I don’t often learn anything new in liberal arts classes, but when I do, it’s a revelatory experience. Such an awakening occurred during the 5-minute break of a literature class when the conversation turned to one student’s musical tastes, or deficiency thereof. “I’ve been listening to a lot of EDM,” remarked the three-year student of epic poetry, theology, and philosophy. “EDM when I wake up, when I shower, when I drive…” Everybody laughed, except for the Author.
A collage of extremely wealthy and popular EDM “artists”
This is not to call the pop star a strictly Millennial invention. Indeed, every generation has had its share of safe and featureless junk that rapidly fades into obsolescence, only to be resurrected in a hastily made Totally 80s playlist and exposed to a whole new batch of suckers who think they love the pop music of their parents but wouldn’t bother themselves to buy or listen to any older album in its entirety. This is the paradox of claiming to love music from the 80s or any other decade: by the very denotation of “80s music”, one both demarcates said music to a separate category from contemporary music, suggesting it’s less relevant or pure as art, and subtly dehumanizes the authorship of the older music by attributing its genesis to cultural trends instead of individual composers and performers. Talking Heads, e.g., were not an amazing “80s Music” band; they were a very influential and creative band who were known for working in the new wave and art pop genres, who happened to flourish in the 80s, and whose lead singer went on to have a semi-successful solo career.
Nor do I wish to say that genuine musical artistry has expired; quite to the contrary, the internet, self-publishing, and crowd-funding have parted the floodgates to a deluge of artists who in past days may never have reached an audience outside their own town. The sphere of music at our disposal has compounded in volume over the last decade, and yet Millennials have somehow conceived more and more efficient means of homogenizing everything that reaches their ears. Instead of listening to artists, stories, or sonic landscapes, we listen to genres and “moods”, effectively screening out any music that doesn’t match our spirits at a time or that we don’t already find pleasing. We have music for pumping iron, music for hitting the beach, music for drinking fake, expensive coffee, music for getting drunk and upsetting the neighbors, music for spiting male conservative friends, and according to Spotify, even music for having sex. Wired has an interesting article examining how exhaustively the company has wrapped itself around the lives of its customers, but this should already be apparent to anybody who has used the program more than once a day. While music as a mindless supplement to other activities steadily proliferates, we see music for music’s sake increasingly regressing into an intimidating, alien concept, and not the kind that European leaders welcome into their society. This is detrimental to any thriving culture.
Spotify bombards users of the free version with advertisements enticing them to subscribe and “skip away” until they find a song that’s just right for their current company or state of mind. In the dark ages predating the internet and ADD streaming services, skipping away was not a viable or easy option, requiring one to record a mixtape or burn a CD in order to jump between several unrelated songs in a row. Alternatively one could fumble through a collection of physical media to sate one’s longing for a radically different song, but the hassle involved in this exchange intrinsically motivated the listener to focus on one artist for 40 minutes at a time. Certain LPs, such as The Dark Side of the Moon, played out as two unbroken, sweeping pieces of music, defying anyone twitchy enough to skip around and achieve the same emotional high encapsulated in the whole. Pink Floyd’s albums, and others’ to a lesser extent, rewarded those who listened intentionally and persevered through the slower instrumental sections. They were theatrical exercises in balance and contrast and bombast, ones that deserved to be heard in whole even by those who didn’t take to the band’s style.
A collage of albums that wouldn’t benefit from skipping away