Mainstream Music is Bad Music?

backstreet-boys

The Backstreet Boys

In case you haven’t noticed by now, I love music, the people behind the music, and the entire creative process. Much of my favorite music is of the more esoteric, lesser known variety, but some is more mainstream. That is, popular music — Daughtry, Mary J. Blige, My Chemical Romance, and even the group that put the pop in popular music — The Backstreet Boys. Nothing wrong with that, mainstream music is as good as any other. Or so I thought. According to many, most popular music is just not good. Not only is it not good, but it’s terrible, awful trash and anyone who listens to it has poor taste in music.

I can’t deny that some of the more mainstream music and, specifically, the music artists are replaceable. They are popular today, gone tomorrow, and won’t be missed by many once their 15 months of fame is over. But amongst the mass of music and artists out there, there are some not-so-hidden gems. The Backstreet Boys really are that great of a group, no matter how much they are mocked by the “Hate Every Boy Band” crowd. The Backstreet Boys carried an age and recreated a genre of music, constantly reinvented themselves, and are still producing hits.

brandy-norwood

Brandy Norwood

If many people like the music, how bad can it be? This is argumentum ad populum, of course — just because lots of people believe the music is good, doesn’t mean it is. However, it’s worth thinking about in this case. Many of these artists simply had lucky breaks, but some had to work to get where they are and prove themselves worthy on a large-scale. Some mainstream artists started out as the unknown, under-appreciated musician just hoping to get a chance to perform at the local coffeehouse.

One thing to wonder about those who make a habit of disliking mainstream music: what happens when their favorite artists become more popular? Does their music decline in quality as they gather more fans (possible)? If an artist is truly a stand-out, it’s probably only a matter of time before they become known on the grand stage.

Several popular artists produce great music that stands the test of time. I am not going to miss out on great music because the music is enjoyed by a wider audience.

What’s your view? Is most popular music bad?

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14 thoughts on “Mainstream Music is Bad Music?

  1. It’s often not bad music. But it’s highly skilled producers, doing all the work, and putting it all behind whatever pretty face is hot at the time.

    There are so few “hits”, now. Songs that we’ll hear 50 years from now. What from the first decade of the 2000s will be listened to 50 years from now? I have a hard time thinking of anything.

    But the 60s produced stuff we’ll still be listening to 50 years from now.

  2. AJ,

    “What from the first decade of the 2000s will be listened to 50 years from now? I have a hard time thinking of anything.”

    You can begin with a few of the artists here:
    Best Male Vocalists of the Decade 2000-2010

    🙂

    ” But the 60s produced stuff we’ll still be listening to 50 years from now.”

    Probably you will. But what about later-born generations? They’ll be listening to later music, most likely. And they’ll probably be saying the same thing you’re saying now (i.e, what you’re always saying) with their own generational twist: “There’s no hits nowadays; good music went out in the early 2000s”.

  3. Hah!… well maybe Anthony Kiedis will still be listened to and talked about, well, most the RHCP. But did they have anything good in the 90s? You gave them an honorable mention.

    I think later generations will still turn on Hendrix, Zeppelin… but not Adam or Avril Levine/Lavigne.

    We’ll see. Hip hop is pretty much dominating… and hip hop is more like one giant song. Aint Nuttin But A G Thang will still get played, but the major rap hits get faded out faster than rock hits from the 60s to 90s.

    Well that’s just my take. 🙂

  4. AJ,

    “maybe Anthony Kiedis will still be listened to and talked about, well, most the RHCP”

    Also, “Fistful of Tears” by Maxwell, Confessions (the whole album) by Usher, “You Give Me Something” by James Morrison (not too mainstream, but still), etc.

    “But did [RHCP] have anything good in the 90s?”

    You tell me. 😉

    “Hip hop is pretty much dominating… and hip hop is more like one giant song.”

    Eh, maybe. I’m not too into hip-hop, though.

    “Well that’s just my take.”

    I know. 🙂

  5. I don’t think mainstream music is bad–that’s just something music snobs like to say. 😛

    I agree with AJ that modern music isn’t made to last long, but I think it’s because nowadays music takes less “investment”. You can download it free online, libraries are boosting their media checkout items, lots of radio stations have commercial-free hours, and so on, so plenty of people don’t remember the last time they bought a CD. It doesn’t take effort anymore, so there’s less artist loyalty (especially for the more popular artists).

  6. I’m not a music snob, but…
    (as we all know, this statement means I’m about to say something extremely snobbish)

    … but many of the mainstream music does suck.

    Why? Not because it’s mainstream, but because of hyperproduction. The songs are not meant to last, but to be catchy, to grab a moment and sell as soon as possible… Before another similar song arrives.

    That doesn’t mean indie music doesn’t suck. It does. I cringe at people who like only bands nobody ever heard of. Many garage bands don’t deserve to be heard, they are simply bad, end of story. But since good indie music often posses the artist individuality and dedication, it might appear all indie music is superior to mainstream. Wrong.

    As for “selling out”, it’s a well known issue, at least in rock music. What happens when a band you liked so much gets a mainstream success? Sure, you’re happy for them, but you are scared the big productions and the industry would corrupt them. They often do: some bands just can’t work on a large production scale (they simply stop sounding like themselves). But many don’t, and it’s not a bad thing. Still, and issue of selling out is something that all rock bands have to go through at one point or another.

    PS- I didn’t get the RHCP and the 90s remark. They were good in the 90s. BloodSugarSexMagic was released in 1991, and it’s considered to be their best album. 00s are what I’m more concerned about, to be honest.

