In todays world, it is easy to argue whether something is good or bad with various evaluations and theories that emerge each day. For example : good foods and bad foods. We read each day, eggs are bad, especially the yolk as it raises your cholesterol levels. However now there is a change of heart, where we are told that an egg a day is healthy. Every day we read the virtues of each type of food and are told to take those into our daily diet. But honestly, can we really include so much into our daily diet? Impossible ! Is it possible to argue that food is good or bad? No! Some foods are good, some may be harmful; but everything in the right proportion and in moderation cannot be bad.
So who and what do we trust and believe? I guess the answer lies in trusting and believing in yourself and your own judgement in what is good for oneself.
The same argument hold true for everything including Popular Music. How can we generalise about Popular music being good or bad when there are so many types of popular music songs – some good for the soul and some really bad for society. The trick lies in segregating the good from the bad and taking the good to better our lives. Any type of music, can never be popular and liked by the entire universe as we are all individuals belonging to the same species but having very diverse likes and dislikes.
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We notice certain similarities in various cultures when it comes to certain preferences like looks : Tall, fair, beautiful for women and tall, dark and handsome for men. In terms of our sense of smell; universally everyone abhors the smell of a rotten egg. In terms of sound; universally everyone abhors the sound of a crying or wailing baby or the sound of a loud horn or the sound of fingernails scratching a board. So we notice that certain sound, smells, appearances are universally liked or disliked, and some may try to associate that with a stream of music as well. But that may stem from various personal and emotional factors rather than a logical evaluation of the same. There have been some very poor compositions of classical music, but does that make classical music generally bad? No, we have to analyse and evaluate the music we hear and be able to determine what is constituted as good or bad.
Popular Music with good messages heal our souls, our society and the world; whereas those with bad and obscene messages can ruin for generations to come. The question then is to ask, what makes music good? Different people will have different opinions and answers to this question. But do they actually critique the music or the artist? Do they draw a distinct line between the artist and his music? Or do they consider the artist and music to be synonymous?
I listen to various genres of music, and I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with Popular Music. It would be boring to listen to the same type of music all the time. I believe that music if enjoyed, should be from all genres. As long as you know what else is out there, then you make some very intelligent choices. I feel it really incorrect for people to comment that they do not listen to pop because it is mainstream music.
I would wholeheartedly agree with people who may not like a particular style of music, because here the question of choice and preference comes into play – just like one would chose to be vegetarian or non-vegetarian, choose to profess one faith or another, choose to wear a certain type of clothes. It is a matter of a personal and individual choice. But the important thing to remember is that although we may profess one faith, we do respect others. In the same way, we may be partial to one type of music, but must respect artists who choose to play another type. We must appreciate their passion and commitment to their music. We must not judge the artist, we must learn to judge the music.
What I strongly disagree with some popular music is when they indulge in “voice fixing” through computers making it very unnatural. Music has to come naturally and when recording or performing live. An artist may go off-pitch sometimes – that’s the essence of being human. In the earlier days, one needed talent to be a musician, however with voice fixing through computers, everyone can be a musician if they have access to synthesizers. A popular artist gets away with poor music, thus leading to poor quality of music being produced.
Popular Music when self-written, comes from the heart. It reflects the soul. That is true music. It is the music that is for the soul, for our society and for the world around us. What makes Pop Music fake is when it is not self-written, when it lacks meaning, when it lacks passion, and when it is performed just for the sake of a performance.
People are known to comment adversely about Popular Music performers stating that they do it only for the money. Does everyone not ultimately do things for money? Do we not work, teach, play professionally , run a business, provide a service all for earning money? So why single out a Pop Musician? At the end of the day, most people find Pop Music to be fun to listen to and fun to dance to.
Popular music is associated with violent lyrics, loud music, which automatically puts people on their guard because the general assumption is that long-term exposure to this type of sound and words, may lead to anti-social behaviour in young adults.
Many U.K. politicians had banned artists that have been considered a risk to society. A perfect example was the rapper, Snoop Dogg, who was prohibited from re-entering the U.K. in 2006 after a scuffle at Heathrow airport, even after serious assurances of good behaviour. He was barred from several other countries as well, as he was considered a potential threat. This ban was associated with his behaviour and not his music, however the music got associated by co-incidence.
Even in today’s age, there are many people with the old way of thinking, and to an extent they may have a point. Any parent would be wary of their children associating with children who constantly have their headphones with loud music and unsavoury use of language which is generally picked up from the music.
