I grew up performing for my family on Sunday afternoons after church. My performances consisted of song, dance and storytelling. A lot of my acts entailed the spoken word. Back then words had meaning. These days we barely use words. We are one acronym short of a collective brain aneurysm. I get that we want to use acronyms in reports to save space and time. Yet, I have no idea why we feel, as a society, the need to use acronyms in day to day speech. How many times must we hear a vapid conversation start off with “O.M.G.” and not “oh my God” Anyway, I digress as I wanted to use this space to reflect on this year’s music offerings. If my mom had been alive, she would have just opened the Kelly Clarkson “Wrapped in Red” ; the Luke Bryan ”Crash my Party” ; Blake Shelton’s “Silent Night” and Kacey Musgrave’s, “Same Trailer Different Park”. My mom was a country girl in the city. I looked at the top 100 lists that are ubiquitous at this time of the year and wondered what she would think of the 2013 music scene.
Reflecting on this past year’s music is some scary navel gazing act. Music most definitely took on an air of millennialism. I would venture as far as to say music was one big “selfie.” There apparently is a huge trend to emphasize fame, and image, thereby being more likely to think every two seconds as to how they could be cast onto a reality show. In May 2013, Time Magazine wrote about Millennials noting that “They’re narcissistic. They’re lazy. They’re coddled. They’re even a bit delusional.” Obviously, that is a gross generalization but every generation gets stereotyped based on certain realities of the time. The rapid technological advancements of our time lead to a certain self-focus and belief that one’s opinion needs to be heard out loud wherever, whenever.
There are numerous top 100 countdowns at this time of the year. I checked out the I Heart Radio list and decided to do a bit of qualitative analysis. Out of the top 100 from the I Heart Radio list, 25 were songs that “featured” another artist. Out of the top 5 songs, four had a featured artist. For example, the top second song on the list was “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz. All this “featuring” could be a function of millennialism. Supposedly, while Generation X is self-sufficient-they had to be as they are the smallest group population wise- Millennials love team work and networking. It now seems that team work infectiousness has spread to the music industry. Also, everybody –even if they just hum one verse-has to get mad props. All egos must be accounted for. The upside is that there are interesting collaborations afoot and people are getting credit for their work.
A disturbing trend emerging this past year was the use of the #hashtag in song titles. For example, there is the song title of #thatpower by will.I.am featuring a lot of people, including Justin Bieber. Song titles are a huge part of the marketing and branding now. I am not too sure song titles are to have deep meaning, but the use of a #hashtag seems to just be demeaning. We have gone from speaking in acronyms to speaking in hashtags. Even mega-belter Mariah Carey got in on the act with her song #beautiful, featuring Miguel. I don’t know who he is either. Oh twitter what have you wrought?
Speaking of the twitterverse. Therein is a little trend called #Throwback Thursdays. It’s when you get to reminisce about things that are oldshool. You bring out and post for all to see those old photos from the ‘80s when you wore the multi-colored rubber bracelets and your hair was fanned out or jerry curled. The 2013 music scene was like one long Throwback Thursday. We had the song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke featuring Pharrell & T.I. This song was the retro summer disco rage at the heart of a court feud with representatives of the old school icon Marvin Gaye. We also had Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” with that super funky retro beat. The melodies were not the only throwback this past year. Many of the musicians who released an album this year were also a throwback to the ‘80s and ‘90s. The Pet Shop Boys released an album with a song titled “Love is a Bourgeois Construct” and lyrics that quote poet William Blake. That majorly qualifies as old school. My mom would have gotten a kick out of that. Depeche Mode, one of the ultimate ‘80s angst-ridden bands, released an album called Delta Machine. Long-suffering Johnny Marr (of The Smiths) released a solo album called the Messenger. Is he a prophet time traveler? Let me go back to the Pet Shop Boys. Did I mention that they shared a writing credit with 17th century composer Henry Purcell? That’s a major throwback.
Besides hashtags and throwbacks, narcissism and egos were everywhere. They were featured and they were the main act. We need not look any further than the ego-meister extraordinaire: Kanye West. He released his highly lauded (god help us) album called Yeezus. While his album is generally a good one, luckily for us his videos were complete ego-flops that lent themselves to awesome parodies. Thank you James Franco- you may not be a good Oscar host but you do a mean parody. I suppose the reason everyone went batty for Lorde’s “Royals” was because of the very nature of Kanye West’s ego excesses. Although, I must admit (even if it is not popular to say) I can’t stand that Royals song. I don’t find it that deep. However, if you are to compare it to, let’s say, Jay Z’s (notice hyphen is missing now) recent lyrics of “I just might learn to speak Mandarin Japanese for the yen that I’m handling” Lorde’s song is the Grand Canyon of lyrical meaning. Maybe Lady Gaga will give her a round of “Applause” wondering “if fame had an IV”. Talk about an ego-trip.
Lastly, as I have noted previously it appears that we are enveloped within an epidemic of triteness. As we blast the music from our cars, computers and ipods, we are mired ear deep in triteness posing as grand insight. Let’s take Katy Perry’s “Roar” which is now sharing the commercial spotlight with Bareilles’ “Brave”. The song “Roar” is being turned into some kind of female empowerment anthem hitting the line “I went from zero from my own hero.” Huh? Let’s take the other ubiquitous female, Ms. Miley Cyrus. She had several big hits this year that rose up the hit charts primarily because of wacky videos and live performances. I readily admit that when I listen to the radio I wouldn’t be able to point out a Miley Cyrus song when it comes on. The other day in the shower, I heard a song with the following lyrics ”It’s our party we can do what we want to, it’s our house we can love who we want to, it’s our song we can sing if we want to, it’s my mouth I can say want to.” I thought to myself what a trite song with a billion and one clichés. Then I learned it was the highly lauded “We Can’t Stop” song by Miley Cyrus. Really? That is what passes for insightful these days. I think the Beastie Boys said it best in the ‘80s when they said we had to fight for our right to party. My favorite song in terms of awful lyrics is “I love it” by Icona Pop Featuring Charli. She crashed her car into a bridge and just doesn’t care. I also just don’t care for the song.
The year of 2013 started off with a lip-synced performance by Beyonce at the US President’s inauguration. She quickly followed up with a great live performance at the SuperBowl. She redeemed herself and then some. Let’s hope 2014 brings us some good lyrics, melodies and performances that don’t involve giant screen kitty cats. Furthermore, no more gangnam style. And may we finally find something that rhymes with “hug me.” Please. Pretty Please.