Unlike most people my age, or indeed my age group, I am not into modern music. I use the term "modern music" liberally - besides mainstream pop music, it also has under its aegis such genres as rock, heavy metal, Euro-trash, trance, dance, grunge, soul, punk, techno R&B, reggae, alternative or even new age and gospel. Some may note that Japanese and Chinese popular music are missing from the list, but they is even more insipid than English popular music, for at least there are sub-genres and some variation in English popular music.
I do not dislike these divers genres, which I lump under the category of "modern music", by virtue of their being new, popular or accessible, nor to set me apart from the hoi polloi, but simply because I dislike them, improbable as that might sound. I do not consider myself one of the cognoscenti - I hate opera, detest buckets of paint splashed on canvas (generally, Impressionist art and its successors) and am riled by most modern theatre (pretentious and inaccessible). [Disclaimer: Paint on canvas is just the most obvious example of the degeneration of art from a representation of reality, to vague shapes and colours (Impressionism) to something that looks like it came out of drug-induced hallucination (Edvard Munch's The Scream) to coloured squares (cubism) to paint splashed liberally on canvas.]
I am not even a great fan of widely acclaimed 20th century composers of classical music like Bartok, Rachmaninoff, Prokofieff and Shostakovich and indeed dislike most of their works; I just genuinely dislike modern music, but for an odd song here and there. My usual criteria for judging how pleasing music (and indeed, all forms of art) is not how far it shatters conventions, break conventions or shocks people, but simply how much aesthetic value it has.
To illustrate my points, I have uploaded some sound clips of singing by popular artistes which I find especially bad or off-putting, and which most people should be familiar with. This does not mean, however, that less mainstream artistes do not embody any of these points.
Please also note that the title of this page is "Why I Dislike Modern Music", and not "Why anyone who likes modern music is a crass idiot who deserves to be shot" or even "Why Modern Music sucks". I am both criticising the objective standard (or lack thereof) of modern music, and pointing out some aspects of it which reduce its appeal to me. In other words, though the music may be good by most people's definitions, I nonetheless find it bad or at the very least, unappealing. Few may agree with my intensely subjective opinions, but I retain them anyway. Additionally, not all of the following points apply to all genres of modern music. Some have commented that I couldn't write a better song. Be that as it may, if that logic were applied to everyone, there would be next to no place for criticism of any sort in this world, and book, music, film critics, and indeed critics of any sort, would be out of a job.
As a final note, non-modern music is by no means immune to all of these, but it suffers from the symptoms below to a much lesser extent.
Note: All sound files on this page are encoded with the Windows Media Player codec, V9, at 20kbps and 22khz.
Some singers (usually female ones) seem to take pride in breathing (loudly) as much as they can in between notes, anywhere they want. Whether this is due to:
1) a lack of talent
2) stylistic flair
3) a genuine lack of breath because when they're supposed to be breathing, they choose instead of mutter or shout random words (heavy metal bands are especially fond of this)
is unknown, but either way it sounds horrible.
Case in point: Whitney Houston singing in an extract from "When You Believe". The bolded asterisks represent each loud breath taken by Whitney.
Listen to the WMA file (30s: 83kb)
Transcription: Many nights * we prayed * with no proof * anyone could hear * in our hearts a hope * ful song * we barely * understood * now we are not (short, quick breath) afraid * although we know there's much to fear * we were moving mountains long * before we * knew we could (30 seconds, 12 loud breaths)
Compare this to the movie version (the asterisks here represent a soft, sometimes barely audible breath): Many nights we prayed * with no proof anyone could hear * in our hearts a hopeful song * we barely understood * now we are not afraid * although we know there's much to fear * we were moving mountains * long before we knew we could (35 seconds, 7 soft breaths)
Gesticulation and screwing up of eyes
A popular action among singers of modern music is to close their eyes (often screwing them so tightly shut that you can see their wrinkles), so they don't have to see their audience's reaction (and possibly to counter stage fright) and singers gesticulating with one hand (or both hands if they are not holding a mic) in a general forward direction, sometimes with clenched fists.
Perhaps it is just me, but for some reason I think that the Backstreet Boys' "Larger Than Life" and "I Want It That Way" sound very similar, and for some time I had difficulty distinguishing between the two. Moving to more objective measures of similarity, 'Quit playing games' and 'I want it that way' use the same drum machine, and have practically the same beat programming.
Other artistes with similar sounding songs: Michael learns to rock and Britney Spears.
Sleepy/stoned sounding singers
Some singers, especially in dreamy-atmosphered songs, sound like they are either half-asleep, lazy to sing their notes out properly or stoned.
Case in point: In Sarah McLachlan's Angel, at parts of the song, her voice is so light that, in combination with her grace notes and occasional hoarseness, you feel like slipping into a marijuana-induced daze. All in all, she "does the waif-like wailing thingy a bit too much".
