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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Peeved by popular music

Published: February 6, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.



Last Thanksgiving’s commute back home was particularly grueling. Those of you hailing from New York surely recall the seven-hour road trip home. Inching along through traffic, having nothing but the faint prospect of a decent four-day weekend and semi-palatable turkey dinner to look forward to, we desperately tried anything to pass the time and maintain our sanity (not to mention the feeling in our legs).

For my slow and steady wi-fi-free journey (no thanks to Mega Bus) I sat next to a girl about my age who managed to listen to her iPod for the entire length of the bus ride. While simultaneously texting madly, French-tipped nails pounding away at her Sidekick, this bubblegum blonde drowned out her thoughts to the tune of every Billboard Top 100 song of the past year and a half (yes, I could hear everything). The sad part? I knew every one of those annoying pop songs by heart, though I never once actively tried to accomplish this. In fact, I wish I could unremember the obnoxious earworms. They all somehow managed to creep their way into my subconscious via radio, TV, and other various means of pop culture propaganda.

It wouldn’t be nearly as offensive if the tunes polluting my memory were at least good. They are certainly catchy; that’s not the issue here. The issue is that hardly any of the tunes spewed into the masses by pop music stations have the slightest bit of talent or effort to show for their popularity. If by some chance a melody or lyric sounds half-decent and beyond the boundaries of “foot-tapping good,” you can bet money that it is the musing of some unknown songwriter working in the shadow of a famous artist who takes all the credit.

The popular artists of this generation have something else to show for their success: marketing. Oh, and plastic surgery. There are stunning, digitally-enhanced music videos to accompany meager, digitally-enhanced tunes that are sung by average, digitally-enhanced voices coming from very, very attractive digitally-enhanced celebrities. And if your judgment isn’t enough to determine if a particular “musician” is worthwhile, the media will certainly do it for you. The fact that you remember a mediocre performer’s name will be ensured by bombardments of shameless plugs, ad campaigns, movie cameos and perfume lines promoted by skilled marketing teams that often have more talent in their field than the celebrities they’re endorsing.

Not all hope is lost, however. For every disappointing pop music outlet there is another source from which to find endless music possibilities and new talent. In fact, with innovative sources like YouTube and satellite radio now coming into play, the possibilities of finding original well-crafted music are endless. Genres and subgenres, and yes, even sub-sub-genres, exist now that weren’t even conceivable a decade ago, thanks partially to improved music technology but mostly to improved methods of distribution. For instance, I would never have even heard of many of my favorite bands had it not been for my nerdy efforts, prodding around through the depths of YouTube. Many average people who happen to be talented musicians make their way to the computer screens of thousands of happy listeners by means of word of mouth alone, without any help from record labels or talent agents to get them there. If they’re lucky enough, they might even spark their own internet phenomena—need I remind you of “Chocolate Rain?” (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, consider yourself lucky—otherwise look this ditty up on YouTube if you want a laugh).

My point with this rant is to urge people to broaden their musical horizons. Yes, we all know that Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” is very cute and catchy, but come on, are you telling me that there aren’t a thousand others like him that could receive a Grammy were they given the opportunity? Give the masses a chance. If you dig a little deeper, you might find a gem buried deep within the vastness of muck out there that people insist on calling music.