The Chainsmokers vs. Billy Joel (or I'm gonna tell you why modern "commercial" music is shit, Part 2!)

The Chainsmokers vs. Billy Joel (or I'm gonna tell you why modern "commercial" music is shit, Part 2!)

(For those of you who haven't read Part 1, I suggest you do so before continuing!) 

Rarely has a blog I've written kicked up as much ruckus as my condemnation of modern "commercial" music and those who feed upon it. My blog was even "critiqued" by the "renowned" Issy Beech, of the illustrious noisey.vice.com. (For those of you who don't have sarcasm detectors, the last statement was dripping with it.) In their harsh deconstruction of my article,

In their harsh deconstruction of my article,"Hey, Idiots! Been Listening to Pop Music? Well That’s Dumb Because It’s Shit", the author adds the most charming endorsement I've ever received in my entire life: "Allow this selfless Chicagoan columnist to explain music to you, you absolute moron!" I won't even begin the cut through the brush because the article is an ad hominem attack against me in the most vicious, irrational way possible. I refuse to parse through the text and refute their statements based almost solely on this line from their diatribe, prompted by my mention of opera singers Maria Callas and Leontyne Price: "Um, Steven? Sorry, who are these people? Are they the members of Little Mix that aren’t Perrie Edwards?"

I refuse to parse through the text and refute their statements based almost solely on this line from their diatribe, prompted by my mention of opera singers Maria Callas and Leontyne Price: "Um, Steven? Sorry, who are these people? Are they the members of Little Mix that aren’t Perrie Edwards?"

I consider such a smear piece a mark of honor yet, rereading my argument, I discovered I had more to say!

Music is, at its very heart, a subjective art. What brings pleasure to one may bring pain to another. Some value simplicity in their music, others complexity. My original argument wasn't based on the subjective pleasure of music but rather the objective.

When analyzing music that has lyrics/words, you have an added layer of analysis behind the apparent. The question I ask myself is "what kind of sense of life does this song offer?"

Often, and I can admit this freely, the musical composition of modern pop music is infectious (despite the dreaded electronic strings and drums.) The problem lies, nine times out of ten, in the lyrics.

Take, for instance, the chorus of the pop hit of the day, "Closer" by The Chainsmokers:

"So baby pull me closer in the backseat of your Rover
That I know you can’t afford
Bite that tattoo on your shoulder
Pull the sheets right off the corner
Of the mattress that you stole
From your roommate back in Boulder
We ain’t ever getting older."

What we are treated to is a laundry list, in rapid succession and accompanied by a hurly-burly of pop guff, of the tedium of a hipster gone awry. A modern day "Peter Pan" who feels the need to add every minuscule detail to the narrative of the song. What results is musical vomit, flung at you with a vehement, hedonistic core that strikes hard.

Contrast that with the first verse of Billy Joel's "laundry list" song, "We didn't Start the Fire":

"Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio

Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, "The King and I" and "The Catcher in the Rye"

Eisenhower, vaccine, England's got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye"

We are once again treated to a long list in rapid succession, yet this one probes deeper that the previous. We are left in the dark just as much as the previous song's trite detail but, upon closer inspection, the verse builds on the past. It's a song that is mysterious and esoteric, but it prods the listener to discover who Walter Winchell and Liberace are, if they don't come from an era where those names were commonplace.

The other lynchpin of my argument is the fact that modern pop music isn't innovative. Whether it's Fallout Boy's "Uma Thurman" sampling The Munster's Theme or Destiny's Child's "Bootylicious" harpooning the guitar hook of Stevie Nicks "Edge of Seventeen", the songs of today are less willing to push the envelope and more apt to pocket the cash that lies inside.

Music, as in any art, relies on visionaries. For every Mozart, there are hundreds of lesser-known composers who languish because they weren't willing to challenge the sounds the masses accepted. Yet, sadly, there are no modern pop artists who are visionaries. In the din of the computer-generated song, the churning of the soul needed to compose a powerful pop tune has been preempted by the silence of technology.

The haunting melodic hook of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear The Reaper" and the chorus and french horn solos in The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" have been relegated to the "kitsch" market. Younger artists strive to make the sound of their songs as androgynous and devoid of personality as possible.

I don't say all of this to sound like a bitter old curmudgeon at 25, I simply want to register my distaste for the current trends of an industry which I currently dedicate my life to. It pains me to see the past not only fade, but become ridiculed by the usurpers who currently hold the proverbial bull by the horns (and have castrated him in the process...thank you Bob Barker!)

I use the word "shit" in my title of this analysis not to shock, but to impart the gravity of my feeling of the value of this music.

And that, again, is why modern pop music is shit!


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