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All three songs mix mainstream “indie” flourishes — fluttering horns, folk-pop–indebted guitar licks — with fat synth lines played staccato or else broken up into choppy eighth and 16th notes, and drums that nod either to the hand claps and finger snaps of epochal post-millennial Cali rap hits like “Rack City” or southern trap beats.
Pop’s not in crisis per se — most of the aforementioned singles are doing all right for themselves even in the cases where their respective albums might not be — but it is locked in a losing battle to match steps with the infinite, effortless cool of young, savvy rappers, as the Taylor Swift–Cardi B Hot 100 baton pass and the enduring successes of Future, Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, the Migos, and Kendrick Lamar illustrate.
There’s big money in sticking to your guns, as the huge paydays of the most recent Drake and Adele albums and the respectful first week haul of Sam Smith’s soul and gospel-infused I’ve heard a few friends and colleagues rail against what one buddy cleverly referred to as the “Antonoff-ization” of pop music.
It doesn’t carry the genuine spark of a Solange calling indie rock and R&B guys into the same room to see what they come up with together.
It feels like market expansion by virtue of shrewd centrism, pop stars straining to prove that they can do everything everyone else can. Start at the tuneful synth-pop weirdos on the fringe of the early 2010s dance music mainstream.
It feels like a conscious consolidation of the sonics of pop music, from several different hands, producers whose work, it should be noted, has escaped easy classification in the past.
Turn on your favorite pop radio station, playlist, video countdown, etc.
Every era of music has its own recognizable sounds, from the tightly orchestrated pop and swampy psych rock of the ’60s to the plush disco and winsome adult contemporary songs of the ’70s, the brazen synthetics of the ’80s, and the dour guitar rock of the ’90s.
Changes were often tied to advancements in technology or shifts in culture: ’60s music got trippy off smart multi-track recording techniques and the sudden availability of recreational mind-altering substances.
to workshop facsimiles of each other’s hits aren’t aiding the plight of pop music, which, in spite of a year of good albums, spent months lagging behind rap and country in sales.
In 2017, the Billboard 200 chart is a place where a Kenny Chesney double live album can outsell a great new Kelly Clarkson album three equivalent units to one.