To this day, popular music is very distinctive by nature and has been institutionalized. This is due to its appeal to a relatively larger audience. From my standpoint, this is due to the simplicity of popular music. Listeners eventually find elements of such music that resonate with them, as if it were a portrayal of their personality. Since the appeal of pop music is profound, what contribution does it have on us as individuals?
The paradigm of a song is similar to a poetic structure that comprises a refrain that is distinguishable from other stanzas in a poem. This is now a common convention of songwriting inspired by the same concept, where verses often lead to a chorus, more so in the realm of popular music. This is one example of many conventions that are implemented in pop music to embrace the philosophy of minimalism. Altogether this results in a product that is highly accessible, and profitable. A paper by Wilfred Dolfsma, an economist and philosopher at the University of Bonn Germany, depicted the strong relevance of the economic advantage of pop music. He alluded to prominent musicians that were highly acclaimed and were testimonial figures in the realm of Pop music. For instance, he mentioned the Beatles during the introductory chapter of his paper. The band did not only draw a large audience but also opened a new door to the distinctive characteristics of popular music.
One of those elements could possibly include its potent lyricism. A quintessential example of this is Blackbird by the Beatles. Firstly it is important to have a glimpse at the background of the song. When slavery was abolished in the United States, three constitutional amendments were added, that emancipated African-Americans from legal restrictions. Douglas Massey stated that once the African Americans had migrated from the Southern United States, the prevalence of prejudice against African-Americans had increased, and was expressed by means of violence, that involved, lynching, firebombing, and more. This was seen in the Chicago race riot of 1919, as well as the Tulsa Race Massacre, in which, according to The Brookings Institution, about 1,256 homes had been destroyed. In summary, African Americans were strikingly oppressed during this time. The year in which the song ‘Blackbird’ was released from the band’s self-titled album was the year in which the Fair Housing Act had been instituted, which protects those who are victimized by discrimination due to their color, their race, their disabilities, and more.
Hence, the potency of this song has remained to this date. This idea of using music as a medium of giving voice to a political, or social, belief, has been adopted by multitudinous other influential figures, that include Elvis Presley, Stevie Wonder, and more besides the Beatles. Pop music in the 70s was regarded as a decade of innovative musical ideas. This included the fourth album by garde band Queen, titled “A Night at The Opera”, which features an undertone of triumphant theatrical production, on songs such as Bohemian Rhapsody, as well as the opening track “Death on Two Legs”, that creates an immersive operatic experience. This is reflected in the immense vocal range as well as the changes in the harmonic structure that occur in quick succession. Within this decade, Stevie Wonder’s critically acclaimed Motown record “Songs in the Key of Life” was also released. This involved lyricism which I found compelling to a great extent. Specifically, in “Village Ghetto Land” he depicts the plight of low-income households in a sublime manner. There is an interesting amalgamation between the prominent jazz instrumentation, as well as the influence of soul music throughout the album (as well as the popular music of this era).
The point that I am trying to accentuate is that due to the genre’s current appeal to a large audience, popular music is imperative for economic advantage. Hence, the genre’s current appeal is primarily due to compositional devices that are very easy to comprehend. This includes highly recognizable chord progressions, with elements coming in and out during the track based on the intensity of the track (typically occupying the majority of the frequency spectrum). This is true for the vast majority of popular music. There has been a repeated narrative, seen when speaking of the lyrics, often entering the realms of mental health, affection, and being spurned by a significant other (there are several other issues that such music addresses). These recurring themes, for sure can have potency, however, the iterations of these concepts can lead to the deterioration of the authenticity of a composition.
From my perspective, I have noticed a large number of students being influenced by music that has the intent of appealing to a specific age group. Some qualitative values of this form of music involve identifiable refrains, and motifs, that include minimal variation. The approach of minimalism is also applied when you think of the currently renowned emo-pop scene. There sure is a lyrical theme that can appeal to the vast majority (going along the themes of emotional stability, of being spurned). But is there necessarily an extensive variety of perspectives from which these concepts are conveyed?
These can often be widely appealing topics to write about, that many can instantaneously relate to on a personal level. This includes Woodstock students. Pop artists are figures that have the power to have a profound impact; on our way of introspection, the formation of our beliefs, and the way we frame our conscience.
Hence, it is important to have agency over the music we consume, for this art-form to have a positive effect on our lives. I happen to see an increasing rarity of contemporary popular music to appeal to me, in the sense, find highly prominent records of this era emotionally evocative. It is imperative for music to evolve, not only by means of powerful lyrics but also by compositional ideas that would have a meaningful impact on society.
Paranjay is a staff reporter.
Edited by Asha.