POP MUSIC IS GLOOMY AND IT’S TRUMP’S FAULT – Kinda. “The New York Times” surveys 2017’s pop music landscape and finds it mired in gloom, doom and not-so-silent desperation:
The tone of that song [Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO TOUR Llif3”] — mournful, dazed, sullen, traumatized, self-absorbed, defensive, remote, morbid — was pervasive in the pop of 2017. Hit radio and popularity-driven algorithmic playlists lingered on bleak, bummed-out sounds and scenarios, stringing together music that shares the feeling of being alienated, unprotected and besieged.
And why not? Consider the pressures on the millennial and younger listeners who are clicking to choose a song. They’re making their way into an era of accelerating income inequality. They’re awash in social media that nationalizes peer pressure, that expects intricately maintained self-branding and that shows — with photos — how just about everyone else is having a better life.
They are on college-education tracks that could leave them with a staggering debt burden, or they face the prospect of working in a dead-end retail or service-sector job under the ruthless exploitation of a gig economy. Social safety nets are being shredded, environmental protections are being reversed. For young listeners, there’s no guarantee of a fulfilling career or even of nontoxic food, air and water.
No wonder the artists want to hang themselves; they’re all reading “The New York Times”.
Most of the song examples cited by the Grey Old Lady are rap tracks. Call me racist, but I’ve never considered rap to be pop music, and rap has always been a gloomy, dystopic art form; “Straight Outta Compton” and “Fuck the Police”, after all, weren’t exactly “California Girls” or “Take On Me”. Then again, maybe I’m wrong – after all, rap probably does have many sub-genres, from gangsta to popsta. Maybe I’m arguing with the “NYT” over semantics – for me, pop music has always been almost by definition light and cheerful, whereas the “NYT” probably would argue that pop music stands for popular music, i.e. anything on the Top 40 is popular or pop, and the Top 40 is now overwhelmingly pop/dance/rap/R’n’B to an almost complete exclusion of any other music types that once used to make more or less frequent appearances: rock, hard rock, metal, country, alternative.
All that aside, why is pop so gloomy? Largely because the cultural left insists that everything is political and has to be politicised. While the old is being castigated for all its sins and -phobias, the new has to be an instrument of “raising the consciousness”, “subverting the power structures” and “fighting the oppression”. Even if your college degree has not already indoctrinated you to see the world through the prism of Zinn, Chomsky and Dworkin, amongst all the creative world peer pressure it’s safer to be woke. Taylor Swift – one of the few genuine pop stars, who actually produces catchy and happy pop music – is being hounded precisely for being apolitical and not gloomy. Why wouldn’t you want to slash your wrists and make some money from it?