Listen to the WMA file (24s: 67kb)
Not content with selling a song once, modern music artistes like to make countless remixes of the same tired tune to fleece consumers. For example, "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic has the following dance remixes:
Tony Moran Mix
Richie Jones Mix
Soul Solution Mix
Richie Jones Club Mix
Matt & Vito's Epic Mix
I don't want to consider how many non-dance remixes there might be.
If you thought that was bad, think of how many remixes there are of William Hung's "She Bangs" :)
Obsession with and prevalence of Love, Sex, Violence and Drugs as themes
See any rock band, eg Red Hot Chilli Peppers or the Smashing Pumpkins. Also see such songs as "Fuck Her Gently" by "Tenacious D" and "Fuck It" by "Eamon".
Love is such a favourite theme that sometimes it is brought in even when not appropriate: the first Pokemon movie's soundtrack has M2M's song "Don't Say You Love Me"; I don't want to know what Ash and Misty do to their Pokemon off-camera.
Even if the none of the above mentioned topics are themes of the song, obscenities and vulgarities are often inserted into the songs so they are offensive for the sake of being offensive. Examples: Limp Bizkit, zheng zhen yue, Eminem
Case in point: The chorus to Eamon's "Fuck It" which goes:
Fuck what I said it dont mean shit now
Fuck the presents might as well throw em out
Fuck all those kisses, they didn't mean jack
Fuck you, you hoe, I dont want you back
Listen to the WMA file (14s: 41kb)
If that isn't enough for you, just look for any gangsta rap song.
Some singers have singing which is so airy, it's scary.
Case in point: In this extract from "When You Believe", Mariah Carey's singing is so airy, you almost think that there is a hole in her voice box.
Listen to the WMA file (7s: 26kb)
Others sing so throatily, they sound like they have sore throats.
Case in point: Extract from Macy Gray's "I Try"
Listen to the WMA file (9s: 31kb)
Some overambitious singers attempt songs which contain notes either too high or too low for their abilities. Disaster ensues.
Case in point: Extracts from Joe Cocker's "You are so beautiful"
Extract 1 (11s: 35kb) (Friend's comment: He sounds drunk)
Extract 2 (12s: 37kb) - Notice what happens when he attempts to hit the high notes to finish off his song
Consider that this was the version that went onto the CD. So either he couldn't do better or he thought people like that effect.
Lazy singing and slurring
Jay Chou mutters and mumbles his way through his songs, so you can hardly hear what he is singing.
As for slurring, My Bloody Valentine is guilty of this sin, as the following clip from "Only Shallow" makes clear:
Listen to the WMA file (19s: 56kb)
If you couldn't make that out, you're not alone. Even fans of 10 years are sometimes hardpressed to make out what they are singing. Some theorise the slurring is deliberate so if they're on drugs and forget the lyrics, no one will know the difference.
For the sake of completeness, the lyrics were supposed to be:
Like a pillow
She won't care
Looks over talent
There is a tendency to feature only good looking people, perhaps to distract the audience from the lousy singing of the performers. The emphasis is more on the performer than on the music, and you often see cults of personality forming. In fact, most modern music artistes are good looking - good looks seem to be a necessary but not sufficient pre-requisite to make it big (except for the odd person like Marilyn Manson, whose lack of good looks is arguably - conversely - a draw factor)
Prime example: F4. See also the horde of lookalike Taiwanese sweet young things: Xiao Xiao and others whose names I can't remember, who last a few months each and then disappear
When record producers have hit upon a successful formula, they try to repeat it. This is why groups and artistes who are essentially identical clones of each other appear.
Taiwanese Boybands: 5566, F4, Energy
As will be apparent to all, using instruments which do not produce tones, but rather synthesise them, is not a wise move if one wishes to inject subtleties and nuances into one's music.
Music Videos and fans' short attention span
Invented to counter the increasingly short attention spans of pop music fans, people in music videos prance around, stare at the camera and generally act like idiots. Especially bad are the music videos by Britney "Big Fake Boobs" Spears.
Frames from Gunther and the Sunshine Girls' "Ding Dong Song". What lesbians necking and groping each other's breasts has to do with touching Gunther's Tralala, I don't know. Maybe it makes them more hot for him.
During live performances, the ever-changing images present in music videos are not available to sate the audience's cravings for action and movement, so to compensate for this partially, artistes sometimes hire dancers to prance around in the background, dazzle audiences with frequent changes between various glitzy and impractical costumes (see Chinese pop concerts by female artistes), smash guitars or otherwise liven up the atmosphere.
Assorted miscellaneous gimmicks
Since most modern music makers are entertainers (in the holistic sense of the word) rather than musicians first and foremost, they incorporate various gimmicks, attention-grabbing stunts and publicity-garnering actions into their lives both onstage and off it.
