Is pop music too splintered for its own good?

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the masked man
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Postby the masked man » 02 Apr 2005, 16:32

The Right Scarfie Profile wrote:I don;t know how this is interconnected, though I'm sure it is in some way. It seems that basically every lifestyle magazine (or magazine of any sort) will have someone who specialises in record reviews. I'm not sure whether they were always the staple of 'arts' related publications, if it is , then maybe this train of thought adds up to nothing.

But what is true is that some of the best (and worst) music writing is mostly seen in publications and forums that aren't of the traditional kind. The DA CAPO series of 'best music writing' usually come from magazines that don't deal with music as a rule. When a satirical magazine like The Onion covers pop music (and I'm using the term in its broadest sense, basically referring to anything that isn't modern classical and will be considered contemporary) as eloquently as any other forum, then it pretty much means that music is open season.


This is a fairly recent development. In the 80s, the music press was to some extent the only place to find detailed coverage of popular music in print (with the exception of big stories like Live Aid). This has all changed in the last ten years or so.

There is a theory that the general explosion in media interest in popular music springs from a single event: the suicide of Kurt Cobain. Certainly, in Europe, the mass media was taken by surprise by the reactions to this sad news. It was reported in the newspapers, but didn't generally make front page news. Then extraordinary TV pictures of mass grief came back from Seattle, and editors suddenly sensed this was a huge story that they'd underestimated.

In the weeks that followed, there was a lot more coverage of Cobain's life and work - in Britain, it reached surreal levels when Bernard Levin (a celebrated classical music critic who'd happily ignored popular music previously) was intrigued enough to explore "Nevermind" and "In Utero". He used his column in The Times to explain why he thought the records were valid artistic statements.

This was compounded in the UK with the rise of Britpop. Fear that papers would be seen as 'out of touch' with youth culture ensured that battle of supremacy between Blur and Oasis was inescapable in the mass media, to the point of bathos.

Do I buy this theory? Up to a point. I'd argue that it's an oversimplification to state that there was no interest in pop in the mass media - 80s style mags such as The Face and Blitz did cover indie, rap and dance on their pages. But it's also true that the general print media did underestimate the overall importance that pop could have for a long time. In a UK broadsheet newspaper during the 80s you would have not seen many mentions of The Smiths outside of review pages (that might deign to review a couple of gigs every week). By comparison, this last week, an academic symposium at a British university about Morrissey and his band received quite a few press inches.

How times change.

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Postby Owen » 02 Apr 2005, 16:40

You are probably right about the incidents that mattered from pop musics side of things. There was a real change in the way britpop (and even grunge) were reported to the adverserial coverage of the house scene a year or two earlier.

I think the bigger change came from the newspapers side of things though, until the early 90s you had a sunday magazine with the broadsheets but that was about it. I remember reading the times and guardian during my 6th form years and having to turn to their one or two pages of arts coverage which as the title suggests covered everything from ballet to TV.

Then saturday magazines and sunday 'review' supplements and so on started edging in until each broadsheet newspaper needed a ton of features material every weekend and with only so much 'news' to go around almost every subject under the sun started getting a load more coverage not just pop music.

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Postby The Write Profile » 03 Apr 2005, 09:00

Maybe it's more indicative of the splintering of pop culture in general, then. Basically any publication worth its salt will feature either a music/film and possibly books section, and within that a set of values and tastes defined for that particular audience. It's understandable and expected I guess.

Which brings me to a question about the abhorred LOADED magazine. It arrived square in the middle of that "Britpop" era and from my distance seems relatively influential in pushing its hype, do you think that magazines like that have had an adverse affect on music coverage and/or writing in Britain?

(and yes, I know I'm talking bout Britain a lot here, if there's any American equivalent: I know that "Blender" magazine evolved out of Maxim and "GQ" has its own music coverage as well).

Maybe it's just a sign of the splintering pop world rather than a cause of it.
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Postby The Modernist » 03 Apr 2005, 12:14

Loaded was staffed, at least initially, by ex music -journos. Britpop was perfect for them because it was traditional and backward looking with a sub-text that you didn't need to take things too seriously. You felt many of the journalists, especially James Brown, were rebelling against their own eighties when they were working in the rather austere, right on climate of the indie music press. Now they didn't have to write about music in that precious way and so the vacuity of Britpop was perfect for them. The net result of this was to marginalise music writing altogether, or at least only approach it as another lifestyle accessory. The magazines which followed Loaded refined its commercial template, which meant in part chucking out the irony and pop cultural stuff, to serve up its birds and booze editorial formula. In these magazines pop music is barely covered at all, and if a musician is featured it will be for their celebrity and lifestyle not their music which would be seen as irrelevent.
Ultimately these magazines realised that music is in itself not that important to the majority of young males today.

