A RESPONSE TO ‘THE MUSIC’

large (15)

So The London Ladybird wants to talk about music.

First of all, an admission – I was partially goaded into reading this piece and therefore may have had a few preconceptions. Having re-read it, I want to state that I agree with a lot of the points made. However, and it would be very boring if this wasn’t the case, I do have a few points I would like to make myself.

I am not entirely sure what The LL is driving at overall: is it people who make judgements about music they know nothing about; is it people who try to follow what’s cool rather than what they like; is it people who think everything was better back in the day and there is no good music being made now; is it people who don’t like the current dominance of generic and meaningless popular music of all genres; or is it people who believe that there is such a thing as good and bad music and are vocal about their opinion?

Music is a tough thing to debate, like all art it is inherently subjective, and therefore elicits powerful opinions along hard to define concepts. I accept that there can be no scientific or objective categorisation of what constitutes good or bad music and we must therefore be careful when seeking to pass judgement. However, also like all other art forms within our society, music cannot be separated from money – the two are inseparable, and this relationship cannot and must not be overlooked.

I am not going to deal in depth with all of the questions listed above; suffice to say many of them are too ridiculous to take seriously, and some I must admit, I think The LL alluded to in a ‘straw man’ type argument in order to further her point. So first let me be clear:

People who make judgements about music they know nothing about are stupid.

People who try to follow what’s cool rather than what they actually like, are misguided, unlucky and doomed to failure.

People who think everything was better back in the day and don’t value contemporary music are small-minded and have no appreciation for musical evolution and diversity.

These statements may seem harsh or judgemental but there you go, sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand.

The last two questions however are more difficult.

Let’s start with ‘the current dominance of generic and meaningless popular music of all genres.’ Straight away I would like to make clear that I know generic and meaningless music is not a new phenomenon, I know that some popular music has merit, and I know that this paragraph is perhaps going to identify me as one of the people The LL was talking about. The problem with popular music in our society is that it has become, more than ever before, big business. The sums of money available to those who achieve even the most modest success are enough to provide the basis for an extremely comfortable lifestyle. This lifestyle, and therefore the music which can be the vehicle to it, cannot be separated from the associated celebrity trappings of trashy magazines, banal gossip columns and meaningless award ceremonies. The draw of this industry, and the vast sums that it generates in merchandise, ticket and advertising revenue, is such that very intelligent people dedicate their careers to successfully introducing new products into the market. It is this dynamic that has ruined popular music. These executives understand that in our mass media and mass consumption environment it is incredibly rare for unique artistic expression to lead to widespread public acclaim and therefore healthy profits. This can be seen across music, film and publishing (how many celebrity cook books and ‘autobiographies’ will be on the best seller lists this Christmas?). Their strategy is therefore to appeal to the lowest common denominator, to deliver a product which appeals to the widest possible range of people. It is no accident that three generations of the same family can all be into One Direction.

It is this ‘wide and shallow’ strategy that causes me such pain. I do not dislike a large chunk of ‘popular’ music (not all!) on any ideological basis; I dislike it because there is nothing to it. Much of the music is incredibly risk averse, following established patterns of formulaic success, and does not do anything to contribute to the incredible canon of world music that has developed over the course of human history. This is by design – things which are new, or different, or present a challenge through being ambitious, are not immediately successful. It takes much trial and error, graft and care, and a certain amount of faith from the consumer for these things to get off the ground. Record execs do not like what this kind of time, risk and commitment does to their bottom line, so they focus on what is guaranteed to sell x units in y amount of time – it’s safe and it follows an established route for commercial success.

For anyone looking for an example of this in action please note the current explosion in awful dance / EDM / ‘house’ (it’s not house) guff being relentlessly released into the atmosphere. Or the complete bastardisation of what used to be RnB. What happened to hip hop too while we’re at it? ‘Popular music’ waits for actual innovators in the music industry to make a breakthrough and then relentlessly rides it into the ground ‘Little Boy’ style until the market is completely saturated.

Linking this ‘popular music’ question with ‘good or bad music,’ I do take The LL’s point regarding different songs and different music serving different purposes. There are certainly things I enjoy in the club which I would not sit and listen to in my lounge. Similarly there are tracks which are inescapably catchy even if there does not appear to be anything particularly good about them. But does this mean all music is equal? That we simply lose ourselves in a big subjective grey mess where nothing is subjected to critique or analysis?

I believe that the fundamental differences that exist in this debate are based upon an underlying gap between the people who are doing the debating. For some, music is something which can be enjoyable; it might provide a distraction on the train to work, or the soundtrack to a boozy weekend. These people are pretty easy going, they do not demand much of their music, simply that they can either dance to it, sing along with it, or throw up on the dance floor in time to it.

