Sunday, March 14, 2010

State of the Art Address

My friends, Americans and fellow music lovers. I address you tonight on the state of our art, specifically popular music. 

I hope nothing on this blog that I have written has made anyone think I don't like a good catchy and well arranged song. However, some sort of morbid curiosity has led me over the last couple months to turn on the radio for the first time since high school to hear the 'hits' and I have to agree with the statements of several living prophets that our times are as wicked as Sodom and Gomorrah. Nowhere is this more evident than in the our music, which seems to have hit an all time low. No longer are there lone artists that have a naughty streak. It almost seems to be the rule to be explicit, immodest, erotic or use language, which is less and less edited out on the radio. In fact, one of the only benign songs I can think of on the pop radio is Owl City's much overplayed Fireflies.

Recently young pop-diva Miley Cyrus (copyright Disney Star-makers Inc.) was heavily criticized for a performance where she danced on an ice-cream cart, holding onto a pole, reportedly for support. Critics thought she was 'pole dancing.' Poor girl. Maybe it is because she has a brand and an image to uphold to all of the 13 year olds who think she is the greatest thing EVER. Whether or not her dance act was really suggestive, I find it very telling that she was criticized at all. There are numerous other acts much more worthy of being decried than hers. As one blogger pointed out, the bad music of our times is no longer just rap or heavy metal. "The culprit this time is top 40 pop music."

The Killers (what a band name!) have a lyric in their hit Mr. Brightside:
"But she's touching his chest now,
He takes off her dress now..."
They only get (dis-)honorable mention for that.
The band 3OH!3 (um? What's with that?) comes up with the even more offensive lyrics in their hit Don't Trust Me:
"I said shush girl, shut your lips,
do the Hellen Keller and talk with your hips."
That is beside using the F-word and repeating over and over the line "Don't trust a ho."
Ouch. That is sickening. How about this sad lyric from David Guetta. Actually, never mind. I just looked up the lyrics and they are much too offensive, the title even swears in it! The radio edit must be editing out every other word. In the build up to the chorus, he says, "I'm trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful.." If there is a grade lower than F- for effort, he would get it. The rest of the song manages to say some of the most disrespectful things you could say about/call women.

The sad thing is that this is just the boys. The girls are degrading themselves even more.
Ke$ha (Yes the dollar sign makes it sound cool when you say it. Try it... Key-chaching-sha?) has several absolutely dumb songs they won't stop playing. In Tic Toc she shares with us how 'cool' it is to party like a diva all night every night, getting drunk, wild, and promiscuous at the club. The video takes the already gross lyrics and adds the offense of glorifying her contempt and disrespect for her family. Her other hit song Blah Blah Blah (really?) basically is saying, "If you want some action like I do in the back of my car you've got to shut up." One blogger lamented that his ten year old daughter liked Kedollersignsha. I would lament that anybody does. The difference between her 'full of attitude' verses (talk-singing) and auto-tuned chorus lines makes you wonder if she can even sing at all!
Katy Perry has been around for a year or so but a few of her often played song titles will suffice to show how crude her very mainstream pop sound is: I Kissed a Girl (and I liked it), Ur So Gay, or (That's what you get for) Waking Up in Vegas.
The old bad girls don't want to be left out either and are still getting heavy radio play.
Madonna, whose career took a major hit in the early nineties when she released the album Erotica and related graphic promotional material, (which, by the way, may have helped pave the way to mainstream-itize this whole trend I'm talking about) has come out with the song Revolver:
"My love's a revolver
My sex is a killer
Do you wanna die happy?"
The Beatles album Revolver must be rolling in its grave. The 51 year old Madonna out-explicits herself and nobody complains today. (I love the Beatles, but they are hardly blameless. Their song Why Don't We Do It In The Road pretty much has no other lyrics or different interpretation to its subject matter.)
Britney Spears' latest hit 3 is so popular that my little sister's cheer squad used part of it for their dance routine, and this in one of the most conservative cities in the nation. The song? Its about the very Sodom and Gomorrah sin of multiple partners in fornication. Not just subtly about that either, but just about as plain as you can make it. Nobody seems to have a complaint against her for dancing with a horizontal pole in the video (Poor Miss Cyrus.) I guess Britney said it best when she sings, edited from the video version, but heard on the radio:
"Livin' in sin is the new thing"
That, at least, is what all the radio stations that play current (non country) music in my area are promoting. In the movie Josie and the Pussycats there is an evil plot to sell products through subliminal messages in the music. That is so 2001. Why not just make the placement catchy, the packaging slick and sexy, and nobody seems to care. But its not products we're placing here, its lifestyle and beliefs.
That brings us to the winner for all-around mind-numbing pop grossness.
Meet Lady Gaga. Half of what she sings is nonsense syllables repeated suggestively. The other half is too offensive to repeat. Half of the songs they play on the radio are hers. Half of the clothes she wears aren't there. Half of her music describes abusive, dirty relationships with men, the other half says its absolutely glamorous to love girls...especially if you are one. But everybody seems to agree that Lady Gaga is artistic, talented, fashionable, amazing, and really 'pushing the boundaries of art-pop music.' It is incredibly hard to find people criticizing anything she does. The title of her album, Fame Monster, unabashedly proclaims her obviously successful (and shameful) music/business philosophy: Do whatever it takes to be famous. A few days ago she released a ten minute music video extravaganza for her song Telephone ("Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh...Stop telephonin' me!") which has already received more than 14 million views on YouTube as of this writing. The video reportedly contains scenes that should be at least rated R, including dancing firmly in the 'striptease' genre, glamorized violence and gore, girl on girl gross making out, all of which is supposed to be very groundbreaking and fashionable.

