Why Is Music Less Memorable In The 21st Century?
Popular music is excellent in 2020, rap, dance pop, neo-r&b, chill soul, Latin Urbano -they are all hitting heights. Folk, alt rock, indie rock and Americana on the other hand, spiked in the 00s and retreated in the 10s. Country didn’t connect with country-hip hop, or harmony MOR bands, women country singers have taken over though there aren’t enough to matter (I mean the Brandi Carliles) and the last time they nailed the zeitgeist was with Bro-Country. But overall there is a whole lot of music even in the midst of a pandemic and there is a constant onslaught of sound… a wonderful miasma.
But it isn’t great song any more. Sure, that’s a bold statement and it is also a large canvas, but ON THE WHOLE songwriting isn’t what it was.
Look at a man who brought in the 2020s, James Brown, his hooks were not Holland-Dozier-Hollands tune, in the 1970s he wasn’t working from melody but from on the one, from beats. Beats may be hooky but you can’t sing them. When Brown got transferred to turnstiles where DJ scratched em to repeat beats that people could rap over whatever connected Smokey Robinson to James Brown disappeared and Brown won.
The other truth is that music works from repetition out but this isn’t a period where people return to an album even two weeks after its release and even the best. There was a time when albums as great as RTJ4 and Chromatica would have had a shelf life of months and months, now they dissipate with a trace while hip hop pop, the DaBabys and Roddy Ricchs can be popular for months as they take off from the extremely useful Chinese spies at Tik Tok.
So listening to music today two things have happened:
1 – we don’t repeat enough
2 – we don’t listen hard enough.
So the songs don’t stick.
A month after Lady Gaga’s Chromatica here is what I remember songwise:
Rain On Me
Jason Isbell’s Reunions:
Letting You Go
Drake’s Dark Lane Demo Tapes
Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG
Si Veo a Tu Mamá
To stay with Bad Bunny for a moment, YHLQMDLG is one of the best albums of the year, top five, but except for that one song, which heavily samples “The Girl From Ipanema,” I recognize the voice and sound but I can’t glom on the song. Now, part of that might be the Spanish language hurts verbal hooks for me, and also I am sixty-three years old and there is a generational difference (I didn’t have that problem with, say, Grupo Mania) but that notwithstanding the sound itself isn’t memorable the same way.
I have friends who have given up on modern pop and the reason s simple. Rock is terrible, reggae invisible, soul non-existent -you need to keep with EDM and hip hop but EDM and hip hop don’t hit the same places.
As for ears, think back to the 1950s when rock was considered (degenerate) noise. The problem wasn’t the music but an earlier generations inability to hear it, they simply couldn’t. The same thing happens today, we can’t hear what we don’t recognize without really trying, without listening over and over again.
Is it worth it?
It depends who is worthing: to my mind, dropping out of pop music in the mid-90s is an act of cultural nihilism, we simply must try.
Music will be here long after we are gone, if we lose the tunes we gain the arrangements of modern pop, multi track magic. Go back to your 1970s James Brown and move forward from there…