Another example to be cited is Amy Winehouse, who was excluded from entering the United States to collect her Grammy Awards, due to her history of drug abuse and import of the white powder. She was considered a negative role model. Here too, it was her personal behaviour that caused the exclusion, but got associated with her music.
The poor reputation that Popular Music gets as a generalisation is because certain music and the behaviour of the artists performing the same is quite loud, abusive, contains violent, racist and sexist lyrics, thus becoming a menace to the general public. This type of music then gets termed as “Problem Music”. Since quite a few Pop performers indulge in this style of “Problem Music”, all Popular Music gets termed under this same net. There is a strong lobby to censor pop lyrics and limit their broadcast as they are detrimental to the mental health and well-being of vulnerable young adults. However, it should be stressed again, that if some particular artists perform this type of music, it should not be generalised that all would fall under the same category. Generalising Popular Music as Bad, would be a very prejudicial approach rather than an evaluated one.
To blame just the lyrics of a song is also not justifiable as the root to all evil amongst youngsters. There will be a lobby saying that youth listen to this type of music and lyrics and get involved in drugs, crime, gun-shooting, suicides etc. How can one blame just the lyrics for this? People die every day from accidental deaths caused by motorists. Does it justify the terming of all motorists as rash, and would one take a step to ban them off the streets? Daily there are deaths due to alcoholism. Does this mean that all countries have banned the sale and use of alcohol? So why then blame Popular Music songs and lyrics? An individual is influenced by various external factors based on his mental and physical health, his attitude towards life and his environment and surroundings. A suicide cannot be blamed on the song. The individual was suicidal due to various emotional factors and hence caused his end.
Research over time has indicated that listening to heavy metal leads to men having a low regard for women, and listening to rap leads to more aggression, irrational driving habits and practice of unsafe sex. So from this analysis do we conclude that there was no aggression or low regard for women or rash driving or unsafe sex before Pop Music became popular? While the agreement could hold true for rash driving, mainly because there were less cars, fewer people driving cars, maybe there were less accidents. But unsafe sex has been around since time immemorial – without the threat of aids as exists today. Did we not hear of so many illegitimate babies being born to the aristocracy through their house maids? Same goes for aggression. Did we not hear and see documentaries on the treatment of women in the olden days. And what about suicide? Do only those listing to Pop and Rap commit suicide? Is there not even one documented suicide of those that listened to Opera or Classical or Country & Western or for that matter didn’t listen to any music? So how does one generalise and place the entire blame on music?
Problem Music is stereotyped with sexual and racial issues and abusive language, however nothing that conclusively proves that the same leads to a change in the attitude of the audience who was once very calm and has now turned violent or aggressive. Why is in not accepted that some types of pop, rap do send out messages to promote inter-communal tolerance by spreading awareness about equal rights.
In order to analyse popular music as good or bad, I would take into consideration the following points :
Technical Execution : The piece should be technically well executed. This mean that the various effects given to the lyrics should be able to compliment the communication of the music itself. The support music should not over-power the song and the lyrics. The accompanying music should not draw away from the main part of the music – which are the lyrics and the voice. Today a variety of electronics are used in acoustics to take a very poor or average piece and make it into a very popular one, by distracting the audience away from the lyrics and and the voice. If the piece is technically poorly produced, then it would be termed as bad music.
Melody, Rhythm and Harmony : Does the piece contain the 3 elements that are required in each piece, namely melody, rhythm, and harmony. These three go hand in hand in every piece, though not necessarily in the exact proportions. However a piece lacking in any one of these would be a poorly executed piece. Or for that matter a piece which concentrated too much on one element thus giving very little significance to the other, would also be a poor piece of music.
Lyric and Music : Is the piece concentrating more on the lyrics and not on the music accompanying the same? This would once again be a poorly executed piece as the lyrics, melody and the music must complement each other. Poor lyrics with good music, only distracts the listener with the music. On the other hand, good lyrics with poor music would be an essay or poetry rather than a song.
Emphasis on Lyrics : While discerning good music, one must concentrate on the lyrics used in the piece to determine the social message. Young teenagers generally do not listen very closely to the lyrics. They concentrate heavily on the rhythm and melody. If the song has a good rhythm and melody, that song catches their attention. In these instances, artists get away with bad lyrics, lyrics that send out uncalled-for message about murder, sex, rape, drugs etc. These lyrics when concentrated on by the teenage audience may be a catalyst leading to their involvement in drugs, sex, crimes etc. This statement is of course not entirely true and not my opinion but is the opinion of the general public as they tend to generalise rather than rationalise. This is what gives Popular music a bad name.
