Three Legitimate Reasons for Hating Pop Music

Warning: this article contains strong opinions. It may change some of your beliefs about music, or in some extreme cases, have you listening to artists with genuine talent. Reader discretion is advised.

The term “pop” has evolved over the years. Pop music originally was a softer version of rock and roll, and more appealing to the masses. Wikipedia does a pretty good job of summarizing pop music:

“There are core elements which define pop. Such include generally short-to-medium length songs, written in a basic format (often the verse-chorus structure), as well as the common employment of repeated choruses, melodic tunes, and catchy hooks.

So-called “pure pop” music, such as power pop, features all these elements, using electric guitars, drums and bass for instrumentation; in the case of such music, the main goal is usually that of being pleasurable to listen to, rather than having much artistic depth. Pop music is generally thought of as a genre which is commercially recorded and desires to have a mass audience appeal.”

I think this is a pretty fair definition. Like any branch of music, pop has many subgenres (some good ones including piano pop and pop / punk), and there are a few of these that I enjoy. However, in recent years, “pop” has come to mean “whatever music is popular.” The problem is that most popular music is terrible music.

In general, I try not to bash anyone else’s music tastes (and I don’t plan to in this article), but I’m baffled why so many people enjoy music from the Top 40. I can’t understand why they don’t see what is so blatantly clear to me.

1. The music is mind-numbingly dull.

Part of this is personal preference, but the other part is the repetitive, redundant and repetition-filled songs. Really, though, have you ever listened to Top 40 radio with a critical ear?

Most “pop” songs use the exact same structure: Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus-Chorus. I’m not saying there’s something inherently wrong with this structure; many artists of other genres use it successfully. At least, there’s nothing wrong with it on its own.

It gets more repetitive when you break it down further, though. After hearing Top 40 radio all summer at my local public pool, I quickly noticed something worse: they all used the same chord structure, or at least something similar. You’ve got your happy / dance songs, your sad songs, and not much else. This, too, is not that bad on its own, but it gets even worse.

Then you have the blatantly obvious: there’s little change in sound from song to song, almost ever. Most “pop” music today has a thumping beat, some kind of synth sound, and a singer. None of these elements on their own make for bad music necessarily, but when you put them together, you have a specific formula for producing music that people just eat up, for some reason. Some other musical things wrong with “pop” are:

Autotune: This serves no purpose. If the artist uses this to cover missed notes, they should buy singing lessons instead of buying fame. If the artist just thinks it sounds cool…it just doesn’t. They’re smothering any emotion the song was trying to convey.

Attitude: If these people are trying to sound like they don’t give a (insert interjection of the artist’s choice here), they’re succeeding. And I don’t understand why people like it.

Ke$ha: In addition to following the “pop” formula exactly, Ke$ha talk-sings. Her voice moves up and down, but it’s not really singing. It has a vague rhythm, but it’s not really rapping. It just sounds kinda stupid…and on top of that, it’s autotuned. And this garbage sells millions. It makes me angry.

Still, most of what I’ve said so far is just my personal preference. If you’re not bothered by a simple, repetitive structure, that doesn’t really bother me. There are plenty of artists I like that have a somewhat predictable sound; so this reason may only apply to a few people. (However, I cannot understand anyone liking Ke$ha.)

But this isn’t where the real problems are.

2. The lyrics show one desire – the opposite gender.

Have you ever wondered why children nowadays are more infatutated with romance, and earlier, than ever before? It could have something to do with the music they hear.

Take Justin Bieber. Who makes up most of his fanbase? Teenage girls. I’m not generalizing, I know that not all teen girls like the Biebs, but it’s a fact that most people that like his music are teen girls. Why is this? Because everything he sings is a love song of some sort.

Some examples are such lyrical masterpieces as “Baby,” “One Less Lonely Girl,” “Boyfriend,” and many more. I’m not saying that love songs are a bad thing, but it’s literally ALL HE SINGS. The ONLY exceptions are “Pray” and his covers of Christmas songs. And when someone listens to love songs constantly, romance is gonna be on their mind constantly.

