Popular music and loss of anger

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When Beyoncé released her ‘Lemonade’ album earlier this year, it took America by surprise, and not because she unexpectedly dropped it on a Saturday night, or fueled speculation. that her marriage was in trouble.

The singer’s latest work stood out because he was unabashedly angry.

Although popular music has historically served as a barometer of discontent in youth culture, and almost every significant evolution in pop, rock and hip-hop has come from a place of disillusionment or outrage, the Pop music today is one of the few areas of American culture where anger is rare.

EDM, party club music often without lyrics, has been by far the biggest draw at music festivals in recent years. The best rapper in the country, Drake, is a docile Canadian. And if you’re R&B’s the Weeknd (also Canadian), soul-searching is about recounting all the ways you feel worthless from partying too hard the night before.

While pop has managed to party as the rest of the world burns, TV and film have increasingly channeled the wrath of a declining middle class (“Breaking Bad,” any Trump rally or Sanders), institutional racism (“Selma,” “Fruitvale Station”), and the numbness of bad news overload (“Mr. Robot,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”).

“Each era has known escape music: in the 1950s, there was pop that took over from Little Richard”, explains Billie Joe Armstrong, singer and songwriter of Green Day, arguably the last great group of rock to turn fury and outrage into a climax. 10 album with “American Idiot” from 2004.

Music goes through these cycles, but it happens to be the longest cycle I can remember without someone breaking through on a significant level.—Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day

“After the turbulent 60s you have the schlock of the 70s – calm and boring [music], lots of earth tones – then punk came along. Music goes through these cycles, but it happens to be the longest cycle that I can remember without someone going through it on a significant level; someone who really has something to say.

There are a few small signs that the music is waking up from its slumber.

Beyoncé’s rage at being cheated on, rapper Kendrick Lamar’s shrewd commentary on inequality, and other notable outings from artists like Kanye West and Rihannah have expressed outrage and dismay in ways that defy passivity. of their peers.

The Black Lives Matter movement has prompted stars like Snoop and Drake to express their anger at the protests and on social media. Jay Z and Miguel recently released their own pieces about unarmed black men killed by police.

But all of that is a proverbial drop in the bucket, given that anger — from the fury of talking heads on Fox News and CNN to the heated congressional gun control sit-ins — is now currency. common in American discourse.

There’s a lot of music out there with a healthy sense of moral outrage, but it’s not trending on iTunes or Spotify. It’s beneath a billion other choices vying for your attention, clashing with popular tastes, waiting for the change that will upend the current impasse in music.


Music video for “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” by Taylor Swift.

Traditionally, pop music has been the most nimble medium when it comes to reflecting the national mood, simply because making an album or a single is faster and cheaper than producing a movie or a TV show. But as free streaming services, YouTube and the like continue to drain revenue from the recording industry, major labels are less willing to take risks on music that could alienate its young base.

“The reason we think popular music has been more revolutionary in previous decades is because pop now appeals to younger audiences than it used to,” says Joe Bennett , a forensic musicologist who analyzes popular music at Berklee’s Boston Conservatory. “There was always [bubblegum pop] for younger fans, but there were also a lot of other things, like rock, that tended to appeal to older audiences. This is an audience that may have budding political sensitivities and anti-war sentiments.

Today’s target music consumer is a millennial generation born between 1983 and 2003. Millennials are the largest generation in US history, carrying over this distinction from their boomer parents. It’s also an optimistic bunch that seems to have nothing in common with the angsty Gen-Xers that came before them.

“The visible manifestation of anger, the simple act of getting angry at someone, plays out differently in different age groups,” explains Neil Howe, author of “Millennials Rising” and a sociologist specializing in generational changes.

“Millennials find angry pundits on Fox or MSNBC to be the old people thing,” Howe says. “They trust the system more, they are more optimistic about the future and they believe strongly in community. That’s why they love EDM – you enjoy it in a band, and it’s totally in sync from generation to generation. It’s also totally joyful and escapist. Millennials are not interested in introspection and designing new social movements through music. Music is just fun for them and not much more.

Passionate songs that have gained traction with millennials, such as Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” come from a more temperate place than, say, Alanis’ hit “You Oughta Know.” Morissette in 1995 or the piece “Baba” from Who in 1971. O’Riley.

“Angry songs are now almost all rage breakup songs. Which speaks far more to individualism than to societal outrage as rage.—Joe Bennett, forensic musicologist at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee

“Angry songs are almost all rage breakup songs now,” Bennett says. “Why did you dump me? Which speaks much more to individualism than to societal outrage as rage.

Since each new generation strives to distance itself from the one that preceded it, there is an argument that the relative silence is the reaction of millennials to the anger that overwhelms our nation.

“Ignoring it is their statement,” says Armstrong, whose children are now 18 and 21. “It’s their anger. You make me angry, so I turn my back on you. They’re done with all of this. They’re like, ‘I’m going to watch zombies eat each other.’ ”

Top-grossing musical genres have also evolved in softer, smoother ways of late – clashing styles such as punk, gangsta rap, metal and grunge have given way to a proliferation of teenage sensations and hip-hop. party friendly.

“It’s not usually the case that songwriters write to the market, but the market decides what they want to buy,” says Bennett. “In this respect, pop music fans are going to gravitate to how they feel and think at the time. Pop only reflects the moods of their time, rather than directing it, and that mood will change.

Armstrong adds, “It’s gotten to the point where artists are stuck in a corner where there’s really nowhere else to go. You watch what’s happening with the news and everything that’s happening in the world, and it’s kind of like “The Walking Dead.” it’s coming right at you. You better write something about it.

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