  7. Oh crap. I didn’t mean “But did [RHCP] have anything good in the 90s?” I meant, the 2000s. I agree, BSSM was their best album. I think they got worse in the 2000s, but compared to the rock world around them, they still were able to stand out. Also, I think they got their heroin addicted guitarist back… which was good and bad. He lost the creative magic he had while taking heroin, sad but true…

    That made me look like a total music newb, hah.

  8. “I don’t think mainstream music is bad–that’s just something music snobs like to say.”

    Wellll, I didn’t want to be the one to say it. 🙂

    “…plenty of people don’t remember the last time they bought a CD.”

    I know. I might just be one of the last people on earth that still goes and buys CDs and listens to them. Everyone is all about their mp3 players and online music players.

    Mira,

    “… but many of the mainstream music does suck.

    Why? Not because it’s mainstream, but because of hyperproduction. The songs are not meant to last, but to be catchy, to grab a moment and sell as soon as possible… Before another similar song arrives.”

    True enough. I agree that some mainstream music is bad (not saying any names…). But I sift through and find the worthwhile music.

    “PS- I didn’t get the RHCP and the 90s remark. They were good in the 90s. BloodSugarSexMagic was released in 1991, and it’s considered to be their best album. 00s are what I’m more concerned about, to be honest.”

    AJ says:

    “Oh crap. I didn’t mean “But did [RHCP] have anything good in the 90s?” I meant, the 2000s. I agree, BSSM was their best album.”

    Yeah I figured you meant that AJ. I was waiting for you to come back and explain. 🙂

  9. I’ll admit starting out my tastes tend to be rock of some form, and what is popular today is hip-hop, RnB and electro pop (roughly speaking). So I’m a fish out of water really. But I will counter your post (which was well written, btw).

    Pop music (as in the genre) is the default setting of the pop industry. It never sounds quite the same every time it appears, but what it does have in common is that it is vapid, manufactured and phony. It’s written to be catchy, to infect your ears – but it rarely comes from a real place and is usually the result of record companies finding a “singer” (who doesn’t have to sing well – the image is more important as a good voice be faked easily), a songwriter and a producer.

    The pop music of today isn’t any worse than any other pop music, whether it be the stuff from the 50s the 60s generation rebelled against or even the 80s synth pop that is so easily derided. I would say that this generation hasn’t had a good band to believe in since the Strokes fell from grace and the Libertines split up.

    I’m sorry to say this, but the Backstreet Boys are insignificant and have already been forgotten. There are undoubtedly some fans who liked them in their heydey who still remember them fondly, but they weren’t responsible for any musical innovations and aren’t particularly talented. They never expressed anything profound in their music and fall into the archetype of manufactured pop. This isn’t to deride the fact you like them, that’s perfectly valid. But to say they are a great artist? Not by any objective standard.

    Really people should like what they like. It’s sad some people never seek out “artists” who mean what they sing about (as opposed to those who use songwriters to repeat well worn platititudes) and are artists in the true sense of the word, but it’s equally sad some people are so pretentious they will abandon an artist the moment the general public starts to catch on.

  10. Jimmy, great comment. 🙂

    “The pop music of today isn’t any worse than any other pop music, whether it be the stuff from the 50s the 60s generation rebelled against or even the 80s synth pop that is so easily derided.”

    I’ll agree with that. Some of the older pop music was quite terrible.

    “I’m sorry to say this, but the Backstreet Boys are insignificant and have already been forgotten.”

    No, they aren’t. They are just laying low. The moment they come back (if they do), it will be like the late ’90s/early 2000s all over again. 🙂

    Google Trends shows the number of searches for Backstreet Boys has held steady over the past few years. Compare that with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Unless you want to say RHCP are also insignificant now…

    They are still a bit popular even though they haven’t done anything major in recent years, although they are more popular outside of the U.S. and UK.

    “They never expressed anything profound in their music”

    To me they have. I think some of their songs have true depth. Besides, even if they didn’t, is most popular music (of any age or genre) particularly profound?

    I don’t think there is an objective standard for music. Judgment of music is always biased to the listener’s background, tastes, etc.

    “Really people should like what they like.”

    Agreed again. 🙂

  11. Maybe the search trends have held over the last couple of years, but when Backstreet Boys were popular the internet was in its infancy, so I think it’s still arguable they have declined in popularity. I’d be surprised to see a resurgence from them but then again Take That have been successful in reforming so who knows?

    Also RHCP haven’t released any new material since 2006, and have been laying low since then, so at the moment they are insignificant, although plenty of people still like them.

    As for the depth of the music, I think that’s one area where boy bands never prosper. I’m not saying you don’t get a buzz off it or it doesn’t move you personally, but most boy band songs consist of well-worn platitudes that appeal to the same mostly-female audience that enjoys rom-coms. It’s romantic, shmaltzy stuff that doesn’t compare to the likes of 60s pop writers (John Lennon, Ray Davies et al), which explored new ideas in new ways.

  12. Jimmy,

    Yes, for sure BSB has declined in popularity. Few can remain stars forever. It helps if you die early 😀 (joke).

    But like RHCP, they haven’t done anything significant recently. I think if they released another hit album/single, we’d see a huge surge in searches.

    Hey, I do not like romantic comedies. 😉
    I think singing moves me more than rapping, talking, yelling, etc. And it’s not all platitudes!

  13. I think the main problem of mainstream music is the fact that it all sounds the same. Same tone of voices, same topics, same notes, same cheesy words, etc. I personally gave up mainstream music and totally understand people who have done the same. I think the music industry should start supporting more than pretty faces and while they do so we the listeners should start looking for something new and supporting new REAL artists that make great efforts for sharing their high quality music with us. Some months ago I started listening to http://www.earbits.com and so far it’s been great. Check it out, I know you’ll like it as I did.

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