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It’s often said that art appreciation is wholly subjective. Aesthetic tastes naturally differ, de gustibus non est disputandem, etc… And if art is a matter of taste, and not subject to critical scrutiny, then so it is with music, which is simply a subset of art. In one sense, the people who posit this argument are correct. There’s no objective, non-arbitrary measure by which you can judge the quality of a musical composition, artist, or genre. In another sense, these people are completely freaking-wrong.
I hew to the Adam Carolla theory of musical appreciation. That is, there is a distinct, unmistakable cleavage between music that is good and music which, for lack of a better word, sucks. The problem is that today, for a variety of reasons, many cannot distinguish between the two. It explains why, whenever you enter a club, a bar, or a misguided friend’s party, your ears are bombarded with an unremitting stream of reggaeton, dub step, and execrable Top 40 hip hop and pop. It’s why you will never hear a single by Iris DeMent, John Wesley Harding, the Carolina Chocolate Drops or any other musician/band who doesn’t make you long for the sweet release of death.
There’s no non-commercial metric by which you can assert that today’s “popular” music is an improvement upon the past. Does anyone with a shred of intellectual integrity sincerely believe that 50 years from now musical ethnographers will be examining the lyrical content of Akon, Drake, or Nicki Minaj? Or that singles by Rihanna and Lil Wayne will one day be as cherished as compositions by Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus?
One of the most distressing developments recently is the universal popularity of Adele. Not because she is a talentless hack-she’s obviously an attractive, talented musician-but because the acclaim she’s accorded is in no way commensurate with her skill as a singer/songwriter. The reason she is so revered, aside from a personally appealing biography, is because the public is so unaccustomed to listening to popular music which is not utterly terrible.
A female singer who can belt out a soulful elegy to lost love-however banal the sentiment-appears as an oasis in a bleak wasteland where “artists” can’t use any musical instrument, least of all the most elementary one, the human voice. The problem I have with the music industry today though is not Adele, she’s merely a symptom of a much deeper ailment. Namely, the fact that the purveyors and consumers of popular music are tone deaf, brain damaged, or simply contemptuous of good music.
It’s possible, of course, that we are simply on the receiving end of the most elaborate rick roll ever perpetrated upon mankind. That 2 Chainz, Ke$ha, One Direction, and the insufferable Call Me Maybe girl are all simply part of a carefully crafted, adeptly executed attempt at trolling those of us who actually enjoy music as an art form. If so, then I say ”kudos.” Well done, ladies and gentleman.
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Growing Up Bronx