After a totally insane weekend at Electric Picnic, I am back and ready to write again. I’ve got three entries in my head at the moment, so hopefully that means there will be a bit more real substance around here and a bit less randomness. Just so people can hold me to it, the entries are: “the death of the middle” (how the middle was never efficient, but it’s a worse time than ever to try and compete in that space), another entry I can’t remember at this very moment (damnit!) and “the blurriness of music today” (which is what you’re going to read now).
I first start thinking about the idea of no more musical genres as I was sitting at Live Earth at the Meadowlands. The lineup included Keith Urban, AFI, Akon, Fallout Boy, John Mayer, Alicia Keys, Melissa Ethridge, Dave Matthews, Kanye West, Smashing Pumpkins, Bon Jovi, Roger Waters and the Police. There is very little all those bands have in common except for the fact they all sell a lot of records and they all played in New Jersey that day. I don’t know that this is necessarily a new idea, but it really struck me that musical genres really seem to be disintegrating before our very eyes. We all know hip-hop is mainstream, but how about Kanye West sampling French electronic band Daft Punk in his newest single?
This weekend the same thing struck me. The mix of music at Electric Picnic was eclectic to say the least as bands like Iggy Pop, Bjork, Primal Scream, Polyphonic Spree, LCD Soundsystem and Chemical Brothers shared billing on the main stage and Beastie Boys, !!!, Nouvelle Vague and The Go! Team pulled huge crowds at side stages. Once again, these bands have incredibly little in common other than the fact they showed up on the program together, yet everyone seemed to enjoy every one. Sure there were enough people at both Live Earth and Electric Picnic to support different groups seeing different genres, however, I don’t suspect that’s actually what happened. Rather, people’s musical tastes and music in general seems to be blurring to a point that finding the lines between genres is nearly impossible. It seems that everything is just “pop”.
So how did we get here? Well, as I’m sure you expect me to say, I believe it has much to do with digital access to music. People are listening to more music than ever before (as the never-ending sea of white headphones attests to) and I expect this includes artists as well. In addition, the speed at which a band can reach popularity at this point is astounding. One review on Pitchfork for Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah! turned them into indie darlings overnight. Then, thanks to access to their music on MP3 blogs and the like, the buzz built to a level that eventually led to a mention in Rolling Stone as a hot new band for 2005 (an amazing feat if you consider that Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah! is one of the oddest bands on the planet and fronted by a lead singer who puts the “ine” in “whine”).
Anyway, the point of all this is to say that the world is blurring and music is probably a great case study in how and why.
Update (9/5/07): Just remembered another entry I’ve been meaning to write: “What Google Gears is all about” (another “it’s only a matter of time before Google takes over the universe” post)
Update (9/5/07): In going through my feeds I ran across this entry from Rob Walker comparing Kanye/Justin to Prince/Michael (or disputing that comparison, rather). Two sentences that relate to this entry: “I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know whether itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a permanent change or just a slump, but pop music is just not the center of pop culture to the degree it was in the Prince/Jackson era, and surely West must be aware of this.” and “Meanwhile, who is really the new Michael Jackson? The iPhone of course.” My first reaction to the first quote was to say that pop music is still at the center, it’s just that the definition has become much blurrier. However, while I do think pop’s definition has changed, Walker has a point about the iPhone. I’d even take it further to say that nothing competes with Michael/Prince in their heyday because there’s just more of everything competing for attention. Therefore, even the most popular things get a smaller percentage. (I know that’s not incredibly insightful, but hey.)