Usually by late July, the music-obsessed among us have collected a few great frothy radio songs, insistent innocent-seeming bonbons that invade the brain and have been known to inspire rash impulsive behavior. You know these songs – they’re the ones you wouldn’t admit to repeating over and over again during more sensible seasons.
This year, it’s different. I’m still searching. I have replayed exactly one track from the new Black Eyed Peas – “Boom Boom Pow,” the single– and after being bludgeoned by “Poker Face,” I finally gave in to the whirlwind known as Lady Gaga on the strength of her wondrously blithe “Just Dance.” And that’s about it. Sigh.
There are, of course, a zillion theories for this. Perhaps it’s just that the bar has been set so high in recent years (Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back,” etc.) Perhaps the Disney machine, currently offering Demi Lovato’s utterly forgettable “Don’t Forget,” has finally run out of fairy goop to pour into the mold.
Then there’s the more frightening dystopian explanation: That pop music is now being created in such a vacuum, according to such an unforgivingly rigid set of specifications, that there’s simply no more air getting in. The Kanye tracks are great, in their Kanye-track way. Plenty accomplished and mostly joyless. And since virtually everyone in the pop or R&B game is copping some key bit of Kanye, we’re hearing lots of dim knock-offs. It’s as though we’re locked in a generic loop – few producers aiming for pop or R&B ubiquity dare proffer a rhythm concept that ventures radically from the status quo. Everybody’s chasing an Auto-Tune ideal. In a straightjacket. With a laptop as the primary “instrument.” In this keeping-up-with-Jonses mode, nobody can afford to experiment, or venture beyond the latest tracks from competitors, or, more significantly, to engage the past on any meaningful level. It’s been years since Christina Aguilera did her tramp-retro move, and look where that got her.
Go ahead and blame the super-paranoid barons of the music business – hey, they might have missed the digital revolution, but they’re still very very good at selling the next iteration of a proven formula.
Surely, though, this insularity itself is a factor: Art suffers when its creators no longer see themselves as part of a continuum, or their art as connected, in some small way, to a protracted conversation that goes back generations. That’s what’s happening now. Our hitmakers don’t appear to be terribly curious about the world outside their door, much less the music from days gone by. If they even know who Duke Ellington is, they certainly don’t follow his example, his embrace of ideas and sounds outside of his own experience. The current bigshots are too busy – or too arrogant – to seek inspiration from what’s come before. The results, alas, speak for themselves.
Recordings of Interest, from The List
#1 from Winn Carroll, Birmingham, AL - 07/24/2009 7:59
listen to Mr. Hudson’s new single “Supernova” i would very much like to hear ur expert opinion on it Mr. Moon
#2 from Michael K. Denny, Minneapolis, MN USA - 07/29/2009 8:42
Who can we trust with the history of rock and roll if today’s players have no concept of history?
#3 from Michael K. Denny, Minneapolis, MN USA - 07/29/2009 8:46
Who can we trust with the future of rock and roll if today’s players have no concept of history?
#4 from Michael K. Denny, Minneapolis, MN USA - 07/30/2009 12:49
My 2009 summer single: “This Tornado Loves You” by Neko Case. Who needs radio airplay?
#5 from xc - 08/03/2009 3:58
What you wrote about is all pop nonsense. There is good stuff out there like yacht, best coast, kurt vile, kid sister and a million others just dig.
#6 from Michael K. Denny, Minneapolis, MN USA - 08/04/2009 2:50
OK, XC, put up: What is your summer single of 2009?
#7 from cale, Washington, DC - 08/06/2009 10:22
Hands down the song of the summer: Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell (Wallpaper Remix) by Das Racist.
#8 from Winn Carroll, Birmingham,AL - 08/12/2009 12:56
Check out my 50 Albums to Listen to before the end of Summer on Twitter!
#9 from tom moon - 08/12/2009 5:26
kurt vile is hardly making summer singles!
Michael asked and I’ll second it, what’s your vote for a summer single?