Common sense dictates that the battle between science and religion will almost certainly rage on until the end of time. Now, science has picked a fight with another intangible. This week a Spanish study declares today’s pop music to be too loud and homogenous. No joke, people. According to Reuters,
A team led by artificial intelligence specialist Joan Serra at the Spanish National Research Council ran music from the last 50 years through some complex algorithms and found that pop songs have become intrinsically louder and more bland in terms of the chords, melodies and types of sound used.
At first, this news made my curmudgeonly old soul leap for joy (before promptly breaking it’s hip and using its theoretical Life Alert to call for help). However, as I read on, I became sort of sad. Serra went on to say
We found evidence of a progressive homogenization of the musical discourse. In particular, we obtained numerical indicators that the diversity of transitions between note combinations - roughly speaking chords plus melodies - has consistently diminished in the last 50 years.
It almost sounds like he stopped just short of saying “and by the way, what’s with the dollar sign in Ke$ha’s name? GET A JOB, YA FREAKIN HIPIPIES!”
On one hand, I agree. Today’s pop charts look like vomit. It’s as if we keep eating yesterday’s biggest hits, removing most of the nutrients through partial digestion, and then puking them out again before repeating the process, eventually binging on our own vomit as our food supply becomes scarcer and our hunger remains insatiable. Metaphorically speaking, of course. The problem is not that our generation is incapable of making good music – nor have we stopped doing so – but the public’s taste has been worn down. We expect less of ourselves.
Serra covers these bases as well, saying that our timbre pallet has become poorer. What this essentially means is that a musical note is a musical note, whether it’s played on a piano, saxophone, guitar, or accordion. People’s desire for variety – and with it the music industry's drive to produce it – has adopted a lower expectation bar for our hits.
I’d like to repeat that it’s not an incapability of producing; it’s a satisfaction with mediocrity. It’s not that there’s not great music still being made, it’s that the public has little to no appetite for it. For every’ Ke$ha, there’s a Frank Ocean, and for every new Madonna (aka MDNA) album, there’s a new and significantly better Wilco album.
There’s a common misconception that pop means something other than “popular,” that there’s a consistent and specific sound to a pop song. There isn’t. The Beatles were just as pop as Katy Perry – they just made different kinds of music. Pop as a genre leans different ways through the generations, leaning toward rock, swing, doo-wop, metal, grunge, hip-hop, up until now, whose sounds are not too far unlike that of the 70’s and early 80’s. Currently pop is dance and no matter how dance is achieved, it’s a successful product. Does it get you high? Don’t ask questions, just smoke it!
As radio loses its clout and more of our music consumption happens during trips to the bar and during commercial breaks (yes, commercials are starting to become the new music video), we associate music with products and good times rather than other good music. But I refuse to lose hope.
As I write this, I have the new Passion Pit album, Gossamer, blasting through my ears. On their second effort, Passion Pit remains a relentlessly modern band, but refuses to accept the notion that modernism means blandness. There is just as much stress put on weird laser sounds as there is on palette extenders like harmonies and, gasp, real drums! Between the manic, synth heavy “I’ll Be Alright,” and the futuristic soul of “Constant Conversations,” these guys show that music can push on into the future without sounding like carbon copies of itself.
Funk isn’t dead: check out the Prince-inspired R&B freak Gordon Voidwell. Feel the need to rock out old school? Well just last year The Sheepdogs were gracing the cover of Rolling Stone, and they still rock just as hard as anything that came out in the last 30 years. Need something experimental? tUnE-yArDs take the psycho-dancehall ideologies of David Byrne and Talking Heads in the modern age.
I do not have a mind for science. A friend of mine once explained to me the importance of a balanced diet by breaking down how digestion works while I realized that it’s a miracle I can tie my own shoes. However, in this case I completely understand. Science may be the pesky little brother who tells on you for swearing, but dammit, you did use the f-word a lot. It’s time to make a change! There will always be pop music and there will (hopefully) always be good music. Now that we’ve done the research, tested our hypothesis, and reported our findings, it’s time to learn our lesson and make the two synonymous once again.