Obviously music isn’t the only culprit responsible for lovestruck eight-year-olds, but it certainly contributes. What few songs in the pop industry are not about love are generally about alcohol, partying and even drugs. It’s amazing what gets on the radio – I can think of a few songs which are either blatantly sexual or talk frankly about smoking weed or doing drugs. But hey, that’s what people like, right?

Which leads me to the biggest issue with “pop” music.

3. It’s all a money grab anyway.

Justin Bieber is a talented guy. I have no problem admitting this. Yet, when I hear his music, I don’t hear much of his talent. Why is this? Production. (I know this is a little hipster-y, but this whole section also explains why I like indie music, and why it’s almost always better.) I looked up some old JB videos, and I respected him. The guy was a good singer and a good drummer. Why the change?

His career follows the same path as a lot of “pop” artists: He was discovered by an agent while he was singing something good, then was turned into a pop idol. It wouldn’t have mattered if Bieber had wanted to sing another style of music; his producers knew that songs with power-pop instrumentals were popular, so that’s what he sung. They knew that tween girls would go crazy over him, so they had him sing love songs. And a star was born…or something like that.

It’s surprising how many pop idols were once just humble, talented singers. Justin Bieber, One Direction, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, just to name a few. In fact, many pop idols were once Christians or at least religious. Justin Bieber and Katy Perry used to sing in their churches, and even Lady Gaga used to be Catholic. We can’t judge for sure whether they are Christians, but most of them don’t seem to show it with their lifestyle.

Because that’s what many producers and record labels do: they take people with genuine talent and reimage them into whatever’s popular. (Compare Owl City’s old music with his new music for an easy example.) Sometimes I wonder if the stars themselves really realize how much they’ve been taken advantage of. Sure, their career will end with them being rich, but when they decide that they want to start writing their own music and make songs with meaning, their fifteen minutes will already be up. It’s sad, really.

When you hear the next terrible, overproduced pop song on the radio, you’ll know it’s not really the artist’s fault that the song stinks, but the producer(s). I’m not saying producers are evil, but many of them take advantage of the artists and strip them of their old identity and ther creativity, and replace it with what the masses want. That’s just what the industry does.

So that’s why I hate pop music. It’s not wrong to enjoy some of it. Even I have listened to One Direction voluntarily…multiple times. So if there’s some pop that you like, I’m certainly not telling you to stop listening to it completely. However, I have trouble listening to most of it because of my personal music tastes and the tasteless lyrics, but even if I could reconcile those, I don’t think I would ever pump any of my money into the pop music industry because of what it does to talent and the people who have it.

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New Page: Faves

I’ve updated the blog with a new page: Faves! This is where I’ll post content (music, movies, books, and possibly other stuff) that I really enjoy and recommend. Right now it only includes music, but with my collection, choosing my favorites was a pretty large task. 😛 I hope you enjoy it, and can find something you like!

Work In Progress

If you see some strange things happening on this blog, such as:

Strange colors
New themes
Links to nowhere

…then just know that this blog is still a work in progress, and the pages and theme are not set in stone. I’m still trying to find one that looks nice but has a functional sidebar.

Just thought you should know. 🙂

Acoustic Music at its Best – “The Weight Of Glory” Review

ImageHeath McNease creates a very interesting, diverse kind of music. Taken from his site’s biography:

“Growing up, his mom gave him The Carpenters, Simon and Garfunkel and The Beatles. His brothers gave him gangster rap. Classic rock, blues, and folk would eventually collide with his love for hip hop and…yes…musical theatre.”

Heath makes good hip-hop, but I’ve always been drawn more to his acoustic music, which has always been really good. In August of last year, he undertook a project of high expectations: an album based solely on the works of C.S. Lewis, entitled The Weight Of Glory.

Lyrically, this album is VERY good. I haven’t read many of C.S. Lewis’s books (only the Narnia books) but from what I can tell and from what people have told me, Heath does an excellent job summarizing the key points of Lewis’s books, into 3-4 minute songs, no less. I personally like the lyrics in “The Four Loves” and “Surprised By Joy.”

Musically, this album is even better. Heath has definitely found his niche in acoustic music. That’s not to say his hip-hop is bad, but his artistry is shown better through his acoustic music. The Weight of Glory only includes one song with rapping (“Mere Christianity”), where it does fit pretty well.

