It’s All Downhill From Here

MTV: The television channel introduced in 1981 that would change music forever. No longer would music solely be about the music. Before we’d focus on riffs, chords, lyrics, or voices; now, an entirely new segment of music had been introduced: videos. Could MTV potentially be to blame for the shift in music over the years? Possibly. Is it safe to say that music became more about image than depth after its introduction? No doubt. Does that mean that creative, thought provoking music completely disappeared? Of course not.

The 1980s pushed boundaries. It was in this decade that music slowly started to conform into the industry we see today. After the introduction of MTV, videos became more of a necessity in order for artists to gain popularity (especially with the youth population). Take Michael Jackson for example. He was already an extremely popular, talented musician heading into the decade; however, his music video for “Thriller” transformed his legacy forever. With arguably one of the most popular music videos of all time (which turned a song into a 14 minute long horror film), his career skyrocketed. Would the song have received as much attention if the video hadn’t accompanied it? It’s hard to say for sure—but I’m going to say probably not.

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You can’t talk about music videos in the 80’s without mentioning Madonna. Videos such as “Like A Prayer” or “Like A Virgin” are why many people refer to the decade with a superficial attitude. Most of Madonna’s songs and videos centered on sex appeal, which ultimately helped skyrocket her to the top of the charts. She is a prime example of a star whose appearance aided her success. Sure, her music was good. Sure, she had talent. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that sex sells, and she was selling a lot of it.

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The launch of videos often resulted in superficial music; however, this doesn’t mean that all 80’s music lacked luster. The decade was known for its timeless rock groups (Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, ACDC, Journey, U2, R.E.M., the Rolling Stones, etc.), but surprisingly, it was also a strong period for the development of protest music and the socially conscious hip hop movement.

Let me begin with “Straight To Hell” by The Clash, which protested against social injustices and addressed economic issues, matters pertaining to the Vietnam War, and racism. The Clash has been said to be one of the “most important socially conscious bands of all time.”

Then there was “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2. Not only does this song directly address the Bloody Sunday massacre that took place in Northern Ireland in 1972, but it also serves as a message of hope urging people to solve their problems together and refrain from using violence. Bono and the rest of U2 still remain one of the most socially conscious bands to this day.

Boogie Down Productions served as a leader in the socially conscious hip hop movement during this time period. Their song “Stop the Violence” campaigned against violence within the hip hop community.

To me, the 80’s accurately set the tone for decades to come in the future. It was a decade with a mix of superficial music videos and meaningful protest songs, but guess what got the most attention? That’s right, the videos. It was at this time in history that popular music started to shift into a downwards spiral.

Let’s move on to the 90’s (the music that I grew up with). Personally, when I think of this decade, I immediately think of the artists that I listened to as a kid: Backstreet Boys, N’SYNC, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera…. This music was the epitome of pop culture during this time, as boy bands and female solo artists completely dominated the decade. As a kid, I never focused on the content of the songs at all. I never paid attention to the words, or what message they were sharing. To be honest, I just enjoyed what sounded good and what music videos looked good. It’s this mindset that has carried through to our current youth generation. Sure, I love listening to Dave Matthews, Pearl Jam, and the Foo Fighters now that I’m older… but as a kid I didn’t even know they existed.

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The 90’s were arguably ruled by a mixture of pop sensations and powerful singers (Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, and Whitney Houston). In order to find solid protest songs, you have to dig deep. One band that comes to mind is Rage Against the Machine. This group was known for their political music, and they were even spotted performing at Occupy Wall Street a few years ago.

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One singer/songwriter of this decade who has been socially conscious for MANY years is none other than Bruce Springsteen. As one of the most popular artists of all time, it’s refreshing to see that he’s stuck to his roots. He’s never been afraid to sing about personal experiences or issues that he felt needed addressing. He also continued (and still does) to set affordable ticket prices for his shows in order for all fans to have the chance to attend. His song “The Ghost of Tom Joad” was one of the standout protest songs of the decade. In this track, he gives social activism and the great depression a modern setting, linking the past with the present. It’s artists like Bruce who keep the spirit of social activism alive in an era centered on young pop sensations.

As years go on, it seems as though rich, political music becomes harder to find. While many assume that it’s simply disappeared, it hasn’t. Political music continues to be written and recorded, it’s simply the industry that’s changed. Creative, meaningful songs that SHOULD be heard are often hidden under a pile of pop anthems. More often than not, these pop songs come from young, attractive stars who sing lyrics written by other musicians. In order for our music culture to go back in time, we need to start paying attention to the artists who aren’t getting the attention. It’s these songwriters who truly have the best message to share.