It makes me sick. I had to tell somebody. Nobody is saying anything! It's as if the world tuned in and ... I read these pretty lame sci-books when I was young that creeped me out about 'the invasion of the tripods' in which alien tripod things invaded the world by first getting everyone to watch their brainwashing tripod kids TV show. Then they put mind control helmets on everyone and made humans their slaves. Obviously in real life 2010 the Devil (as introduced in the Rolling Stones song Sympathy for the Devil) doesn't need subliminal messages or mind control helmets. He has simply and successfully subverted the art of music and the technology of its dissemination. (!) I would frankly be embarrassed for this nation if aliens tuned into its entertainment right now.

A common and curious criticism of would-be music critics like myself goes like this:
"I'd like to see you do any better. I don't see you writing music and changing the world."
Well, people of America, I intend to. I don't want this tsunami of tsin to go unchecked. Somebody has to stand up to it. To that I end I close this blog by officially announcing to all five of my faithful readers the project that has occupied my composition efforts since December.
I am currently working on an album, tentatively titled, "Songs for Qait: Stars Ascendant" which will address my views of love and its healthy, righteous exercise and development. My effort will be to make the songs both as catchy and as artistic as possible. Coming soon you will hear a demo version of the opening song "The Night is Young" and you will hear much more about this project as it develops. I have been waiting to formally start telling people about it until I was sure that I was serious about it and had a good start. Now there will be lots more to say and I will very much appreciate your contributions and insights into making this successful.

I invite all people everywhere, musicians especially, to realize the power of music and the effect it has on our culture and people. We have to make sure that there is an alternative to filth.


Eric Hanson said...

Your points are all very well taken. Living right in the middle of all of this makes me feel like I need very thick skin - though thankfully my composition teachers and the majority of my colleagues have a more elevated view of what we do.

Good luck with your project - sounds like a lot of fun! Pop music is among the most "relevant" of our day, so it gives us the opportunity to show how to do it right :)

Rae said...

I can't wait. :) I agree that we need an alternative to filth!

Qait said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Qait said...

For some reason, Lady Gaga makes me think of the martians from Mars Attacks (gak gak gak). :D
I used to not care very much about radio listening, but now it's annoying that the only thing I consider appropriate is like...the oldies stations...which get OLD, you know?
On a deeper note, Michael, I love you. And I love the ways we agree about music--especially that we have been like that ever since the very first date.
Shallow music bothers me (and you) more than other shallow expressions because music has the potential to be SO powerfully moving that it's disheartening (and often disgusting) to see it take a dive for the wrong end.
And yes, it's WRONG.

Ryan Spackman said...

Not to be contrary, as I wholeheartedly agree, but of course there are exceptions. A few of my favorites lately are: lucky by jason Mraz and colbie callait--more the lyrics than music, brave by???, an oldy:One Clear Voice by Peter Cetera, just a kiss by lady antebellum, 3 songs: America's son, Gettysburg, and letters from jail by tom douglas. In country music I could go on forever.