I’m seeing a lot of these about. It seems some people are willing to compare generations as if there was a universal standard of “good” music. It’s an interesting idea, of course, but it betrays a hell of a prejudice. The argument (if it can be called such a thing) is that Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles are good, Nicki Minaj and Justin (Justine?) Bieber are bad.
Of course this opinion is largely empty-headed and most of my counter-argument will go over the heads of those who often (routinely, even) make this point. But it bears an examination because it’s indicative of something pretty fundamental to the human condition – a sort of prevalent dementia called “nostalgia”.
Dara O’Briain called nostalgia “heroin for old people” who believed that “things were better in the old days!”, and countered with the point that, “you couldn’t turn a light on in the forties without the Luftwaffe bombing the shit out of it. Just because you were younger and getting laid more often doesn’t mean it was a better time to be alive”. He has a point – nostalgia is a way of making the past “safe”, as it were. The present is a big mess of broken eggs; gloopy, sticky, sharp and odd-smelling; in other words, difficult to get hold of. Time and memory lead the past to be nicely packaged, like a box of eggs – everything safe, ordered and compartmentalised, the rough edges smoothed off.
It’s the same reason people tune into history programs and wander around National Trust sites at the weekend: the past is safe. It’s happened already. There are no surprises to be had. The past recedes into a glorious, halcyonic Elysium (forgive me for mixing my mythologies). It’s a land of endless sunsets and warmth, where children knew their place, the price of milk was reasonable, and all that Baz Luhrmann “Wear Sunscreen” stuff. People, especially in this country, prefer the past to the present. The present is scary and dangerous. The past was wonderful.
So this “popular music today sucks” is a form of nostalgia, a harking back to a better day when The Beatles/Pink Floyd/Nirvana rode high in the charts. “Man,” these people seem to be saying, “rock and roll is dead. That there Skrillex sounds like a fax machine breaking down. I remember when bands were cool”.
There are five major objections to this point, which I’m going to bullet-point for your reading ease.
1) Nostalgia Part I
Nostalgia means remembering only the best of the past. So you compare Led Zeppelin to Nicki Minaj, like in that meme up top. Good point. Those are some pretty crappy lyrics. But when you remember Led Zeppelin you remember the classics : “Black Dog”, “Immigrant Song”, “Stairway to Heaven”. You don’t remember “The Lemon Song”, whose best lyric was “Squeeze my lemon ’til the juice runs down my leg”, or every single song on the “In Through The Out Door” LP. Am I being unfair, picking on Led Zeppelin? Probably. How about the biggest band of all time, The Beatles? Who can forget such classics as “Yellow Submarine”, “Ob-La-Di,Ob-La-Da”, “Octopuses Garden”, “Hello Goodbye”, “When I’m Sixty-Four” or “Run For Your Life”? How about Pink Floyd’s “Bike”? “Boris The Spider” by The Who?
I think I’ve made my point. You only remember the good songs. Case in point: Pink Floyd, masters of psychedelic rock. We remember “The Wall” and “Dark Side Of The Moon”. We don’t remember “The Division Bell” or “The Final Cut”, both of which are pretty bland albums. Time is the great filter. It’s even allowed us to forget Jimi Hendrix’s posthumous “Crash Landing”. One day, Nicki Minaj might release a greatest hits album. Will “Stupid Hoe” be on there? I don’t know, but I doubt it.
2) Nostalgia Part II
Hey, weren’t the sixties a great time for music? Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones. Hippies and Swinging London! Free Love and The Age of Aquarius!
Shut up. You know nothing about the sixties. Apart from the historical context you’re lacking (London didn’t swing, only the bits not controlled by the Cray Twins did, Woodstock was one-of-a-kind, Civil Rights Movement, Kennedy Assassination, Vietnam). Musically it was a shitty time.
Example: Bobby Goldsboro singing “Honey”, a song that reached Number 1 the week after MLK was assassinated.
Example: “I Want My Baby Back” by Jimmy Cross, from 1965
“Sugar Sugar” by The Archies, which was Number 1 for four weeks and labelled the “Hit of 1969”.
Example: Philosophy Of The World by The Shaggs, widely regarded as one of the worst albums ever.
Conclusion: Suck a dick, The Sixties.
How about the eighties? Metallica! Motorhead! Soft Cell! Gary Numan! David Bowie! Michael Jackson!
I’ma leave this here yo: Blancmange’s “Living On The Ceiling”
By the way I can play this game all day.
3) Stop disguising your prejudices as “Taste”
This is a pretty common mistake to make. People who criticise Justin (Janine?) Bieber then go on about how good KISS, or Motorhead, or Judas Priest, or My Chemical Romance were in comparison. Spoiler: These bands sucked, too. KISS were maybe the worst rock band of the eighties, maybe all time. Hell, I love David Bowie and would compare him favourably to any artist that has ever existed, including Justin (Jeanette?) Bieber. Does that mean that Justin Bieber’s “Believe” is worse than Bowie’s “Tin Machine”?
…No, it doesn’t. I can’t get over that, but it’s true. My music may not be better than anybody else’s. The difference is that I’m not comparing him to The Antichrist and fortelling the death of music.
4) You’re Getting Old And You’d Better Get Used To It, Dickface
It’s happening and you’re unable to grasp it, but you’re becoming irrelevant. Music is leaving you behind. You’re stuck in Nu Metal or Grunge, Hard Rock or Rock and Roll, and time is moving past you. You are standing still in the middle of a river. Your inability to “get with it” is a sign of how you’re not today’s youth any more. So you fervently complain that “music is getting worse” when really, Music just doesn’t care what you think any more. You’re not the target audience any more. You’re not the youth market. Your opinions are irrelevant.
All that’s left for you is incontinence nappies and Werther’s Originals, you sad old man. And nostalgia. The more nostalgia you’ve got, the more out of touch you are. It’s like the a law of the universe. So shut up about how your music is better, and stick to old people topics like how gay immigrant one-parent families are ruining this country.
5) Your Music Sucks Compared to Beethoven
No matter how old you are, no matter how devoted you are to one golden era, no matter how proud you are of your music taste, there was a guy who came before you, in whose presence you are not fit to cringe. He invented modern music and he’s disgusted with what your generation did with it. If anybody’s got any right to say “music is getting worse”, it’s this guy. KNEEL BEFORE BEETHOVEN.
And try being a little less judgemental, too.
Enough, boobs! Here’s Belinda Stewart-Wilson again.