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Is Popular Music Becoming Trivialized?

Is Popular Music Becoming Trivialized?
Many people say that popular music is becoming standardized, that recording artists’ songs seem to follow a sort of a formula for success, and that popular music in general has become trivialized. Jordi de Rooij, a Dutch/Scottish musician and scholar explains how popular music has ended up in this situation.

Jordi tells the story of how popular music began. Various talented individuals got together with other such musicians or on their own, playing in bars and clubs until they developed a following. Then once they had earned enough money “from the bottom of the barrel,” to rent a studio for a studio session, they would make a record and try and get it on the radio, because radio DJ’s were always looking for new talent. The more the song was broadcast on the radio, the more attention the group would get, and this was how popular music was developed in the 1950s. Rock'n'roll, says Jordi, was not part of the establishment.

It seems that in the early days, music was very localized. Liverpool had it’s own ‘sound’, Manchester another, London yet another. Somewhere along the line, all that changed. What happened? Jordi makes the point that the world has changed. In the 1960s, going on holiday would usually involve going to another part of the UK, to the coast maybe. Nowadays, going on holiday means traveling abroad. Our concept of space has changed. Add to that the effect of the digital revolution; the world is more interconnected now and multicultural. We have integrated far more than before, and the music industry like every other industry has become a part of that movement. But in those days, each different location had its own style and music.

In the second part of the program, Jordi discusses the absence of messages in contemporary popular music, something that host John Harrison says he harks back to in the 60s and 70s. Jordi comments that if you look, for example, at the main names in music today such as: Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Calvin Harris, Drake, you will not find one musician who is trying to maintain a strong political or cultural stance. Most of the lyrics seem to be about sex, because sex sells. It would probably be more difficult today to advocate for a political or social stance in your music, Jordi commented. In those days, when Michael Jackson debuted on MTV with Billie Jean, this was groundbreaking news; the first time that a black person had appeared on what was considered to be a white man’s channel…  Of course now, Jordi says, people do not have the Vietnam War to sing about, Gay Rights and color are no longer something to struggle for. Host John Harrison suggests that there are two reasons for there being less of a message in popular music. There is, indeed, less to fight for, maybe, but more important is that students and young people now are a lot more concerned with surviving and getting a job than before. Jordi says that people really show themselves when there is a crisis, you can see who is who. At that time, people felt themselves to be involved in a crisis, and the crisis was real. Now, for various reasons, young people, Jordi says, do not feel that there any issues which they can engage themselves with in the same way.

The program ends with a brief discussion of the way that popular music has been commercialized. In the modern day, Jordi explains, we have so much power to sell music, with the internet, with music videos and sampling, something which was only introduced in the 1980s. Power corrupts Jordi says, and there is so much power in the music industry that the days when people would just really love their music, and they would have different themes, tastes and something to say, has simply gone from mainstream music.

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