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Postby The Write Profile » 19 Apr 2005, 01:25

Look, I want to talk about music, so I'm going to do so.


I think there's another point linked in that, whoever it was that coined the term 'accelerated nostalgia' would probably look at the MOJO covers of Ian Curtis and John Lydon and believe that this proves his point (if he knew anything about music). The branding and reissuing is something that allows for revisionism (and that's a healthy thing in any art form), but it can also be constrictive. I thought the keypoint in modernsist's last sentence that "music is in itself not that important to the majority of young males today" is the "in itself" part. If it's an acessory, then perhaps it always was one.

Maybe there are more little groups, but I honestly believe popular music (of any sort) still maintains a crossover power, it's just that we can pick and choose, and there's a lot of history. I mean, sorry to be glib, but I think it's kind of refreshing that there's a history to it as well as a future. Even if it is uncertain.

Well that was pretentious.
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Postby take5_d_shorterer » 19 Apr 2005, 01:33

TSRP,

I have been doing a similar sort of thing as well, and I think Velvis has also. His thread on whether Rock is a form of Tragedy is ostensibly about music. But it really isn't. It's about something else. My thread on whether bands are like communes is supposedly about bands, but it isn't. It's about something else. Your thread is supposedly about how pop music splinters, but it isn't. It's about how pop music audiences splinter.

I know the feeling. The other day snarfyguy asked me about typographical symbols on one of my threads. I started out answering his question. By the end of my response, it had turned into an elegy.

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Postby Wet Blanket » 19 Apr 2005, 02:01

What are you lot on about then?
Can't we all just get along?

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Postby The Write Profile » 24 Apr 2005, 00:39

Let's think about this for a second. It's pretty much a given that virtually anything worth having is either avaliable or in the process of a reissue at some point in time. What's more it appears from this distance anyway that in most cases, a new record of note will already be well discussed either on these boards or in some similar form often the day it either hits the record stores or just before. In some ways, it is taking over print journalism. The stories behind MIA and The Grey Album were probably two of the more high profile cases.

I wonder how long major labels can survive in the form they do right now: maybe someone who knows about how record labels work can answer this question: do you think they will just split their resources off into increasingly niche botiques within a conglomerate? Reissues are great for me because I don't have the originals most of the time. But it can get ridiculous: I mean six reissued versions of Paid in Full in a decade?!

It's a great time to be into music, but it must be an awful time to actually try and make money off it (unless you're in the business of reissues :wink:)
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Postby take5_d_shorterer » 24 Apr 2005, 00:44

People will always pay to see live music. There's always money to be made by selling this efficiently. And furthermore, you can't download the experience. Either you've gone to see it or you haven't.

Someone I know just paid $200 to see The Eagles perform and would go again. You may or may not retch at that, but this shows that the demand is there.

Record companies have either got to figure a way to tap into that market or they will go belly up because what they are selling is easily copied and retransmitted.

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Postby The Write Profile » 24 Apr 2005, 00:49

take5_d_shorterer wrote:People will always pay to see live music. There's always money to be made by selling this efficiently. And furthermore, you can't download the experience. Either you've gone to see it or you haven't.

Someone I know just paid $200 to see The Eagles perform and would go again. You may or may not retch at that, but this shows that the demand is there.

Record companies have either got to figure a way to tap into that market or they will go belly up because what they are selling is easily copied and retransmitted.


Yeah that's true. Live music is the best, (speaking of which I've got to get my Nick Cave tickets organised). But the point is, how much do you expect to pay for a good show? I guess with international acts here like, say Nick Cave and REM, it's roughly about $60-80 in NZ (divide by two to get US dollars): but when you think about it, it must cost a bundle to get here: travel expenses, booking, accomadation. Hell and NZers are notoriously slow ticket buyers too. I wouldn't want to be a promoter, it must be a devil of a job.
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Postby The Modernist » 24 Apr 2005, 22:47

I can't really understand why so much is charged for a few people to turn out some tunes on stage.
If I was to be charged 90 dollars to see a gig, I'd expect to see something special for my money. Playing guitar wouldn't be good enough, they'd have to do something really difficult at the same time like perform keyhole surgery. Then I might feel I'd got my moneys worth.