 

By: Catherine

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Shake Your Pirate Booty

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The biggest posing threat to the recording companies is illegal pirating of music. According to the Institute for Policy Innovation, as a result of music piracy, the U.S. economy loses 71,060 jobs and $12.5 billion in total output annually. The current business model no longer favors recording companies. We are currently living in a digital world. The one problem the advancements in technology creates is that sharing music is easy as a click of a button. The “sharing” of music consists mostly of piracy and poses a threat to recording companies as well as artists themselves. Since peer-to-peer (p2p) file-sharing site Napster emerged in 1999, music sales in the U.S. have dropped 53 percent, from $14.6 billion to $7.0 billion in 2011. Also, from 2004 through 2009 alone, approximately 30 billion songs were illegally downloaded on file-sharing networks.

Pirating will always exist but recording companies have found ways to make it more difficult to do and is becoming less appealing. By creating a challenge in illegally downloading music, pirating will become less favored over the efficient and userfriendly streaming of music. Even though streaming does not provide you with ownership, it provides you with a selection of songs targeted to your liking, it is quick, and guarunteed better quality than illegal downloads. 

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Words from Kid Rock

Another issue is that old purchased CD’s are being thrown away instead of recycled. Majority of the CD’s being wasted are not albums but instead blank CD’s we use to burn songs onto. It is so easy to share songs with your friends with these blank CD’s. Every month approximately 100,000 pounds of CDs become obsolete. Some more sustainable alternatives to blank CD’s would be to purchase mp3 players, share files online, and purchase items such as auxiliary cords or bluetooth car features that connect to mp3 players to your car’s stereo system. Other resourceful options would be to increase CD life with proper use and cleaning as well as recycling unwanted CD’s. Recycling saves energy and raw materials.

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By: Melissa

The Naked Generation

I don’t think there’s any denying that nudity, or close to it, has become a trend amongst popular musicians of our generation.  Sure, there are plenty of musicians that do not fall into this trend, and their success may be just as great.  However, in order to get the headlines these days, artists should bring little to their performances besides their best-lotioned skin.  It’s a sad turn that musicians have taken, and to me it is nothing more than a distraction from their real talent.  Some of them, of course, have little to no talent at all, which is why they have taken to this fad.  Others, I believe, have taken this turn simply because sex sells.

While it is interesting that relatively new artists such as Ke$ha and Lady Gaga consistently present themselves as scandalous, I think it is more important to look at artists that have been around for a while.  The trend I look to point out is that they have gotten progressively more promiscuous with time, as the hyper-sexualization of our culture continues.

Britney Spears:

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Miley Cyrus:

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Rihanna:
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Selena Gomez:

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It would take days to list all of the artists that have turned to this scandalous “sex sells” strategy.  What speaks the most to our culture, in my opinion, is that it works.  When Miley Cyrus came out with her extremely scandalous VMA performance and her soon after music video, people were outraged.  Parents ranted about how she was a bad role model.  Young people ranted about how her body isn’t “good enough” for that type of exposure.  What these people didn’t realize, is that they were doing exactly what Miley wanted them to do.  By talking about her, they were only making her more famous.  The video that everyone was so angry about now has over 300 MILLION views on YouTube! Feminists were outraged by Robin Thicke’s scandalous Blurred Lines video- which I can’t even post here because of the explicit nudity- and that has over 218 million views.  Sex sells- whether we like it or not.

The only hope for our generation of popular musicians lies in the musicians that do not feel the need to conform to this.  Sure, most of them show a little skin once in a while, but they recognize that it is not necessary.  One performance that was refreshing to see was Katy Perry’s performance of her hit Roar at this year’s Video Music Awards.  The video presents women in a way that they usually are not.  Perry carries the image of a fighter- not just literally, but figuratively.  Finally, something for young girls to look up to, rather than a naked girl dancing for record sales or YouTube views.

Another type of artist that provides hope is the one that relies solely on talent to sell records- what a concept!  Artists such as Adele and Sara Bareilles are a breath of fresh air to any consumer who seems to be drowning in bras and underwear worn as full outfits.  The difference in the image that is portrayed, as well as the content of the music, is amazing.

So musicians are doing this because it works.  Plain and simple.  The next question I seek to answer is how this affects youth- not just females, but males as well.  By perpetuating this norm of nudity, girls are taught that this is normal and boys are taught that this is what girls should conform to.  It is destructive, without a doubt, and the only way to change it is by refusing to buy into it.

