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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, September 30, 2023

Old man faced with new music

Among my group of close friends, over the years I’ve been consistently regarded as the “old man” of the crew.

For instance, way back in eighth grade when my friends wanted to see “The Grudge” one weekend, I suggested we go to the Sunday matinee instead of the Friday night show in order to save money. Rightfully so, my friends ditched my cheap ass and went on Friday.

My biggest disconnect with my friends and my generation at large, however, has probably been in musical taste. The crap you kids listen to is awful. Top 40 radio is nothing but overproduced drivel that really serves as a microcosm for everything wrong with society. Dubstep is so acidic to my ears that it makes me want to curb stomp puppies. And country music? Well that’s just too damn easy.

After being force-fed classic rock, blues and soul music from a young age, I can’t fathom how artists like Janis Joplin and Smokey Robinson fail to resonate on a greater scale with people my age. I get incredibly disheartened when someone tells me that listening to The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” doesn’t make them feel like they could bench press an elephant. And I can’t tell you how pissed I was when I found out that some dude named Eric Church had the gall to title one of his songs “Springsteen.” You have no right to sing about Bruce, sonny boy.

Instead, I’m the one who gets flack for my “terrible music taste.” I’ve learned that if I want to piss everyone off, all I have to do is queue up a James Taylor song on the playlist during a pregame. 

Difference in taste notwithstanding, the thing that upsets me most about today’s popular music is its disposability. It seems that there’s always a particular song that comes out of nowhere, gets overplayed for a few months, and then eventually fades into oblivion, rarely to be heard from again. Another song then takes its place and the cycle repeats itself.

I found out through one of my roommates the other weekend what the new “it” song is: “Gangnam Style,” an electro-pop song by the Korean artist Psy. “Gangnam Style” contains all the traits necessary for success in mainstream music today. It’s catchy, fun and has a ready-made dance that comes with it, all arranged in an endearingly cheery music video. It’s sure to take the mantle from “Call Me Maybe” as the “Song Played At Every Bar Ad Nauseam For The Next Three Months.” And I’ll probably cringe every time I hear it.

But the thing is, for all the ways in which “Gangnam Style” fits the template of smash-hit, mainstream pop fare, it’s also a song that is strikingly self-conscious. While its upbeat sound and genial music video may suggest otherwise, the song actually satirizes the Seoul neighborhood of Gangnam, an area known for its rampant overspending and inherent materialism. Such social commentary is rare for pop music, and especially rare for a Korean pop music culture regarded as even more bubble-gummy than its American counterpart. 

Of course, the true message of “Gangnam Style” will likely be marginalized by in America, where only the words “AYYY SEXY LADY” are recognizable to its audience. And that’s a shame. Why can’t modern popular music be both pleasurable to listen to and have a soul, too? Nobody ever said the two things had to be mutually exclusive.

I realize that it’s disingenuous for me to say that all modern music is completely bereft of any lasting takeaway. But in a culture that’s very much about instant gratification (ironically, exactly what Psy lampoons), the artists who try to impart some meaning in their music are nonetheless overshadowed by those pandering to the lowest common denominator of listeners. As such, the catchy-yet-thoughtless songs gain mass popularity then fade away when the next one comes along.

By all means, let me know if my assessment is wrong. Perhaps “Call Me Maybe” had some deep, underlying message behind the lyrics “Ripped jeans, skin was showin’ / Hot night, wind was blowin’” that I’m totally overlooking.

Until then, I’ll be rhythmically tapping my cane to Bob Dylan bootlegs.

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