Today’s Pop Music: I’m Tuning Out

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by Alison Eadie

If you haven’t  been living under a rock lately, chances are you’ve heard all about Miley Cyrus’s performance of “We Can’t Stop” at this year’s VMAs, complete with twerking, giant teddy bears, and foam fingers. Her controversial performance thrilled some, and outraged others who now wonder, “Is this is what pop music is about these days?”

And it is. Remember Lady Gaga hatching out of an egg onstage at the 2011 Grammys to perform “Born this Way”? Or the year before, Pink dangling above the audience from a ribbon, soaking wet, singing “Glitter in the Air”? It seems each entertainer is competing to be the biggest and the best. The music industry is no longer solely about music, but about the whole scope of entertainment.

 Sadly, the music industry is focused too much around garnering reactions from the viewers. Over 10 million people googled “Miley Cyrus” on August 25, the date of the 2013 VMAs. Another disturbing fact: when the singer bleached her eyebrows to match her blonde pixie cut, more people googled “Miley Cyrus eyebrows” than the number of people living in Worcester, MA (182,669). My question is, if Miley can really sing and write songs, why does she need to hide behind the garish props and autotune? See her excellent cover of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93CZ6oFR8Q0.

The increasing number of spectacle-based performances is only the tip of the iceberg. Today’s pop music is formulaic and unoriginal, and most hit songs are written not by the singers, but by songwriters who know how to engineer a number one hit. Take for example, the three most popular songs of 2012: Taylor Swift’s ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’, Maroon 5’s ‘Payphone’ and Katy Perry’s ‘Part of Me.’ All three were written by the same group of people, a Swedish music production company called Maratone. Creativity  is suffering because once songwriters find what works and makes money, they stick to it.

In my opinion, if you don’t write your own songs, you’re not a real artist. You are just a singer who is stealing someone else’s work and calling it your own. And if your voice has to be heavily auto-tuned just to sound decent, you are not even a singer. Hear Ke$ha without autotune here (although she claims to write her own material): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVjy2zyQ7Oo.

We can complain all we want about the lack of originality and talent from today’s stars, but they make more money than we could ever dream of.  According to Forbes, the world’s highest-paid musician of 2013 is Lady Gaga, at 80 million dollars. With all the publicity and speculation surrounding the release of her new album, Artpop, it’s easy to see why. Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Beyonce each made more than 50 million dollars this year. One Direction, Katy Perry, and Rihanna took home over 40 million each. These artists are releasing albums at light speed- averaging about one album each year. For many musicians, once they find what sells, the actual goal becomes profit, not artistic development. They push aside experimentation and creativity in order to meet the demands of the record label and release albums that will sell. Pop music might lack originality, but it sure is lucrative.

As far as the content of songs, much of today’s pop music has even worse lyrics than “Baby, baby, baby, oh. Baby, baby, baby, no.” (Yes, Justin Bieber, I’m talking to you.) In a new report from The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 33% of popular songs contain explicit references to drug or alcohol use. “That means kids are receiving about 35 references to substance abuse for every hour of music they listen to.” Kids aren’t only being bombarded with drug references, though. Today’s popular music contains more profanity, racial slurs, and demeaning messages than ever.

Rihanna particularly has come under fire for her songs, which many feel are provocative and demeaning to women. Have you ever actually listened to the lyrics of “S&M” or Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” ft. Rihanna? Apparently, she “like[s] the way it hurts” and “love[s] the way you lie.” The message: guys who lie and hurt you make great partners. After her abusive relationship with Chris Brown, one would think her songs might reflect the opposite, but no. Who won the Icon Award at the AMA’s?  None other than Rihanna.

Thanks to increasing technology, this “music” is more accessible than ever.  Justin Bieber’s VEVO account has been viewed 4,193,366,837 times, the equivalent of almost 60% of the world’s population (7.046 billion). After viewing his page to get this statistic, I was ashamed that one of those views was mine. Music is constantly evolving, and will continue to do so, but hopefully away from the one direction it’s headed in now.