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An opinion paper on modern pop music

Welcome To The New Age: Amid a landscape of Hollywood apocalypse we hear the sound of campfire singing — it could be Fleet Foxes or the dreaded Mumford clan — attenuated wailing from a world drained of colour and confidence.

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But then something magic happens. The intro fades, the guitars die, and like a peal of thunder, bass returns — churning, venomous synth swirls jack-knifing with 'Kashmir'-meets-dubstep drums.

The singer is suddenly bellowing a lyric about coming up for air after years of torpor and decline, a lyric about beginning to see the future again: For months now, the portents have been gathering even in the deserts of MOR pop culture.

At the risk of understatement, Imagine Dragons' 'Radioactive' — the tune summarised above — was not quite the single of last year. But it was interesting for one very specific reason: After a slow start, it seems that a sense of timeliness, of generational consciousness, is beginning to descend on the 21st century as it emerges from the retromania and pessimism of its opening years.

Even if Imagine Dragons aren't your thing and really, why should they be? Everywhere you look in the chart music of the moment, themes of collectivism and contemporaneity are being pushed front and centre. The Now is becoming acceptable again.

Some examples chosen at random: Miley Cyrus's 'We Can't Stop' dragged the hip-hop-lite party anthem into the realm of generational statement, with its evocation of a cut-loose delinquent tribe who own the night and take nothing from nobody; Tinie Tempah's 'Children Of The Sun' adopted a similar posture, also appearing to nod at the defiant hedonism of recent teensploitation films like Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers and Sofia Coppola's Bling Ring.

Even Sussex lads Rizzle Kicks felt compelled to distil the spirit of the age — in the surprisingly good 'Lost Generation' of last August, a Jeremy Kyle-baiting protest song that bore faint traces of The Specials' era-defining eighties masterpiece 'Ghost Town'. Coupled with its au courant rallying cries, this decade's pop is also cautiously beginning to sound of the moment, even if we still await a sonic breakthrough on the level of a punk or a drum and bass.

In an extract from one of 's most eagerly anticipated books published on this website last summer, the critic Mark Fisher bemoaned the 'anachronism and inertia' of 21st Century culture, and suggested the following thought experiment: It's hard to think that it will produce any jolt in the listeners.

On the contrary, what an opinion paper on modern pop music be likely to shock our audience would be the very recognisability of the sounds: Contrast this with the rapid turnover of styles between the s and the 90s: But, I would argue, the ground has shifted subtly over the past year or so.

It's undoubtedly true that the cultural scene is still dominated by various manifestations of postmodern retro, from the lingering Toryism of the nu-folk troubadours, to Bastille's middle-class rave karaoke, to the legions of trendier bands still allied to the post-punk revivalism of the mid-noughties see Savages. But I think that there are signs that retromania is approaching a point of exhaustion.

  • But the topic is still worth a quick second look, in light of a debate that has had music-criticism circles worked up for weeks;
  • Today, they argue, a variety of factors — maybe a desire to reclaim the idea of a mass culture despite the fracturing influence of the Internet; maybe the economics of getting the maximum number of clicks on an article — have conspired to let pop off that hook;
  • This was also really important for the sound for punk, because the sound of punk was rough and loud and the sound of distortion was perfect for this style of music;
  • It looks like, no matter how old you are, you always believe the music was better when you were growing up.

While the last decade was defined by guitar bands, tongue-in-cheek cover versions, and the trad-rock 'live music revival', what's notable about pop right now is its lack of traditional anchoring, its emphasis on overt studio production techniques and — perhaps most important of all — its aversion to the guitar as a focal point of arrangements. Turning on the radio in, say,was a traumatic experience, embodying exactly the sort of hellish 'anachronism and inertia' Fisher diagnoses.

  • At the risk of understatement, Imagine Dragons' 'Radioactive' — the tune summarised above — was not quite the single of last year;
  • Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking;
  • When the Fab Four was an example of brand new pop, older critics and non-critics alike had the response you might expect;
  • Music is a way to express feeling, opinion and emotions.

As recently as the start of this decade, it was still difficult for the music fan to get through the day without somewhere or other an opinion paper on modern pop music reactionary horrors like Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs, and Kasabian or, more recently, Mumford and Sons, The Vaccines, and Peace. Now, the hegemony of landfill indie appears to have been decisively broken: This shift away from vintage riffology has encouraged new stirrings of modernism, at the same time as the decline of X Factor has opened up a space for more disparate, challenging sounds to penetrate the charts.

True, there have been no truly stellar leaps forward in the fabric and design of mainstream pop. Yet, if the litmus test for development is the likely response of a listener to the music of the present, I think that a large portion of contemporary music from Drake to DJ Rashad would indeed seem unfamiliar and strange — if not, perhaps, outright shocking — to a mids ear.

Even a relatively pedestrian single like Taylor Swift's 'I Knew You Were Trouble', with its sudden lurch into jerky, saturated synth textures in its chorus, would surely force some sort of rethink if beamed back to the year of Livin' Joy's 'Dreamer' and TLC's 'Creep' to say nothing of 's more conservative chart trends. Again, this was an accurate diagnosis at the time, but I think that what we are seeing now is something like the sublimation of the Soar. Piling layers of artificial sonic squall on top of a track began as a way of achieving commercial hyperbole, a classic case of steroid-injection to allow a chorus-hook to soar above its airwave rivals.

Of course, industry pop is still motivated by this instinct, but now The Soar also seems to be giving expression to more genuinely populist sentiments, from the anthemic breakbeat surges of producers like Naughty Boy and Chase and Status, to the vogue for rousing 'lost generation' choruses I outlined above. This gradual return to newness, effusiveness, and generational confidence, of course, reflects a wider social context.

It seems fairly undeniable that a wave of affect is gathering in countries right across the world at the moment, as the old order of neoliberalism begins to crumble, even as its social structures are undergoing a final phase of neurotic entrenchment.

Contemporary pop music — always the avant-garde of the people — is beginning to give expression to a kind of inchoate, utopian longing for a new world. The big question mark looming over the forthcoming decade, now it has finally acquired a degree of self-awareness, is: For a real leap forward in pop to occur, for expressions of rebellious collectivism to develop into a sustained cultural movement, significant structural reform of society is required.

Young musicians need social security as well as imaginative precarity — they need a base of societal support that will provide the time and money necessary for producing art that will move the culture forward. At the moment, social stability barely exists, so we have anger without application, a building sense of collective identity without a clue where to take it.

Karl Marx might have called this a pre-revolutionary situation. Whatever it is, it's clear that we're finally beginning to surge together again after years of dwindling into backward-looking inertia. Welcome to the new age indeed, at last.

Poll Says Contemporary Music is Terrible — But Everyone Always Thinks That

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