“Against Positivity in New Lyrics”

Culture is, simply, what people like to talk about. I pick up on it all the time — working at my jobs, working around young people.
Today, our discourse at a small scale has taken an overwhelmingly liberal turn. For instance, I can even remember getting looked at weird in the 1990s for voicing a concern about the environment. Today, it’s become an old issue, we have “women’s marches” and even stand up for transgender rights.
I think we’ve lost a taste for normalcy. I also think we suffer from a lack of real things to talk about. Along these lines, a lot of young people I meet these days are very quiet, and they’re very hard. They are optimistic and often engaged in human rights discussions, but they don’t like things to be overly goofy. I have no idea if these two things are connected under one distinct vision of the world or exist as two separate mechanical cognitive employments — it’s not my concern, really.
But anyway, I’ve definitely observed this optimistic, everybody’s-a-winner type of attitude infiltrating music criticism these days. In the Pitchfork age of say the late 2000s, 2005-2010, approximately, we were overwhelmed by a mass of new artists that were just strikingly original — really turned music on its head, but did so that still incorporated key influences from the past, wherein lies the true miracle. This was, by and large, a significant wealth of people making music not for financial reasons, but because it’s what their heroes did. They generally concur across the board that their own pockets have been hurt by streaming and file sharing. I often make the point that the quality of music has declined as the price of it has, which is actually a basic law of microeconomics everybody learns in high school. Yet, what we have in scholarship of the arts is a sort of kindergarten, you-can-do-it-too mentality. In the ‘90s, they made fun of Darius Rucker for being too white [1] and called LIVE “relentlessly poppy” [2], but today we have Carly Rae Jepsen, a ridiculously cutesy and formulaically poppy musical entity, thriving in the critical world. Now, look at our current culture. It’s pro-woman. It’s everybody’s-special-you-can-do-it-too. Another point I’ve made on several occasions is that no new genres of music have been spawned since file sharing started — we’ve gotten new STYLES of rap, such as trap, or of EDM, such as dubstep, but no actual new forms of music as pertain to the instruments it’s played on. In the ’90s, there was an alternative rock single, the chorus of which had vocals composed solely of a sample of an old song. This ’90s song was by the Primitive Radio Gods, “Standing outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand.” Now, that’s bona fide innovation, a blending of rap and guitar techniques. but it probably still falls within “alternative rock.” In order for a new genre to be initiated today, it would have to probably entail a COMBINATION of two things, rather than necessarily the genesis of one original thing. An example would be something like singing in a foreign language over beats which sample only classical, not jazz or blues (not black musics, in other words). This being said, if Kamasi Washington is any indication, it can be astounding what surfaces when you just give a hungry young black man an instrument and step back. Still, no matter your opinion of the world, it’s clear that music is in a maligned state regarding where to go for true progress, and so following, the things artists say in songs should ideally address this, since music in the format they’re choosing in order to voice. This is how music feeds culture by antagonizing it.
[1] http://www.nytimes.com/1995/11/05/arts/pop-view-if-colin-powell-sang-and-played-guitar.html.
[2] http://articles.latimes.com/1997-02-22/entertainment/ca-31172_1_secret-samadhi.

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