I’m the Antipop

“Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” – Nick Hornby, High Fidelity


Why does the pop music of today seem so much worse when compared with popular musicians of the past? The top 10 best-selling albums in the decade 2000-2009 included albums by Linkin Park, Creed and (gulp) Britney Spears. Can one even compare these musicians with popular artists of the past such as the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin without cringing at our generation’s lack of quality musical output? Or, to phrase it another, why is it that the popular music of today seems to be, almost without exception, pure shite?

Am I dreaming? Is Flo Rida’s ‘Low’ really the pinnacle of today’s pop-cultural progeny? Sadly, it seems to be the case. The music industry has sucked the creativity out of its money-makers; time after time, we see rehashed, lazy music reaching the peaks of the Billboard charts, and the public seems to neither notice nor care. In today’s short-attention span culture, is it really particularly laudable that pop musicians sing about groupies giving them blowjobs (Flo Rida, “Right Round”) or faux-lesbian shenanigans (Katy Perry, “I Kissed A Girl”)?

Lupe Fiasco, one of the more socially conscious popular musicians, produced a brilliant sophomore album, The Cool. One of the standout songs, “Little Weapon,” tells a narrative aiming to spread awareness of child soldiers. However, it was not one of the singles; of course, Atlantic Records did not want to release a politically-charged song, and instead opted to release singles that deal with the life of a musical star (the singles were “Superstar,” “Paris, Tokyo” and “Hip-Hop Saved My Life.”) Little wonder, then, that Lupe soon ran into trouble with Atlantic after they repeatedly pushed the release date of his third album, Lasers.

The Coolest.

To be fair, we can’t blame the record labels for everything; they have a duty to their shareholders to maximise profits, and in so doing they often sign artists who are the safest; middle-ground musicians who are unlikely to alienate their client base and compromise profit margins. But the artists themselves cannot be entirely spared from the blame; it is their conscious choice to sign with labels who can often stifle their creativity if it may take them in a direction that would not shift units. On the other hand, the extra budget for recording and the like can allow them artistic liberties that they would be denied at an indie label. At the end of the day, however, it comes down to priorities. And if a musician’s first priority is making money, it will be reflected in their business decisions and their music to boot.

That’s why it’s refreshing to see bands like Radiohead eschewing the major-label runaround and going back to a do-it-yourself ethic with their groundbreaking pay-what-you-want release of In Rainbows. Not only was it a responsible artistic decision, but Thom Yorke said in an interview that In Rainbows earned them more money than the rest of their catalogue combined. By cutting out the middle man, Radiohead were able to thrive both creatively and financially.

Of course, the counter-argument is that Radiohead couldn’t pull off a stunt like that had they not gained the requisite popularity through their partnership with major record labels. The relationship is complicated, and it seems that, despite the ever-growing popularity of digitally released music, record labels still hold the upper hand over their artists. The artists need the recording budget the labels provide, while the label needs the artist to sell albums.

It’s a sad, sobering thought that record labels run the game. Musicians need to eat, and labels are the ones who put the food on the table. Bigger labels = more food & better food. Indie labels = sometimes not enough food, or no food at all.

I originally intended this to be something of a manifesto espousing the values that we at EnoughEmpty stand for, but it seems to have morphed into something else entirely, more of a rant against the necessary evil that is major record labels. So next time your turn on the radio and find yourself cringing at the shit that assaults your aural senses, think about why it happens and think about how we can change it. It’s not that hard, guys: Stop buying shitty artists’ shitty music! And then we’re all winners. Except the labels. But they’re all stinking capitalist pigs anyway, so who cares! =D

Thank you, and good night.


About Rage
Australian student with interests in music, film, literature, politics, pop culture and more.

4 Responses to I’m the Antipop

  1. fuckyournames says:

    I think this quote always manages to say a great deal about the current affairs of our modern market and artistic climate–musically speaking, I suppose:

    “I think records were just a little bubble through time and those who made a living from them for a while were lucky. There is no reason why anyone should have made so much money from selling records except that everything was right for this period of time. I always knew it would run out sooner or later. It couldn’t last, and now it’s running out. I don’t particularly care that it is and like the way things are going.

    “The record age was just a blip. It was a bit like if you had a source of whale blubber in the 1840s and it could be used as fuel. Before gas came along, if you traded in whale blubber, you were the richest man on Earth. Then gas came along and you’d be stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry mate – history’s moving along. Recorded music equals whale blubber. Eventually, something else will replace it.’’

    The biggest problem companies have is not a lack of grand vision, but of minute vision. There’s a change happening–nay sweeping–among people as information becomes harder and harder to control and distribute with control. Almost every single area of the corporate world has had to adapt to newer technology, laws and consumer tastes, a fluctuating bizarro-world that changes within decades, sometimes half of that time. The media conglomerates haven’t changed their business model in 60+ years, and they literally have no idea how to do anything about it (companies like Apple and even Amazon have deftly undercut companies like Sony with their cheap and convenient mp3 downloads), and instead resort to bully and scare tactics that largely fall flat on their face (or invoke a strong retaliation) and silly and ultimately uses DRM technology that has, literally, only been a detriment to paying customers.

    I find the whole thing fascinating, honestly. We’re at a crux within the media world and it’s super powers, and I honestly have no idea if they will be able to scramble enough to stand or just crush themselves under their own weight.

  2. Chris says:

    I would argue, that Radioheads approach is not only feasible for small time musicians as well, it is a proven method. Take for example, Jonathan Coulton, and Jon Lajoie.

    Both men are successes as a result of their direct to you, pay what you will attitude.

    KRS-1 has been preaching that for a band to really get the love, they need to give their music away and let the fans do the talking afterwards.

    I love that you wrote this, it is an eloquent version of what I have been saying for years. But it can never be left to go unsaid.

    • Rage says:

      Cheers mate, I may do something of a follow-up in the future, but right now my cup runneth over with stuff that I gotta do.

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