay. The internet has a lot of resources you can use to learn about music. Even just learning how to play a melody on a piano will take you further in understanding music.
Somebody watch this video and tell me if it helps at all.
But, if you're wondering what I think the problems are in current pop music is, these are my opinions. If you think I'm wrong and you actually like these terrible things, well...yeah, there you go. Not much I can really do about that. You like it, but I don't.
1. Shitty trap beats
Good god! If you think that hip-hop sounds worse than it did back then, that reason is probably because of the trap music that's going on right now. Instead of using parts with a repetitive but catchy backup like they used back in the 80s, they opt for this so slow, joyless, electronic beat that sounds like trash. Just listen to any Kanye West song and you'll hear the difference. Any hip-hop artist on the charts right now are using this for some reason and it's terrible sounding. I'm not big on hip-hop, but I can at least tell why people liked it back in the 80s and 90s. I don't know what happened for today.
2. Slow songs filled with Vocal Wank
I'll just be honest. I hated working with singers during my time at ACM. A few were really good and enjoyable to work with. A lot of them were stuck up assholes who didn't like being told that they needed to practice. Songs they made me play were John Mayer's Gravity and Madilyn Bailey's version of Titanium. Anything by Mayer is pretty much a damned chore to listen to, but Bailey's version of Titanium is the most boring thing on planet Earth and I hated playing it. Let's lay down simple chords so the singer can show off her vocal prowess even if the song is boring as hell.
This is why I don't understand why Adele and Sam Smith are so damned popular. Yes, they are good singers. Yes, I can respect that. No, I can't respect how boring their songs are though.
So...I'm going to painfully admit that, yes, I did like that one song by that one Jonas Brother, though I won't even bother to learn his name at this point right now. I did bother to listen to a bit of their EP and the rest of their songs are fucking terrible. But Cake by the Ocean is surprisingly pretty good. Let's hear the song again.
Let's go through the things that this song gets right. These are all objective qualities, by the way.
- A really cool guitar riff.
- A funky rhythm by multiple guitars that plays off of the repetitive chord structure
- An upbeat tempo
- A chorus that's surprisingly catchy
- A hot Korean guitarist
This song stands out to me the most because it was the only song on the charts that didn't feel like a completely miserable slog. There are some songs that are upbeat that I don't like, but I can at least understand why those on the charts. They're fun and upbeat, something that a lot of the other songs are really lacking in. Not that I need all songs to be upbeat and catchy, but none of the songs that are slower and more and more ballad-esque are doing anything interesting like this song.
Trust me, I'm surprised I'm saying any of this at all. I used to be one of those guys who looked down on current pop music for being too simplistic. But, now that I've read more about music and what's current, there are still a lot of things that I don't like, but at least I know why I don't like it now rather than just finding ways to show that their songs are empty, simple, and meaningless. We're living in a decade almost like any other decade. A lot of crap songs with an occasional hit that actual survives throughout time. I probably still don't know enough to be too much of an authoritative voice, but I know enough to at least have some perspective now. I can show you another blog I like to read where I have been learning more about music, but it's going to require a long explanation, so I'll just wrap it up here.