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July 27, 2012

Dumbed Down

Last week, the Editorial Staff noted that today's pop music is sadder and more emotionally ambiguous, but also more narcissistic and self absorbed than the pop music of yesteryear:

Vocalists often warm up by singing “Mi, mi, mi, mi, mi.” But increasingly, the songs they perform — or at least those that make the top 10 lists – are odes to “Me, me, me, me, me.”

Clear evidence of American society’s increasing narcissism can be found in our best-selling popular songs. That’s the conclusion of a study just published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts.

Compared to a quarter-century ago, “Popular music lyrics now include more words related to a focus on the self,” reports a team of researchers led by University of Kentucky psychologist C. Nathan DeWall.

Yesterday, we posted a half-serious retrospective on the evolution (or should we say, devolution) of songs about wooing women.

And the hits just keep on comin'!

It is a familiar complaint from those of a certain age: today’s pop music is louder and all the songs sound the same. It turns out they are right.

Research shows that modern recordings are louder than those of those of the 1950s and 60s. They are also blander, with less variety in terms of chords and melodies.

The finding, which will come as no surprise to all those over the age of 35 or so, comes from Spanish researchers who carried out a computer analysis of the key features of almost half a million pop, rock and hip hop songs from 1955 to 2010.

...Wannabe musicians looking for a hit should turn to the past for inspiration, said the researcher Joan Serra, of the Spanish National Research Institute.

Old tunes re-recorded with increased loudness, simpler chord progressions and different instruments could sound new and fashionable.

So let's recap. According to Scientists And Other Experts, compared to the music we grew up with, today's music is:

- more depressing
- more emotionally ambiguous
- more narcissistic
- crudely sexual
- less musically complex
- louder
- less creative/original

We hate to be gloomy on a lovely Friday morning, but wethinks a generation that ceases to improve upon the achievements of previous generations is not a good sign. As the article points out, musicians tailor their music to their audience.

What does it say about today's pop music audiences that what is - rightly or wrongly - perceived as appealing is a dumbed down version of the music their parents and grandparents listened to?

We lost patience with contemporary pop about a decade ago when we noticed how many artists recycle riffs from older music. Having grown up with a transistor radio all but glued to our shell-like ear, we are quite good at recognizing pop songs after just a few bars. So much of what we hear on the radio is repetitive and derivative. It's depressing, really.

Yikes. Mirror, mirror on the wall. We are our Mother, after all.

Posted by Cassandra at July 27, 2012 08:02 AM

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Comments

I wonder if some of this could be a function of the reduction in age of the average music buyer.

Kids taste in food certainly trends as less complex than an adult's palette. I wonder if the same isn't true in music.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 27, 2012 09:34 AM

"Yikes. Mirror, mirror on the wall. We are our Mother, after all."

Heh.

Just last weekend the parental units for the hun's grandaughter were supping at the hun hovel. The conversation was rearing young'uns, when out of nowhere, the female parental unit blurted out that during a recent discussion, one on a most important matter with her SO, she channeled the words of her old man!!! To weep... To wail...


The ancient one hastily excused himself from the table, marched to the water closet and burst into laughter, closing the door to the WC just in the nick of time.


Ode to the subject.

Posted by: bthun at July 27, 2012 09:47 AM

So let's recap. According to Scientists And Other Experts, compared to the music we grew up with, today's music is:
- more depressing
- more emotionally ambiguous
- more narcissistic
- crudely sexual
- less musically complex
- louder
- less creative/original

Ok, kids. Now watch while I refute every one of these scientists'claims without ever leaving The Who's songbook.
- more depressing - "Cousin Kevin" also "Fiddle About"
- more emotionally ambiguous - "A Quick One (While He's Away)" also "Behind Blue Eyes"
- more narcissistic "My Generation"
- crudely sexual - "Squeeze Box" (admittedly not as overt as today, but then nothing is)
- less musically complex - "Boris the Spider"
- louder - Louder than Daltry'sYEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH! on "Won't Get Fooled Again?" Doesn't exist.
- less creative/original - Uh... crap. Can I just throw anything by Lenny Kravitz in for this one?


