Why Modern Pop Music is So Divisive

Categories: Music IndustrySong

The Oxford Dictionary defines “bad” taste as “failure to conform with generally held views” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2019), yet in sociological terms the definition of “bad” taste is slightly more complex. Social inquiry of taste is about the human ability to judge what is beautiful, good and proper and is most commonly influenced by an individual's socioeconomic status. “Bad” generally does not fall within a person’s idea of normal social standards of time and era (Macionis, John J., and Ken Plummer. 2012). Personally, my idea of bad taste is modern pop music, primarily due to its lack of musical quality and its sole intention of pleasing masses rather than conjuring genuine creative output.

Modern pop music - despite being loved by masses - is a prime example of “bad” taste. While in sociological terms “bad” taste may be something that is generally disliked by masses (Macionis, John J., and Ken Plummer. 2012) - which evidently is not the case with pop music - in my personal opinion modern pop music has single handedly deteriorated standards of music.

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Science has proven that modern pop music is of worse quality than music from over a decade ago: the Spanish National Research Council determined that music is in fact getting worse in a study conducted in 2012, testing music from 1955-2010 on harmonic complexity, timbral diversity and loudness - proving that the timbre of songs has dropped drastically (Serra, Joan, Alvaro Corral, Marian Boguna, Martin Haro, and Joseph L. Arcos. 2012). The majority of modern pop music is in fact made using the exact same combination of four instruments: a keyboard, a drum machine, a sampler and computer software.

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When taking a look at the contrast between the Beatles’ A Day In The Life which used over 40 instruments, in contrast to Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke, which uses exactly one instrument (Thoughty2, 2012).

Another example in the deterioration of modern pop music is the existence of the “Millennial Whoop”; an identical sequence of notes (a shift from the 5th note in the scale to the 3rd and back to the 5th) accompanied by the same vocal “waowao” (Marr, Jennifer T. 2016), some examples of this are evident in Katy Perry’s California Girls, Taio Cruz’ Dynamite, Demi Lovato’s I Really Don’t Care and Bastille’s Pompeii, but the complete list is endless. “The Hook” is also something that is happening sooner & much more often in songs due to the fact that our musical attention spans have shortened drastically due to the availability of streaming; modern songs have to grab our attention much faster, yet the increasing presence of a hook does not a good song make (Marr, Jennifer T. 2016). Not only has the music itself suffered as a result of changes in society, lyric intelligence has also deteriorated drastically: the average lyric intelligence has dropped by a full grade in the last decade according to the Flescher Kincaid Readability Index (Serra, Joan, Alvaro Corral, Marian Boguna, Martin Haro, and Joseph L. Arcos. 2012): an indicator of how difficult a piece of music is to comprehend. Lyrics in modern pop music are much shorter and tend to use repetition far more often - the difference between Queen’s Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke and Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next is undeniable. This repetition is used to add a sense of familiarity - just like the addition of the previously mentioned millennial whoop - which is something that is chosen over genuine creativity in modern pop music.

Bourdieu’s distinction theory argues that individuals adapt different patterns of consumption based on their socioeconomic status - each social class shares a common system of dispositions and that higher classes are likely to create symbolic boundaries to separate themselves from lower classes by only consuming highbrow culture such as ballet, opera, poetry etc. Bourdieu also argues that the more sophisticated individuals in society only consume elite highbrow culture, whereas Richard Peterson conjured a counterargument to this theory, arguing that more sophisticated individuals do not only consume objects of elite culture, rather they become cultural “omnivores” who’s patterns of cultural consumption are of a wider range and spread across a wider variety of disciplines (McCoy, C., and R. Scarborough. 2014). When taking pop music into account in a day and age where music has evidently decreased in quality, arguing from either one of these perspectives becomes increasingly difficult. Taking on Bourdieu's theory, more sophisticated individuals in society would entirely abstain from listening to modern pop music due to its lack of elite status and consideration as lowbrow culture. While this may be the case for some elites who opt not to listen to modern pop music, there are many other reasons; many individuals these days are very much against the deterioration of musical quality and therefor opt not to listen to modern pop music, but do listen to other musical genres that wouldn’t necessarily be classified as highbrow culture, such as rock, metal and jazz. Taking on Peterson’s argumentative standpoint, those who abstain from listening to modern pop music at all costs are to be considered musical snobs, and by shutting themselves off from an entire genre based on the quality of the music they become less culturally sophisticated.

