20 June 2016

The Pop Paradox

Last weekend we attended a bar mitzvah; the young man is the son of a colleague and friend of the Mrs. The event was really nice, with teenagers running semi-amok and a delicious meal. A DJ was on hand to keep things festive, spinning pop hits covering the past decade or so.

A couple of things struck me about the music. I don't exactly follow pop these days, but I knew the majority of the songs, or at least the performers. But nothing was played as a nod to the adults in the room; nothing from the '80s, or even the '90s. (What the Mrs. thought was "Baby Got Back" turned out to be its sample-child, "Anaconda.")

But more notable to my mind (and ears) was a sameness to the music. Other than the occasional vocal performance, nothing really stood out. There's a similarity to how modern pop songs are constructed, even down to some of the chord changes they employ, that suggests they emanate from a factory somewhere. You hear the same structure, the same types of flourishes, the rap verse dropped in at approximately the same point.

It's not just simple nostalgia, or even the argument that the music we love and connect with as teenagers remains the most powerful and most significant to us. Divorcing myself from those sentiments, today's music just isn't as good as pop from eras past. While the roster of performers may come from more diverse cultural backgrounds, the music they are producing is not nearly as diverse as the sounds radio offered in the 1970s, or even the '80s.

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