different sameness

We are but three weeks into 2015, but one thing has already become clear. Bloggers and critics who prophesize with their keyboards are speaking as one with regard to the state of contemporary music.

Their conclusion?

It all sounds the same. And it all sucks.

All of it. You might as well stop listening now, because scientists predict things will only get worse.

Yes, scientists.

We’ll begin with new country music. ‘Cause, let’s face it, there’s nothing startling about the revelation that it rather sucks. But thanks to the miracle of too much free time, we now have proof.

See, some enterprising individual compiled a powerful demonstration of the alarming sameness of country music by crafting a mashup of six contemporary hits. And sure enough, with a fair bit of manipulation, the songs mesh/mash together seamlessly.

Mind-blowing, eh?

Okay, but it’s still kinda neat. And a real time-saver for new country fans on a schedule.

Of course, that’s new country music. I mean, they might as well have told us Nickelback sucks or something, right?

But it gets worse. The pop charts, it seems, are no less diverse than the country charts. (I know. I couldn’t believe it either.)

You can read all about it in a 2012 article in The Guardian, which observed that “all pop music sounds exactly the same.” The conclusion had officially been drawn by Spanish scientists, possibly as part of an investigation into why Los Bravos did not have more of a lasting impact upon the international pop music scene. The huevos-heads behind the study expressed concern over “the restriction of pitch transitions, the homogenization of the timbral palette and the growing loudness levels” determined from nearly 500,000 recordings over a 55-year period. Which is to say… uh… well, it all sounds the same. And for god’s sake, turn it down! (Evidently, volume controls were not provided to researchers.)

Not convinced?

A study published Dec. 31, 2014, takes things further. Bearing the snappy title, “Instrumental complexity of music genres and why simplicity sells,” the supremely geeky examination of modular diversity stresses that sameness is everything in pop music. That Berry Gordy recognized this truism nearly 60 years ago, is beside the point.

This time, the researchers were from Austria. So yes, they may still be reeling over the loss of Falco. But they talk the talk well.

Their conclusion: Familiarity breeds sales. And all the instruments are starting to sound like one big digital formula.

Which, to some extent, is probably accurate. And intentional.

An article published in the December issue of The Atlantic reported the major labels (there’s still more than one, right?) pay close attention to Shazam searches and Spotify listens to determine where and when artists should be promoted. And, of course, to plot that next homogenous music move. Thanks to the wealth of data the industry has at its disposal, predicting the next bit thing has become that much simpler: It sounds like the current big thing.

So instrumentation is becoming less diverse. Melodies and rhythms are less imaginative. And each new hit sounds like the last. This is potentially good news for dancehall.

It’s considered bad news, however, for lovers of originality. And for, say, the evolution of a genre like hip hop, according to a recent .Mic post, which suggested the once-underground sound is losing its power and is now in danger of becoming “completely white.” You might have read something similar when Vanilla Ice stood atop the pop charts. And hey, with 35 years and counting under its belt, hip hop had a better run than most genres in the world of popular music. Just ask a lambada enthusiast.

But science does not lie. (Except to America’s Tea Party supporters.) So we’d best embrace the sameness, rather than continue to fight it. Oh sure, we’ll continue to long for the days when pop music offered the sort of choice that came with, say, The Breeders, Veruca Salt and Belly, or maybe NSYNC, The Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees. But, well, pop music is not getting any younger. And if you think we can again hear the range of styles that was routine in the days when Pat Boone, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell and Fabian were competing for chart supremacy, think again.

Still, let’s take a moment to check out the Top 10. Maroon 5. Sam Smith. A Jonas brother. A power ballad or two. Some dance tunes. Some Taylor Swift. A pretty swell funk tune featuring Bruno Mars.

All the same? Well, autotuning is everywhere. So that would explain some of it. But then, back in the day, everyone tried to sing like The Beatles, or Elvis, or (for some reason) Eddie Vedder. No one seemed to mind those vocal affectations, so we won’t hold it against the kids of today for desiring as much superficiality as possible. (Please refer to Fabian clip, above.) And call me crazy, but I can tell one song from another. Even the Meghan Trainor songs.

But then, I’m no scientist.

I am, however, a lover of music. And, as the year gets underway, I appear to be in the minority.

Bashing contemporary music is all the rage. An article in the most recent issue of Maclean’s, for instance, chastises the Grammy Awards for restricting their 2015 nominations to upbeat songs. Nary a negative is to be found among those Best Song contenders, evidently. And, according to the article’s author, this is likely a reaction to the big bad world of ISIS and Ebola and other threats. Keep it happy and peppy, for America’s sake.

So gone are the days when Joy Division, Nick Drake, The Smiths and Nick Cave ruled the Grammies. But then, also gone are the days when major world events are a regular laugh-riot. Today, according to those gleeful Grammies, it’s all about cheerful ditties like Chandelier, the Record of the Year and Song of the Year nominee that has vocalist Sia drying her tears as she laments, “I’m a mess / Gotta get out now / Gotta run from this / Here comes the shame.”

Fun stuff. Too bad it sounds like everything else on the radio today.

Just as everything sounded the same on the radio 60 years ago.

Conclusion: Nothing new here, people. Please continue to enjoy your favourite songs.

I’ll continue to enjoy mine. Even if they don’t sound exactly like yours.

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