The listening of modern pop music can be applied to all four viewing styles described my McCoy and Scarborough in their research (McCoy, C., and R. Scarborough. 2014); the most evident one as discussed before is traditional listening, or in other words: abstaining from listening at all. Individuals who choose not to listen to modern pop music whatsoever are more likely to be older individuals who show an unapologetic disdain for the genre. There are also individuals who think they are above the genre, but opt to listen to it ironically whilst mocking the music as they listen; people in the stages of adolescence and early adulthood are most likely to do this, especially considering that modern pop music is practically inescapable when attending parties, clubs and other locations alike. Of course there are also genuine fans of pop music, many individuals these days admire artists like Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj and Bruno Mars for many reasons, these individuals listen to their music with a camp sensibility that stems more from their admiration of the face behind the music rather than the actual musical skill. These individuals are also likely to be those born in the new millenium, of course there are exceptions to this but the vast majority of genuine fans of modern pop music are of a very young age. Reaching to some older ages is the listening to modern pop music as a guilty pleasure, something that I myself am also guilty of: whilst these individuals genuinely dislike the genre for its poor musical quality yet can’t help but to be sucked in by the catchy tunes and memorable lyrics the genre exists out of (Serra, Joan, Alvaro Corral, Marian Boguna, Martin Haro, and Joseph L. Arcos. 2012). Since the age of the individuals seems to be the primary factor due to both modern culture and the easy availability of modern pop music, the social groups who are most likely to listen to modern pop music don’t reflect much on social stratification. Most individuals who listen to this musical genre do not even have an income of their own yet, but come from families of all different social classes. Since music has become more widely available on streaming devices for little to no money at all - unlike over a decade ago when purchasing a single or an album would require substantially more time and money - the socioeconomic status of listeners has become an obsolete variable.

Modern pop artists rely almost entirely on the image they portray to the outside world, therefore creating a specific personal front is of utmost importance to these artists, perhaps more than their art itself. Both their front and back stage impression management is the making of their careers, modern pop artists have huge follower bases which consist largely of young, impressionable viewers, making the maintenance of their good image crucial to the lasting of their career. When looking at their passion for their art itself, they are most likely to be cynical performers, ones who don’t get consumed in their creative process because most of the time they are only the pretty face and voice that is exposed to the world, whereas their songs are almost all written by figures kept behind the scenes. The most genuine passion these modern artists have is perhaps their connection to their fanbase, that’s why many of them engage in both verbal and nonverbal communication with their fans through meet and greets, on-stage communication and on social media. (Goffman, Erving.)

Besides my mere personal opinion on modern pop music, is has been proven to be some of the lowest quality music that has been produced in time, unfortunately this doesn’t classify it as “bad” taste to most of the younger population; as the quality deteriorates the genre seems to become more accessible to the shortening attention spans in today’s society due to many repetitions and recognisable factors which unspokenly tell us that the song is good due to a sense of familiarity. The analysis of modern pop music and its popularity makes it increasingly difficult to either place its fanbase in accordance to both Bourdieu’s distinction theory and Peterson’s omnivore theory; since reasons for either listening or abstaining from listening to the genre are motivated by a wider variety of factors than merely one’s socioeconomic status. Modern pop artists rely almost entirely on their image portrayed to the outside world rather than their passion for the art of music itself, another factor which to me, makes modern pop music “bad” taste: even the artists themselves don’t commit themselves to their music the way true musicians such as Chris Cornell, Freddie Mercury and Jimi Hendrix.

Updated: Feb 16, 2024
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Why Modern Pop Music is So Divisive. (2024, Feb 16). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/why-modern-pop-music-is-so-divisive-essay

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