Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why Did Pop Music Start to Suck?

I inadvertantly got into a discussion with Art today about pop music. I know, it's not our usual topic, but I do think it came out of a discussion of 80's metal... so please give us a pass this once. The thing that we both agreed on was that pop music just plain stopped being any good after the 1980's. You can disagree with this statement if you want, but you would be wrong. The fact is, I'm as much a child of the 90's as I was of the 80's, so I don't think my opinion is a result of simple nostalgia. The question is... why did this happen? I have a theory of course.

Think about it... in the 1980's we had a significant number of exceptionally talented mainstream pop artists with their own identities. People like Madonna and Michael Jackson turned out hit album after hit album of consistantly high quality pop music. Artists like Prince, Peter Gabriel, and George Michael not only made great albums but could write songs as well or better than anyone on the record company's payroll. Hell, Prince produced and played all the instruments on most of his albums! Many of these 80's pop acts released great material into the 90's, and in the case of Prince and Madonna... into the 2000's.

But something terrible happened in the 90's. There were solid rock bands that came into prominence in the 90's and enjoyed the great success they deserved... no argument there. But there were little to no new solo pop acts with any longevity and legitimate artistic merit. To put it simply there were no new Princes, Michael Jacksons, Madonnas, or George Michaels in the 90's. My personal reasoning on why this happened has everything to do with image. This might seem strange, because people like Michael Jackson and Madonna were masters of image. Why couldn't similarly shrewd and creative pop artists have found the same success in the 90's? That's the thing... it doesn't have anything to do with these artists talent for creating an image... it has everything to do with the importance of image itself in the visual cable television and MTV era.

This is the way I see it. When music became a visual medium in the early to mid 1980's, the music companies didn't have the time or the forethought to start fresh and manufacture new artists and new images. They just had to pull from the available talent pool. People like George Michael and Prince managed to succeed because they had the ability to create great images... but they were already hard working motivated artists with a shitload of vision. Once the record companies realized the importance of image, they probably became less likely to let younger artists present their music and themselves in new creative ways. They had to stick to what was already working. Who was in charge of deciding what images "worked"? The record companies of course.

My guess would be that a lot of the people who wrote songs on the level of Prince and George Michael found jobs as staff songwriters for the major labels, but were not allowed to step into the spotlight. I'm also willing to bet that a lot of pretty people who could sing and dance got record contracts even when they had no real artistic vision of their own. Creating an image was the job of the producers and all knowing assholes at the major labels. As a result, all we got as far as new artists in the 90's and 2000's were a bunch of pretty people with pre-fabricated studio defined gimmicks.

Now we get soulless shit like The Spice Girls, Mariah Carey, Celene Dion, The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and Beyonce. I hope I'm wrong, and this is my point as well as my biggest fear, but I suspect that we are very unlikely to see a mainstream solo pop act write and perform a song nearly as good as "Doves Cry" "Like a Prayer", or "Father Figure" in this decade or the next.

Like I said, I hope I'm wrong on this. Would somebody please poke holes in my argument. That would make my day. I want to see the second coming of Prince!

1 comment:

Harry Paget Flashman said...

It pretty much went to crap after Burl Ives quit making LP's in the late 50's. But I knew it was over after "Muskrat Love". Bastards!