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Year In ReView: The broken state of pop music — and the dawning of rock and roll’s dark ages

 
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[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen future historians pen their summaries of the times in which we are currently living, it is entirely likely that they may deem it necessary to explain to their contemporaries that music, as a culture and as a celebration of individual artists and/or groups, was once a central preoccupation of advanced societies. “At some point, starting in the mid-20th century, performing artists ascended from the status of the mere artisan or musician to become the prophets, messiahs, clairvoyants, and revolutionary leaders of the people. Through their recorded music,” the scribes will inform their readers, “but also through performances and even through the way that they lived their everyday lives, these musical celebrities had a power and status that far exceeded a reasonable society’s use for the common musician or entertainer.”

If those reading were to ask when this distortion of status began to wane, I think it would be fair to say that the downward slide had most definitely happened by 2013.

Let’s be clear: music superstars are still massive celebrities, and tabloids are still filled with the rumors and comings and goings of a handful of famous musicians. But we all know, deep in our hearts, that the balloon has begun to deflate; there will never be another Elvis or Dylan or Beatles, but the fact that there will probably never be another Coldplay is a sobering fact. Once, people like Elton John were knighted; now, our most talked-about musical performers ply their wares in half empty arenas worldwide as people shrug and go about their days, free from having to wait in lines for albums or concert tickets to go on sale. The mania is over, music is on its way to being a mere useful distraction as it has been for all but the last 80 years of human history, and pretty soon we can pack up the memories of caring about any of this crap.

 

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Why 2013? Well for a start, it was officially the year when the pop boom of 2008 ended. For those who have forgotten, or were too young, let me recap: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, five years ago, when our economy was tanking with no bottom in sight, when a high-stakes election put nervous lumps in throats worldwide, and when the rising euphoria of Euro-techno — a derided genre thought to be useful solely as the butt of Night At The Roxbury jokes — became the ascendant sonic signifier of an era where hope and dread caused the masses to care about music and musical superstars all over again. A will to be weird pitched itself against an uncertain future, and something that hadn’t happened in a long time began to happen once more, as a new generation finally spat out some star performers worth caring about.

Then Adele and EDM and the rising ubiquitousness of Dave Grohl and Wayne Coyne put an end to a demi-decade’s worth of fun; someone turned the lights on and called the cops, and by 2013 the party was most definitely over. Those artists that seemed so rad five years ago in the day-glo dark of the club-in-our-mind-that-was-our-subconscious now look scabby and sad and starved for attention in the full-on headlights of 2013.

How were we ever fooled into being into this stuff? How did this music ever make us feel good? And what the fuck are we all going to do with our lives now that the whole world is literally sinking into an abyss? It was hard, for instance, to hear “Blurred Lines,” or “Applause,” or “Royals,” or “Roar,” or insert-inspirational-semi-hit-that-isn’t-really-about-anything-other-than-the-star’s-own-empty-internal-void and not think that this music that is constantly played says nothing to me about my life, or however the saying goes.


2013 was the year when the eternally simmering hatred between artist and fan hit an all-time high: from the umpteen faxed-in reunion tour to the way that each high-profile album release had to top the last in terms of sheer desperation and gimmickry, it was clear that music fans wanted artists to jump on command for the measliest dollar, while artists wanted to act out their outlandish trumped-up personas in public and call it musical art.

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Art, like all consciousness, is a lie: a membrane of banality and or beauty, meant to obscure our view of the unpredictability and horror of the thing known as reality. We see depictions of grace, of strength, of beauty, of wonder, and because they are part of “art” they are imbued with universality when in fact they are merely ephemeral moments made permanent in our collective unconscious and its outstretched desires.

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