A by no means exhaustive list of examples:
Onstage: Flashing/strobe lights, loud noises, glitzy costumes, Michael Jackson's crotch grabbing, Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction"
Offstage: Various sexual misdemeanours, S.H.E obviously contrived name (what are the odds of 3 girls who just happen to be named Selina, Hebe and Ella forming a Chinese pop trio anyway?)
[Addendum: A reader writes:
"I read "Why I Dislike Modern Music" and i just thought it was funny how you said you would some day bankroll, as you put it, a band named H.I.M or H.E.R . Where as there actually is a Finnish rock band named H.I.M that was/is (im not exactly sure i dont personally listen to them) going to change their name to H.E.R apon comming to the United States to release their music. Just thought it was funny how you picked those to examples.
Here's the website just to check it out:
Repetitive, meaningless lyrics and sounds
Many song writers endow their songs with simplistic, meaningless, and/or just ridiculous lyrics. Some are overly fond of certain words: "heart", "apart", "fire", "desire" and "dream".
Example: S.H.E's superstar
Others do not even bother to take that effort and instead either write in an abundance of "ooo"s, "yeah yeah yeah"s and other such noises, or repeat the same few words over and over again throughout the song.
Case in point: The starting of Fantasia Barrino's "I believe",
where she goes: "Oh... Ohhhhhh... Oh..."
Listen to the WMA file (16s: 48kb)
Another example: The refrain in Eamon's "Fuck It" where he goes:
Uh huh yeah
Uh huh yeah
Uh huh yeah
Uh huh yeah
Listen to the WMA file (14s: 43kb)
People say that modern music groups need drums to keep time because they don't have a conductor. That may be so, but surely it is not so hard to co-ordinate music making in a small group of 3-6? Chamber music ensembles do that all the time, as do acapella groups. A totally unscientific survey reveals the extent to which modern music depends on drums: 95% of the songs have constant drumming, 3% are sentimental piano ballads and 1% are sentimental guitar tunes (both of which only have 1 performer, so drums aren't that important)
Besides the lack of talent of many modern music makers, the fetish for drums can also be explained by fans' addiction to them: most are used to hearing a beat to nod along to, and many cannot keep the beat without a drummer playing it out for them to hear. Additionally, drums are sometimes used to drown out bad 'singing' and tuneless 'tunes', and to keep up an underlying mind-numbing rhythm to dull the audiences' wits and either stupefy them or work them into a frenzy.
Case in point: New Order's Blue Monday, where the mind-numbing beat heard in the following sound clip is repeated for all 4 minutes of the song
Listen to the WMA file (14s: 43kb)
But there is worse -St. Germain's Thank U Mum (4 Everything You Did), the even more mind-numbing beat and bass riff of which is repeated for all 12 minutes of the song!
Listen to the WMA file (7s: 24kb)
Some music-makers like to encourage their audiences to clap along to their songs, spoiling the enjoyment of those who want to actually listen to the songs. Some justify this travesty by saying that it lets the audience participate in the music making, but my view is that this not only dulls potential enjoyment of the song (if any), it also mocks the performers' abilities to keep time (if they have, in fact, any)
Instead of writing proper endings to their songs, those who write modern music often opt for the easy option and write in repetitions of earlier stanzas or the chorus as the song gets softer and softer, untill you realise that it is over.
- Noise, rather than music: My Bloody Valentine has the "Wall of noise" concept,
which results in songs painful to the ear
- Sliding: Some singers are fond of glissando (sliding their notes), which isn't bad in and of itself, except that they do it badly
Conclusion: Essentially, to make it big in modern music, you must break most (if not all) of the rules of good singing.
Feedback is welcome: gabrielseah(at)hotmail(dot)com or with the feedback form. This being the net, not everything written on this page is meant in total seriousness, so please bear that in mind before sending me a flame mail.
Credits: This page would not be possible without my various friends and acquaintances, with extensive knowledge of modern music that I do not possess
Comments from others:
1) I'm only familiar with the rock scene.The one big problem with modern
rock that the music is getting, overly produced, over processed , over synthesized
and overrated. Alot of bands these days are using more and more computer
software such as Protools to perfect their music, make it error free, and
polished.I think this is foolish. Art is not meant to be perfect. Rock is
meant to be raw and played live, not heavily edited, processed and produced.
In the end, the music sound so FAKE,( linkin park's fake plastic
drumbeat) it really give u a "dead" feeling. Conversely, if you listen to rollin stone, the music is so alive, i mean u can visually imagine the guitarist playing with a cigar in his mouth, also compare jet to evanescene or simple plan, u'll notice jet's incredible rawness and liveliness stands out.
of course not all modern musicians are as u described, there are a few exceptions
For example,nirvana came into the scene with their brutally deep and honest lyrics, they swept the music scene clean of hair bands and of course jacko.
And steve vai unfortunately fits into ur description for misc gimmicks. he wears very weird stuff, uses lots of laser beams on his fretting fingers, hes a real crowd entertainer.Still he no less than music legend.