Friday, February 1, 2013

Music's New Generation Gap is Drastically DIfferent

The traditional view of older generations having different tastes of music than the younger is one that may just be dead. Sure there is the whole dubstep thing, but that seems more niche than anything else...

What I have noticed in the barely relevant mainstream music media is that authenticity means more than the quality of the music being produced. Two weeks ago on some Star Search ripoff show, a contestant stated she did "the country thing" and apparently offended Keith Urban who is self-identified as a country artist. After this Mariah Carey and Randy Jackson proceeded to provide that "veteran music industry advice" and grill this girl regarding if she's Country or something. Nicki Minaj was visually frustrated at this conversation as was anyone who is sane. This conversation could only exist with two people who are oblivious to the way people listen to music in 2013. Randy Jackson then went on about his 30 years of industry experience (NOT something to brag about) and Mariah ranted about some other nonsense that didn't matter. Before she walked off stage, Nicki made it quite clear that none of this advice was helpful at all to the girl and questioned why it was even given in the first place.

It's important to realize that Randy Jackson (56), Keith Urban (45) and Mariah Carey (42) came from an era where people discovered new music by listening to the radio and watching music videos. In addition to this, every genre shared one feature which is that authenticity (or perceived authenticity) was paramount.

This same attitude is something I have noticed that many writers have shared toward artists like The Weeknd, Miguel and Frank Ocean, which essentially boils down to the ever important argument of our time: "Did gloomy hipsters ruin R&B?" This whole argument is made because these R&B audiences have found an audience of white men who had little to no interest in R&B before this (raises hand).

The Guardian's Alex Macpherson seems to be the one who hates the direction The Weeknd went the most as illustrated by the quotes below and articles here and here:
Focusing on R&B only when it has a contrived "weird" or "arty" angle, as per the Weeknd, is to fail to adequately engage with its form and its values.
The Weeknd are thoroughly unremarkable: in terms of both songcraft and conveying emotion, they are painfully inadequate. The hood signifiers ladled into the lyrics sound forced and contrived, not least because the singer sounds bored out of his skull. The addition of vaguely lo-fi chillwave textures are a lazy way of connoting darkness – but the Weeknd's sound isn't too far removed from arrangements that have become commonplace in R&B. It's like a particularly shallow take on a Trey Songz mixtape.
Obviously I'm a huge fan of The Weeknd so I disagree with what he is saying about the artist, but taste is taste and it's all relative so arguing over that is pointless. Where Mr. Macpherson goes wrong is taking genre classification so seriously that he ignores progression and audience diversification at all costs to keep the music "pure", whatever that means.

The other aspect that he fails to realize is that somewhere between Michael Jackson and Prince, New Jack Swing, D'Angelo and Aaliyah, R&B lost a lot of it's audience and became perceived by many as repetitive and boring. I worked in Metro Detroit's largest independent record store for six years, and in that time do you know how many R&B records I liked? The answer is not very many and it wasn't from lack of exposure, but rather lack of anything remotely interesting or different. Yet, Mr. Macpherson's insistence on genre authenticity means so much that he is willing to dismiss this because it's too arty or weird.

I have no idea how old Mr. Macpherson is, but his is an attitude that I notice folks have as they age, an attitude that the internet era of music is changing beyond their recognition. White Baby Boomers who pretend rock stopped existing after 1985, aging 80's metalheads, 70's R&B fans, 90's NYC R&B purists and 80's New Wave fans all have a definite date where music "went to shit" which is also the date where they ceased caring about anything new. These music fans all shared something in common though, which is that they learned about new artists from the radio and followed whatever what popular at the time. This tradition is dying because radio's hold on music is also slowly dying, it's lack of diversification and risk taking led it to being forced to accept artists created and groomed through the internet in order to survive.

All of this led to older people not understanding how and why people can like more than one genre of music. I distinctively remember my first day at said record store, being told "you can't like Kyuss and J Dilla, it's not possible" when going in I had no idea that not everyone was as open minded as me when it came to music. My authenticity was questioned and I was viewed as someone who just liked someone because of critical praise, which then led me to throw ICP and Uncle Kracker in their face.

Until recently I assumed I was an outlier, when in reality my attitude would soon become much more normal.

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