In defense of pop music
One of the things I’ve been thinking about since I took “History of American Popular Culture Through Music” last semester, is present-day youths’ beleaguered acquiescence of society’s pervasive, biased criticism of contemporary American pop music. Before expounding my concern, I must say that the course proved itself to be one of the most productively engaging courses I’ve ever taken, one I looked forward to twice a week.
In the course, Professor Hilary Hallett tracks the development of American popular music beginning with the rise of minstrelsy and concludes the intellectual excursion with Motown. I highly recommend the course since it enables an exploration of the fundamental aspects of our nation’s social history throughout which Americans have increasingly constructed their social identities through a relationship to music.
After completing the course, I now completely reject the absurd denigration of our contemporary pop music as worse than musics (musicologists add -s to music—awesome, right?) of the ‘60s, ‘50s, ‘40s or any other period simply because it’s clichéd. The idea that “current music is trash” is a common refrain made throughout American history by aging generations whose musics’ declining popularity occurs as an emerging youth culture’s music takes center stage.
It happens nearly every decade with every new generation. Personally, I don’t think that it can be said objectively that the music of today is qualitatively inferior to musics of the past.
So enjoy Lady Gaga and Rihanna, Skrillex and David Guetta, and all contemporary songs which critics decry as microwave hits because hey, the music of today⎯whether we like it or not⎯constitutes our generational identity. If Rock ‘n’ Roll defined the baby boomers, then why can’t Gaga define us?
Moreover, the common criticism of today’s music centers on its so-called hypersexual spirit. But even during the first half of the 20th century, the most popular songs were those about drugs, explicit sex acts, lesbianism, and even violence. So, to what degree was the popular musical culture of then different from now? In terms of profound investment in producing quality material, did songwriters and artists from long ago spend much more time on writing and producing songs than those of today? No!
I write this article to encourage all of you to be proud of contemporary pop music and revel in it. Don’t let your parents or any other old head to tell you otherwise.
I can’t emphasize enough that the argument articulating current music as inferior to music of the past must be critically analyzed with the background knowledge of that denigration’s reverberation throughout history. And I strongly suggest that we should be more inclined to reject that sort of biased thinking and take pride in our music while also learning to appreciate aspects of it. Indeed, it’s time for an insurrection in critical terms that rejects the condescending and jaundiced cultural criticism eroding the esteem of current popular music.
After typing the last character of this article–a period–I will put my headphones on, turn my MacBook’s volume up all the way, and blast the heck out of Lady Gaga. Here it comes: .
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