Then there are the people who cannot imagine being without music, the thought of not being able to listen to all the songs they’ve so far discovered and will continue to discover, is abhorrent to them. When they find music they really like it’s an almost spiritual experience, music has the ability to transform their mood and completely take them out of themselves. Unsurprisingly these people are more demanding of their music, it has to grab them in one way or another, it has to make them feel something, to stir something in them. And these people have no tolerance for the chaff that typically occupies the top 40 and stirs nothing but the bank balance of a suit in an office.

Now to be clear I am not saying one of these types is better or worse than the other – simply that they are different. I do however know who’s music advice I would take more seriously…

In summary: money ruins most things – particularly art, and we each get the music we deserve.

Back chat supplied by Nick Yandle. Response to follow.

The Music

large (12)There’s nothing worse than a music snob.

You know the types I’m talking about. Those who believe Frank Ocean to be a waste of time without having listened to one of his tracks and those who berate Ed Sheeran for being too mainstream. Basically, I’m talking about those who make unfounded statements for no other reason except for the fact that it’s cool to say that you have a distaste for modern, or even just popular, music.

I tend to just put it down to ignorance and a lack of dedication to the cause on your part. Dig a little deeper into today’s music and you’ll find some hidden treasures. And correct me if I’m wrong but it takes time to tick by for things to be deemed timeless, much like denim or the LBD. You laugh now but Ben Howard or Paolo Nutini, men capable of a lot more than some of your favourite golden oldies, could too be timeless, if you give them time, of course. And if you really do feel that way about modern music, then why are you dancing to the Arctic Monkeys on a night out? They released their first album in 2006. I don’t care if you’re drunk. Don’t be a hypocrite.

I wholeheartedly agree that it’s infuriating when an artist makes millions from generic dance tunes pumped out of what seems to be their arse holes, but don’t generalise and say that there’s no musical talent at the moment when you fail to do your research. Right now, sadly yes, the mainstream is all about mega bucks and fame and I would love to find a way to bring a wider variation of talent to the fore. But when you tell me that it’s impossible to boast about the talent of today compared with musicians from the 1970s, I can do nothing but laugh.

I’m not saying I’m a musical genius and I probably don’t know as much, technically, as some of you reading this, but I do listen to all kinds of music, all the time. My dad had me listening to Suede at ten years old and I was completely unaware of how political I was being when I introduced my best friend to Morrissey back in primary school. But it wasn’t all deep lyrics and men dressed as vicars. Dad also stood by my side as I sang along to B*Witched at Wembley in my pedal pushers with a light up wand and an oversized Fanta, and he whole-heartedly backed me through my Spice Girl phase. I believe that creative taste not only comes from the media, society or current trends, I think it’s also something that’s inherited, which makes it okay to appreciate older music, but we must be tolerable of all types.

I’ve been trained, by my wonderful – but completely barking – parents, to reserve no space in my life for pretentiousness, but I get when it when people are frustrated that a lack of talent becomes a sensation for reasons such as a leaked sex tape or a handsome face. But sadly, that’s been the way of the world for a long time now, and as epic as Elvis was, he too was predominantly a pretty face and a pair of snake hips. Unwarranted success is not a thing of today; in fact, it was something that was born a long time ago.

Compare Primark, for instance, to higher quality labels made with more craft, skill and a higher thread count; yes there’s an obvious difference in quality, but they each have a value.  Imagine you’d spent a shed load of cash on that one off trend last year? These fads are what clothing for a fiver was made for. I mean, thank GOD I bought a trouser skirt for a quid. That’s one piece I’m glad to see the back of, but I enjoyed it while it lasted. And the same goes for music. I was at a party this weekend where I watched a little girl ‘Shake It Off’ with more style and grace than Taylor Swift herself. Alongside her was my mother of 53 years, a granny of 85 years and two 16 year old males. I doubt that we’ll still be singing it in 2045, but a song that brings a range of people together and can provide that much happiness for three minutes, is worthy of something in my opinion and shouldn’t be mocked.

Do more of what makes you happy and less of what you think should make you happy. If you want to compose classical music by day and watch Miley Cyrus in concert by night, then do it. Life is too short to panic about who might be judging you or what is cool. And if you genuinely want to listen to Chopin all day errrday, then okay, but don’t condemn Joe Bloggs for listening to Usher on repeat – particularly if he’s going through a bad break up.

I’m not wholly exempt from this snobbery and have to check myself when I judge the footwear of tube hoppers across the capital or wince at men in jewellery, but if they’re happy, then I should be too. My brother thinks that some of the clothes I wear are outrageous and I do have a somewhat eclectic music taste but that’s what headphones were made for, as well as an inherent lack of giving a shit.

Being able to accept people for who they are and allowing them to love what they love in peace, whilst having your own opinion? You can’t get classier than that.

So just accept that some people prefer One Direction to The Beatles and get on with your life. I’m sure they probably think Dylan is garbage. And that’s fine too, kind of.

Each to their own.