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Dirty pop: has the time come for a curtain call?
Dirty pop: has the time come for a curtain call?
By Chris Lackner
What's the deal with this pop life and when is it gonna fade out?
|Over the past decade, groups like *N Sync, The Backstreet Boys and solo artists like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera have risen to dominate the charts. Historically, music has moved in cycles of popularity and both industry insiders and musicians are left anticipating what the next shift in popular music will be.
Steve Waxman, director of national publicity and video promotion for Warner Music Canada, said the dominance of "sugary pop" is hardly a new phenomenon. "Don't forget, much of what came out of Motown was viewed the same way as [current pop music], as were The Beatles."
Waxman said it is increasingly difficult for the music industry to anticipate future trends. "There are kids in their bedrooms today creating songs on their guitars, keyboards and computers," he said. "We [try to] anticipate the trends. We're all music fans who listen to new music, see new bands, listen to recommendations and read a lot to get a sense of what other people are talking about."
In the search for new artists, Waxman said the music industry is not looking for an act that will revolutionize the world. "We just try to find talented people who write great songs," he said. "We then try to get those songs heard by the general public, who will then decide what the next trend will be. Sometimes the stuff we love doesn't go anywhere and sometimes it goes through the roof. We try to be right 100 per cent of the time."
Nicole Hughes, lead singer and guitarist of London-based Scratching Post, said there will always be a market for pop music. "There will always be kids who want to relate to something. People will never stop being lazy with music. The masses will take what's handed to them," she explained.
"The popularity of certain music seems to move in cycles," she said, noting rap/rock hybrid bands like Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit are currently enjoying heavy sales and a growing share of the market.
Grant Stein, music manager for London's Energy radio, CFPL radio and FM96, said pop artists like Britney Spears and *N Sync are getting older and becoming more experimental with their music, but that doesn't mean pop is dying. "The audience is moving towards more of an urban pop sound, but it is still pretty pop-oriented," he said, adding new artists with similar sounds will replace the old ones.
Multiple factors including culture, demographics and politics are involved in the shifting patterns of popular music, he explained.
It's difficult for major record companies to anticipate future music trends because they can only react to popular tastes, Stein added. "If they're smart and they have people on the "street," they might be able to recognize those trends earlier."
Stein said music is currently undergoing a period of extremes, where multiple styles of music are gaining popularity. These alternative styles don't have the mass popularity of pop music, but they are an important part of the shifting scene, he said.
"It's the rap/rock artists like Linkin Park and Kid Rock that kind of music represents the variety that seems to be becoming popular and more mainstream," he said.
Tony Lima, co-owner and bar manager of London's Call the Office, predicts the impending downfall of current pop music. "Let's face it commercial music sucks," he explained. "People can only handle so much of the same crap before marketing takes over and there is a changing of the guard."
Despite the fact his club is well-known as a venue for the underground music scene, Lima had a sympathetic perspective on the current fans of sugary pop. "The kids who are listening to this music are really no different from the generation [currently] graduating from university, who may have listened to things like Tiffany at a similar age."
"Image" marketing in the music industry is now more prevalent than it ever was before, he explained. "Every aspect of a band's career goes towards guaranteeing the maximum [sales] in the least amount of time."
Lima said the fragmentation of the music market has left recording studios at a relative loss. "The major labels are now, more than ever, at a loss for what is going to work. If you look at the Internet and MP3 technology as the tape trading of the 21st century, it is becoming increasingly apparent that record labels are less important now than they have ever been.
"The real problem [with the industry] is they've been selling us albums that are half crap. Why should we buy a one-hit wonder's album? Why should we pay $20 for an album that costs $1 to make? Music fans will always buy albums by bands they like it's the record company that will lose [for producing incomplete albums] and they deserve it for being greedy for so long."
Waxman said record companies have produced single-based albums since the 1960s and noted the pattern will likely stay the same. "In the past, you were able to buy 7" singles for $2, but people still went out and bought the whole album. Things haven't changed [with the advent of digital technology]."
Matt Murphy, lead singer of Halifax-based band Flashing Lights, said bands on independent labels, such as his own Outside Music feel less pressure to conform to the big label recipe. "Record companies stress having those two or three rockin' songs, but it's just not enough. It's the public who is fed up."
The technological revolution facing the music industry makes people hone in on what they want from a record, he explained. "People's attention spans are getting shorter and shorter."
The events of Sept. 11 have created new political realities that may change the music industry as well, he added. "I can't imagine people continuing to rot their brain on [pop]."
The future of rock may be found in synthesized sounds, he predicted. "Every rock band in the world is getting a sampler and a sequencer and putting beats in their rock. It's all about loops and synthesizers."
Murphy said pop and rock music simply move in a cyclical pattern, recycling and re-inventing the sounds of the past. "It's really just like a machine."
He blamed some of the current lacklustre popular music on studios pressuring artists to record albums that cater to marketing and put less emphasis on music quality.
Mike Sloan, lead singer of London-based band Ruth's Hat, said music fans shouldn't limit themselves to what is playing on popular radio and in the local HMV store.
Sloan said popular music never really changes, but only mutates into a different form. "People think it has changed, but if you listen to a techno song, a rock song or a [hip hop] tune, they all have [similar] hooks. The instrumentation changes, but the hooks remain the same. They just take it and contort it to something new."
"Pop music is so simple," he said. "It's just about a hook and a catchy melody it's all you need."
The shifting sands of current popular music have yet to make themselves clear. No matter what changes are to come, pop music seems unlikely to fade out. It may simply be ready to put on a new face.
with files from Sharon Roberts