Appeal to the Inner Self : On the whole the piece must appeal to our inner selves – be it on a spiritual level, an emotional level or an intellectual level. One must be able to identify with the piece. Only then can we identify and be able to appreciate the piece.
Invoking Body Rhythm and Movement : When one listens to a piece the natural reaction is our body movement to the piece. We must analyse if the piece invoke some body rhythm or movement? If it does, the piece has made an impact on you. If you can just listen to it passively, then the piece has not moved you at all. The commonest example of body movement is the tapping of ones feet even while sitting and listening to the piece. It indicates that the piece has sub-consciously stimulated you.
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Length : The length of the piece is also very important. A piece should not be too short or too long. It should be long enough not to let boredom or monotony set in and should not be so short that it can be mistaken for an advertisement jingle. If the piece is a bit longer than necessary, there must be an introduction of variety, to avoid monotony of the same lyrics and the same melody.
Repeated Listening : A piece should not be judged by listening to it once. For the first time, we generally will not register a good or bad evaluation as our mental and physical state at that point in time may become the deciding factor. We may have returned home from work tired and frustrated, and listen to a piece for the first time on radio. Most often, we have not heard the lyrics and registered the melody as our mind was pre-occupied on the day’s events and looking forward to the work to be completed before day’s end. We would form a very poor opinion of very good music if we were to take a judgement call at this point. However, if we sat comfortably after the day’s work is done, relaxed and listening to this music, it will either truly begin to move you or not. That is when we will make an informed evaluation. Hence we must listen to a piece numerous times, in various situations to be able to evaluate its effect on us. After listening to a piece numerous times, the music should appeal to you for it to be a good piece. But this also would be a very subjective evaluation.
Stimulation : The final evaluation and the most important one is your feeling after the piece is heard. Did it stimulate you? Was it rich in lyrics and melody? If you listened carefully, did it have an impact on your thinking? Music is the window to our souls, hence it must touch our hearts and stimulate our minds, thus helping us to feel better about ourselves, our society and the universe we live in.
However, sadly most people don’t sit to evaluate the music they hear. They generalise based on various emotional and physiological factors. Some do not go beyond what they hear on radio, and form an “informed” opinion. Little do they realise how “un-informed” their opinion really is.
The various negative comment I have read on various blogs on the net are :
“Popular Music is boring. It is just simplistic electronic beat with some talentless hack singing over it. They don’t even have to sing in tune because they can fix that in the studio”.
Is this really comment justified? How can an artist be termed a hack. This is a pure case of generalization with limited knowledge.
“Why should I reward some pop singer for doing practically nothing while there are awesome, talented artists out there that are struggling every day for recognition? How backwards is that?”
Is a Popular Musician not talented? This is a structure-less thought-less comment once again biased and generally based on lack of information and evaluation.
“Pop music itself isn’t bad, just nowadays a lot of it is produced solely for the money/fame, and it’s just a bunch of senseless lyrics with the same beat over and over again”.
Once again we find a baseless statement. Is there no terrible classical music produced? Is there no good Popular music produced? How can one generalize? If there is one bad doctor, does it mean that all doctors are bad? How can all the lyrics be termed senseless? Hasn’t anybody heard about the social message that is passed on through Popular Music?
On the flip side I have seen some positive comments as well, according to my opinion are true evaluations and prove what I have theorized above, that there are people who generalize without due thought process. :
“Not all pop music is bad anyway! People who say ALL pop music sucks never bothered to look past the radio”.
“Not all pop music lacks meaning or passion. Again, find some good pop that ISN’T on the radio. Good stuff”.
“Admittedly some mainstream pop music is totally manufactured, but a lot of PRESENT pop singers actually do write their own songs. i.e. Feist, Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Kate Nash, Ingrid Michaelson etc.”
Popular music identifies and unites various social groups, and helps to bond vulnerable youngsters, regardless of any anti-social message it may proclaim.
Today’s audience is a well-educated audience that can distinguish between good and bad. Today’s teenagers do not idolise the performers and hence have no desire to emulate them. There is a shift in the attitudes of fans where the performer is not a hero anymore, rather a celebrity. These celebrities are admired, but very few wish to adopt their lifestyles.
The connection therefore between the Popular Music and their Performers and the negative comments regarding social disorders associated with them in my opinion are a figment of a collective un-informed imagination rather than a being real, and hence I conclude that these type of baseless judgemental opinion should be strictly ignored.
In conclusion I would say that music is any form should be heard, understood and enjoyed. Not be treated as a cause to social evils and hence restricted.