Pop music versus the hipsters

Dear H,

We begged God to bring back the days when our musicians were ugly. This was when He gave us Lil' Yachty.  For centuries we had been misinterpreting the Bible, and now it was God's turn to misinterpret us.

What we meant was simple.  We wanted something less "corporate;" an artist so organic and original and talented that it didn't matter what he looked like -- like when Steven Tyler sang Sweet Emotion and women went crazy for him even though he looked like a horse.  Our bands today are so manufactured they're practically made out of plastic; and instead of wondering if they're original we're left many times wondering whether they're human.  

Our getting here was inevitable.  Adam Smith told us about the division of labor in 1776 and two hundred years later somebody applied it to music.  They realized a one-man factory wasn't cutting it and so they made factories for people.  One man was an artist but wasn't a performer.  The other was a performer but he wasn't an artist.  Artists and performers weren't necessarily models and dancers.  Models weren't necessarily marketers; and marketers weren't necessarily moneymen.  The whole of these came together and what we got was One Direction.  The division of labor was supposed to be an improvement but it ended up killing the fun of it.  It has only improved the industry.  Pop music is good as it's ever been and every other kind of music is worse.

Our popular music is the equivalent of the cheap shirts sold in our Walmarts -- many times obvious, repetitive, cranked out en masse but basic and tolerable.  A new sound gets introduced and over a decade it gets run into the ground.  The first guy who does it is a god and the last guy does it better and we think he's a devil.  We chew up musicians and then spit them out.  We worship them one year and then make fun of them for a decade.  We call them one-hit wonders as an insult when almost nobody else has any hits.  If an artist stays the same then we get bored.  If he shakes some things up, we say he ruined himself when he changed*.  Either way we always call him a has-been.  The life of a successful musician ends in a tragic accident or a slow and horrible public descent into something much worse than obscurity.

But back to ugly musicians.  Knowing that they couldn't just go back to the days when singers and songwriters were one and the same, corporations went back to the days when singers were different from models.  They gave us American Idol and The Voice.  They thought it would make things organic having our most boring neighbors sing us to sleep.  What they did was they exposed themselves more than ever before.  The machinations of the industry became apparent; we discovered what everyone since the beginning of the Bible knew except us -- that idols were and could be made.  It was in the power of the industrialists to make and break our gods at will, and everyone discovered you could have a hit album by performing on a game show.

This outright conspiracy gave birth to another.   The local music scene was the answer to the corporate establishment: an endless swamp of sub-talent being celebrated because it wasn't sponsored, and an ocean of fans who were willing to devote their time to regions instead of businesses.  What mattered is that we picked something that hadn't been picked by fat cats; and eventually this turned into us picking something that nobody had ever heard of.  And the reason nobody heard of it was because it wasn't any good**.  

The free man was thus trapped by his liberty.  Years of his life were spent listening to things he didn't really like, and his perseverance granted him a kind of saintliness in the eyes of his effeminate liberal companions.  He was in a certain sense an ascetic among the hedonists.  He was into music for the music; and what that meant was he was willing to listen to lots of bad music to find a little bit of good music.  His pride kept him away from bad pop.  It also kept him away from good pop.  It led him into tons of bad indie, and he ended up worse off than he started.  And personally I think he deserves it.


*If you still want to be a musician then consider the following.  After the first 50 times hearing You Shook Me All Night Long I began to hate the song.  After about the 5,000th time playing You Shook Me All Night Long AC/DC probably began to hate themselves.  Truth be told they got the worse end of the bargain.

**Some clarification is necessary here.  It isn't strictly true to say that local bands aren't any good; but by any good I mean the kind of good that makes you stand out above all the other goodness.  The truth is we're swamped by the mid-range talents of our artists, and that what we're experiencing isn't a lack of goodness, but an excess.  Our tastes have been refined to snobbishness, and we simply no longer prefer what many of us used to enjoy.  The great change began when the first family brought home a record player.

John Philip Sousa, the man responsible for churning out some of the best marching songs the world has ever heard, once went before congress to demand that gramophones and player pianos be banned.  His reasoning on the matter was simple.
These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy...in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape.
As we all know now, what actually happened was much different.  Instead of all of us losing our talents some of us became more talented than anybody'd ever seen.  The magic of technology gave us new sounds; our greatest performers were heard at dinner parties for cheap; and what had most usually been performed for friends and family became a lucrative business to be sent all over the nation.

The result of Sousa's protests was neither the salvation of man's musical mind nor its destruction but the creation of some of our copyright laws; and now our local artists compete not against anything like local families, but against the demi-gods of performance such as Led Zeppelin and Nirvana and Depeche Mode.  We used to go see people tap-dance until the day we saw Elvis and James Brown on television.  A good live show even by a mid-rate talent is something to be enjoyed.  But when you're on YouTube, you're not up against your little brother -- you're up against Michael Jackson.