By: Emily

You Stream, I Stream, We All Stream for Music

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There has already been seen such a tremendous change over the years in the ways we access music. Music distribution has technologically advanced from vinyl records, to 8-tracks, to audiocassettes, to compact discs, to digital downloads. Digital recordings of music have become easily accessible to everyone. With more technologies being invented, the music industry will continue to change over time.

There have been several behavioral shifts in consumer attitudes and the digital transformation of the marketplace creates challenges for recording companies. I live in a generation who grew up buying CD’s and now listen to music through the headphones of their smart phones and mp3 players. These digital music players have continued to amaze me as they increase in storage yet shrink in size, like the .34’’x1.14’’x1.24’’ iPod Shuffle with a total weight of .44 of an ounce. The future designs of music players will increase in quality and in storage with the ability to decrease in size. Current technology is geared to improve convenience for consumers and is popularly accessed using one hand. For teens living in this generation, instant gratification holds great importance. Living in a digital era, teens are used to and expect immediate results. The societal “norm” is that teens are continuously connected to the world through the use of their smart phones. The smart technology phone has revolutionized every teenager’s world. A smart phone is a hybrid technology. It is a radio, telephone, basic computer, clock, camera, and many more, all converged into one technology. It allows the users whole life to be mobile. Their world can travel with them day-in and day-out right in their pocket. However, aside from the convenience of this technology, it has created a cyber realm that combines all the users apps into one place and has created a user-dependency.

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Accessing music versus owning music are two different kinds of business models that are both being used by consumers today. These two concepts are on opposite ends of the spectrum. With physical medias, revenue always followed. Recording Companies produced, sold, and distributed a physical format that was immediately bought and compensated for. It is more complicated when it comes to digital forms, whether music is streamed online or purchased and downloaded legally. Providers like Pandora and Spotify offer free access to free music through streaming and are funded mostly by advertisements. They also offer advertisement-free subscriptions for a set fee. Streaming is the process of accessing music online and allows consumers to listen to songs right from the provider but does not supply ownership. Digital downloads for ownership are purchased mainly from the top sales leader iTunes followed by Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. Online music stores and music providers both pay royalty fees to the recording companies whom produce the music.The one posing threat to the companies is illegal pirating of music.

 

By: Melissa

Pave Paradise, And Put Up A Parking Lot

In the words of Joni Mitchell, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” In many ways, this lyric can apply to the shift in the music industry over the years. No, music is not “gone;” however, in many ways, the originality and heartfelt lyrics that used to comprise popular hits have in fact disappeared. Want proof? Just compare the lyrics of popular tracks over the past decades. We went from singing along to songs about living life in peace to ones urging a stranger to “call me maybe.” It may sound cliché, but in many ways the “paradise” that used to be our beloved music industry has in fact been paved into a dull, jaded parking lot.

Music used to be colorful, uplifting, and inspiring. It used to reflect the struggles of talented musicians fighting to have their messages heard. For example, let’s first date back to the Motown era. This era embodied artists who collectively created “a model of black capitalism, pride and self-expression and a repository for some of the greatest talent ever assembled at one company.” Artists such as the Miracles, Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and the Jackson 5 all helped break down barriers and racial prejudices through their thoughtful lyrics, impact on society, and admiration from fans all over the world.

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These artists weren’t concerned with how they looked, how mainstream their music sounded, or how quickly their songs escalated into “hits.” Extremely raw, talented musicians, who simply wanted to make a difference in the world through their music, represented the 1950’s and 1960’s. Take the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s for example. At a time where individuals were fighting for equal treatment and privileges, you had Aretha Franklin demanding “Respect,” Bob Dylan stating that “Times They Are A Changin,” Billie Holiday singing about “Strange Fruit,” Sam Cooke claiming that “Change Gonna Come,” and Pete Seeger singing “We Shall Overcome.” Artists and songs such as these were able to portray a sense of unification throughout our country and encourage people to continue fighting for their rights. How can anyone even begin to compare these masterpieces to popular songs in our present culture?

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And you can’t talk about the 60’s without mentioning the Beatles. Has there ever been a group as great as them? Will there ever be? Probably not. Scratch that, definitely not. These guys were organic. They were incomparable innovators who shocked the world with every album they released. They were unique, creative, and simply in a league of their own. They had a rare ability to influence the world in a way unlike anyone else. It’s this creativity and originality that lacks in our current generation of pop culture.

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Let’s move on to the 1970’s. This era is marked by a very diverse, unique group of artists, who portray the diverse individuals in between the seriousness of the 60’s and the boundary pushing 80’s. In this decade, people started to acquire individual varieties of taste, as opposed to “mass trends and fads” of prior eras. “The Hippie Culture,” as many call it, involved opposition to the Vietnam War and nuclear weapons, as well as advocacy for world peace and green politics. Rock really took off in this decade, with bands such as AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Aerosmith. These unique musicians captivated their fans through their raw talent and original lyrics.