While Heath’s acoustic guitar and voice are the driving musical forces throughout the album, they are frequently accompanied by other instruments, such as the piano, tambourine, xylophone, synth and occasionally, a lightly distorted electric guitar. Each song is different in its arrangement, and it works extremely well. Only a few songs are below par for this album, and even they aren’t tracks you’d want to skip.

Heath’s voice is also top-notch. He’s got a great vocal range, singing high notes for songs like “Screwtape Letters” and “Surprised By Joy,” and singing lowly and intimately for “A Grief Observed” and “The World’s Last Night,” and a mix for most of the other songs, most notably the album’s closer, “The Weight Of Glory.” On only one song does his voice become unpleasant: “Edmund,” where there’s a frequent cry of “Edmund….” but it ends up sounding more like “Wuhhmuhhh….”

Best Songs:

“A Grief Observed” is a great track, featuring only Heath and his guitar, singing “Mercy on my soul…”

The incredibly catchy “The Problem of Pain” is unique lyrically, and is stuck in my head…a lot. Did I mention it’s catchy?

Weakest Songs:

“Edmund” has the aforementioned problem, plus it just doesn’t stand out that much. It’s the only track I skip.

“The Great Divorce” has a drum pattern that sounds a little strange, and a little too upbeat compared to the rest of the album. Still a good song, but not a great one.

Overall Opinion:

The Weight Of Glory is a great album. Anyone who is a fan of Heath McNease, C.S. Lewis or just good music should pick this up immediately. 9 out of 10 stars.

…which leads me to the best part. This album is 100% free to download from NoiseTrade.com or Heath’s BandCamp page, as are all but two of his other albums. If you like this one, I’d recommend downloading his older album, The House Always Wins, or if you’re interested in his hip-hop, The Nintendo Thumb Mixtape.

Sophomore slump? Nope! “The Fourth Wall” Review

ImageThe Vespers, a female-fronted folk / bluegrass band from Nashville, have become pretty popular – which is impressive, noting that after two full LPs, they’re still indie. Their first album, Tell Your Mama was temporarily released for free on NoiseTrade, and it was a solid debut. Word of mouth brought them quite a few fans, and they released The Fourth Wall April of last year.

Now, the problem a lot bands run into when they start out is a ‘sophomore slump.’ That’s when a band pours all of their content and talent into their debut, and their second album ends up really bad in comparison. Thankfully, The Fourth Wall doesn’t fall into this category. Before listening to The Vespers, I didn’t really like folk music, and now I have them to thank for letting me enjoy it. They’ve improved on their already good formula and made it an excellent one.

Lyrical content has vastly improved since their debut. Tell Your Mama had good messages in some places, such as: “I pray The Lord your wounds to heal,” or the message in the title track, but many of the lyrics were vague, or in some cases, downright strange, most notably the ones in “Melatonin Rum.”

“Two linked hands make toodleroos
But gamma rays can make them too
Oh, The Taming of the Shrew
Have you seen it? No. Have you?”

However, The Fourth Wall has excellent lyrics. My favorite lyrics on the album come from “Got No Friends.”

“Well I got no friends today,
And I wonder if tomorrow will be the same,
But I know, no matter what I do,
Jesus, I will always have a friend in you!”

Simple reminders of truths like these are found throughout the whole album. The Vespers aren’t really a band that leaves their words open to interpretation – their message is crystal clear. They’re one of the few artists talented enough to be up front about the Gospel, yet not be cheesy or boring-sounding about it, which is refreshing.

Musically, the band has also improved. The instrumentals, which are handled by every member of the band, are very diverse. Nearly every song has a different combination of instruments, from the banjo to the piano to the ukelele. It may sound weird, but it just works, especially in instrument-heavy songs like “Footprints In The Snow” and “Jolly Robber.” The production quality is also upped from the last album, and is impressive, noting that they’re still not signed to a record label.

The strongest part of their first album makes a stronger return here: the amazing vocals. Callie and Phoebe Cryar’s voices are great on their own, but together, they complement each other amazingly well. On their debut, they were very quiet, even relaxing, but it’s really nice to hear them showing their full vocal chops in addition to their softer side. It’s hard to describe their voices and how good they sound, you’ll just have to hear them yourself.

