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.
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?
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.
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.
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.