The 1970’s also brought out artists like Bob Marley. His music centered on advocating for peace, ending war, freedom, and sending positive vibes. The simplicity of his music made for easy listening, and had the ability to simply put a smile on someone’s face. That’s the beauty of music… even the most simple lyric can share the most meaningful message.

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When I think of all these amazing musicians and the powerful messages they were able to share, or the unique cultural trends they were able to portray, it makes me wonder: what happened? Where did all this originality go? Where are the music innovators or music activists in our current society? It seems as though creativity has been on a downward spiral in past years. Instead of trying to “change the world” or “achieve peace,” our music icons are in a constant war to “out-shock” each other, and win the vote for “most bizarre.” You can’t even watch an awards show anymore without the focus being on artists’ appearances or odd outfits. This isn’t what music is supposed to be about. You’re not supposed to turn on the radio and hear a string of hits with a similar chord and irrelevant lyrics. You’re not supposed to classify an artist solely by their appearance or actions. First it was Britney Spears, then Lady Gaga, then Katy Perry, then Nicki Minaj, and now Miley Cyrus. When will it end? When will the artists who DO exemplify pure talent and originality shine through and earn their rightful praise and attention. It’s hard to tell for sure; however, one thing is for certain… we better hope it’s soon.

 

By: Catherine

The Abnormal Becomes Normal

They say that when we look up at the stars in the sky, we are not really seeing stars but rather a reflection of light where a star used to be.  If you ask me, a similar statement can be made about the stars of music.  When we see an artist, we do not see their personality, their values, or their history.  Instead, we see how our society has reflected on them and how they reflect that same society back on us.  The stars of today’s music industry have the very same profession as those in the past, but their image has transformed through time along with the culture they entertain.

I look first to the Motown era- one of sophisticated excellence.  Many Motown artists were from poor backgrounds, but their catchy beats and brilliant lyrics soon made them “the sound of young America.”  The common theme amongst the image of Motown artists is utmost class.  Take The Supremes for example: Diana+Ross++The+Supremes++Mary+Wilson+s

I could post 100 pictures of these women and not one of them would display anything but gorgeous, modest class all around.  Other artists of this era followed suit, from the handsome Jackson 5 to the ever charming Marvin Gaye.  The success of Motown did not stop at record sales.  This music broke down racial barriers and kept everyone dancing, regardless of color.

Fast forward to the 1980’s and we see a drastic change.  1983 marked a period of economic growth.  With a happy economy comes happy people, and the artists of the 1980s certainly reflected this decade of change.  Michael Jackson was in his prime, Whitney Houston wanted to dance with somebody, and these guys were ready to dance with just about anything…

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Obviously, the 80’s were a time of individuality.  People were finding new ways to express themselves, and music was one of those outlets.  Naturally, the artists were expressing themselves as well, and the decline of Diana Ross’s classiness begins…

The 90’s brought one of the greatest times in history for our economy.  Along with this came the appreciation of new cultures such as grunge culture and rave culture.  There was an air of invincibility that came along with this changing society, and once again, music reflected this.  Mariah Carey began showing some skin, and the attitude of youth culture began to be expressed through bands like TLC.  In keeping with Steven Tyler’s mesh shirts, the clothes continued to come off in the 90s.  As a girl of the 90s myself, I idolized these ladies, although I’m not sure they were the greatest role models when I reflect upon it now.

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When we think about music today, it seems impossible that these artists still claim to be inspired by people such as Whitney Houston and Diana Ross.  Today, little to no clothing seems to be the norm, just as teenage rebellion and anti-politics have been continuing fads.  All of the buzz today surrounds those who push the limits.  From Lady Gaga being basically naked at this years VMA’s-

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to Miley Cyrus being literally naked in her latest music video, nudity is the newest thing to do to get attention.  It is undeniable that these artists have an effect on youth culture today, and vice versa.  What are youth today really seeing when they look up to these stars?

By: Emily

Music: Evolution of the Revolution

You, your parents, your grandparents, and so on, have all been affected differently by music.  Throughout history, music has changed along with society.  What you may not realize is how music itself changes and shapes society.  The music industry has evolved from the domination of the super-groups like The Beatles, to the promiscuous solo artists like Britney Spears.  The way in which we access music has changed drastically, from vinyl records to entire digital albums available at the click of mouse.  Music and performance can be used as a form of expression, but what is it that we as a generation are expressing?