Best Songs:

“Flower Flower” is the catchiest and happiest song ever. This issue is not debatable. It’s that happy.

“Grinnin’ In Your Face” features only Callie’s vocals, a cool stomp-clap rhythm and a deliciously raw and southern-y (I don’t think that’s a word) acoustic guitar.

Weakest Songs:

It’s hard to put any song on this album under the category of weak songs, but “Instrument For You” and “Will You Love Me” suffer (mildly) from being forgettable. They’re not bad songs, in fact, they’re pretty good. It’s just that they don’t stand out that much compared to the rest of the album.

Overall Opinion:

Overall, this album is excellent, and I definitely recommend it. 10 out of 10 stars.

If you’re not totally sold yet, check out this sampler from NoiseTrade.com. It features two songs from Tell Your Mama, three from The Fourth Wall and one Live ‘un (yup, that’s what it’s called). Plus, these songs are yours. To keep. Forever. For free.

What Makes A “Christian” Band?

Music is an amazing gift. It can uplift us, it can sympathize with us, and it can tell us stories. Many bands are created by Christians, ranging stylistically from praise and worship to death metal. Yet, this question is asked of almost every band: “Is __________ a Christian band?” The truth is, there’s no one definition for a “Christian band.”

Many people have taken positions on what makes a band Christian, but I would consider a lot of them to be wrong. One interesting quote was made by Lacey Sturm of Flyleaf:

“I don’t know what you mean by a ‘Christian rock band.’ It’s hard to say that because people all have a different definition of what that means. If it means that we’re Christians, then, yeah, we’re Christians, but if a plumber’s a Christian, does that make him a ‘Christian plumber?’ I mean we’re not playing for Christians. We’re just playing honestly and that’s going to come out.”

A lot of people seem to have taken this idea to heart – similar comments can be found all over the internet. The problem is, Lacey’s comparing apples to oranges. When you call a plumber, you’re not asking him to do anything related to your mind or soul. It doesn’t affect your beliefs when he says: “Well, I unplugged your drain and toilet. That’ll be fifty bucks.” However, when you listen to music, something unique happens. The music transports you to the viewpoint of the songwriter, and if the music has a Christian message, that’s probably what you’ll be thinking about while you listen. The same is true for secular or even evil messages – your mind will dwell on those while you listen. (I would consider Flyleaf a Christian band – keep reading for why.)

Another popular viewpoint is that the idea of a “Christian band” is just silly. A frequent comment goes along the lines of “LOL. Christian band. When DC Talk died, it didn’t go to heaven.” This argument just doesn’t make sense, though. It’s attacking a position that doesn’t even exist. No one (I hope) thinks that bands have souls and go to heaven when they “die.”

The most frequent mistake people make, though, is when people over-label bands as Christian. Many people seem to assume that if a band puts out a mostly positive message and doesn’t cuss while doing it, then the only explanation is that it’s a Christian band. It REALLY irks me when someone labels a band Christian because they have one vaguely faith-related song, or one or two of their members are religious. Linkin Park is not Christian. Seriously.

So, how can you define the great line between secular and Christian music? (Underoath fans, see what I did there?) Like I said before, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition. Like many things, you just have to take it on a case by case basis. The main thing you have to look at are a band’s lyrics, which should show where the band’s heart is at. This is the best indicator, because it tells you what message the band really wants to get across. Not every chorus has to be shouting “HALLELUJAH, GLORY ON HIGH!”, but the way you judge a band’s Christianity is similar to the way you judge a person’s – the Gospel doesn’t have to be pouring out of their mouth constantly and awkwardly, but their life and words should show that that’s what they are truly centered around.

So, in the end, whether a band is Christian or not is really up to the interpretation of the listener. I’m not saying that it’s wrong or even bad to listen to non-Christian music. It’s fine for entertainment, or for a glimpse into what they believe, but if you’re looking for something to nourish your soul with, it’s best to listen to something that centers around the most positive message of all: the Gospel of Christ.