Posted by: spd rdr at July 27, 2012 11:29 AM

What does it say about today's pop music audiences that what is - rightly or wrongly - perceived as appealing is a dumbed down version of the music their parents and grandparents listened to?

It's of a piece with the present generation being overwhelmed (they think, sub rosa) by the achievements of The Greatest Generation and the Boomers, the richest generation in history, doing a lousy job of teaching values and work.

As to the overtly sexual nature of pop music, sometimes that's a valid beef. But my mother grew up on the Black Bottom, and I grew up on Elvis Presley's hips being censored from TV. Sometimes it's just the older generation bellyaching.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at July 27, 2012 11:53 AM

This is a discussion we've had from time to time at the Hall. I don't know if Eric Blair often comes by VC, so I'll pretend to be him and tell you what he tells me when I raise this complaint.

This isn't about what the new generation is producing, it's about a collapsing record industry pursing an increasingly narrow range of technical pop/dance music because it's the last segment of the music market that is still profitable.

However, the actual facts are rather bright -- if you step away from what is getting radio play, and start looking at what people are performing on YouTube and at street festivals, local shows, Renaissance fairs, and so forth. There turn out to be a much wider range of highly accomplished musicians playing now than ever before in human history; and you can hear all of it, thanks to the Internet, as well as hearing many of the greatest pieces of previous generations.

Thus, the real question is not whether this generation is ceasing to improve on the previous ones. The real question is -- how do we teach ourselves to turn off the radio, and build better tools for locating and supporting these smaller artists?

Just one example to show that he's not really wrong about this -- I first heard Sarah Marie Mullen on Pandora, which I learned about from you. You can hear her on YouTube, but she also plays Renaissance Faires around the country. We went to see her at the Charlotte RenFaire last fall, and I bought her CDs from her directly.

So it's out there -- you just have to work harder to find the part of it you like.

Posted by: Grim at July 27, 2012 12:45 PM

Oh I remember her! I commented how I liked her hair and Cass accused the Oink Cadre of ogling her decolletage. :P

Posted by: MikeD at July 27, 2012 01:02 PM

Yeah, I remember that conversation too.

Anyway, she's a classically trained harpist, and extremely talented at many forms of harp music. But if you don't like classical harp, whatever you do like, it's out there waiting to be found.

The problem we have is that we don't have a good system in place for finding it, yet. You can't search YouTube for it if you don't already know you like it. Pandora works well as a starting tool, though -- explore things you know you like, find some new things, and then start searching around those new things and see what comes up.

Posted by: Grim at July 27, 2012 01:46 PM

Music FAILS has a bunch of these kinds of comparisons (old vs new):


Beyonce vs Queen: http://cheezburger.com/6414230784


30's vs 60's: http://music.failblog.org/2012/07/16/music-fails-omg-the-s-suck-music-was-so-much-better-in-the-s/


But this one is WIN: http://music.failblog.org/2012/04/11/music-fails-music-then-vs-music-now/

Posted by: Dan Irving at July 27, 2012 02:27 PM

Aw hail...

I went to Dan's WIN link **gasps for breath while laughing aloud** and read the sample lyrics of someone named Nicki Minaj. A person who apparently may, or may not be a stupid hoe.

**wheeze**cough**wheeze**

Who knew there was a Jerry Springer music label?!

Posted by: bthun at July 27, 2012 03:02 PM

It all started with Bolero; write about ten playful measures and then just make it bigger and louder. ;-)

Give some credit back to The Who for female empowerment with "My Wife". But back in jr. high with original vinyl "Tommy" I would skip the second of the four sides due to the nastiness of it all.

Posted by: tomg51 at July 27, 2012 04:41 PM

I always like "Quadrophenia" better than "Tommy". The underlying premise for "Tommy" was pretty weird.

It's just that the really crappy pop songs of the 50's, 60's and 70's are forgotten. And only the reasonably good stuff gets played again, and again, and again.....

Sure, most pop music is dreck. 90% of everything is crap (Theodore Sturgeon).

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at July 28, 2012 01:07 AM

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