With a new life during quarantine playlist Nick Triani contemplates feeling out of touch with modern pop music and what might motivate reconnection.
Out of place and out of time
During 2020, I’ve had time to reflect about myself and what I do. This year working professionally with new music has also signified a massive change in how I relate to music itself. Of course, a lot of that feeling has to do with the surreal nature of the times, but also, for the first time I don’t feel much empathy with the current bunch of mainstream musicians. And by mainstream I mean the top 20, the hit makers, this tik-tok generation of pop stars.
At 54 years of age I should just be satisfied that I’ve tried to hang in so long, tried to understand the new productions, new styles, the spotify tailored hit making process. Music from the label I run and and a lot of the music I work with has certainly been influenced or impacted by the maneuvers of the mainstream industry over the last almost ten years.
The biggest of course being the gradual move from a physical model to a streaming model, the way the public interacts with their music nowadays. That’s why during this pandemic Bandcamp‘s resistance for the artist feels so morally superior, and perhaps reflective of where our energies should be focused right now. But I digress.
The standard is in the standard
There is a realisation of my own maturing of course. I have far more interest in jazz than pop nowadays – and I mean that vast catalog of old jazz (not the new retro variety.) Still, I remain in thrall to the fabric of underground music that still excites me more than ever. The other side of the picture, if you like, and what feels to me like the place where most of the interesting stuff happens. The arty side of music without getting too pompous about it.
I can’t relate to any modern pop music – it’s the sound of anemic production to me. And ultimately that’s OK – I’m not the target audience and as the critical community looks for any crumb of subversion or excitement, perhaps in these ‘difficult times’ we can let that lie for now. Or should we be asking for more from our popstars? This has nothing to do with the awful authenticity, but all to do with attitude. And yes, secretly I still care about this.
Have we still got it?
Ultimately, we could look back at that premise of what gave pop music its initial spark. Yes, I’m talking about talent. Not some taught talent but a natural instinctive talent that ultimately leads to something different. We should adjust our standards beyond the level of how good the social media campaign was for any given release. A lot of that great music is still out there, a whole subculture of interest lurking deeper down. Look behind the curtain that yielded the need for Taylor Swift to dip her toe into ‘mainstream indie’ and you might be surprised at what you find. Tunes, ideas and innovation. Someone hand Antti Tuisku the new Arca album and let’s really subvert it.
I’m still willing to back the artists where my jaw drops in wonder and I’m left with the feeling of ‘how I wish I could do that.’ That great lyric, that killer vocal, making the difference and bringing the emotion. As popular music fades into nostalgia for a better time, when supposed ‘real’ popstars and personalities walked the earth, perhaps we could just ask for more from our current crop – less of the plucking from behind the supermarket till and more of the alien, out of this world variety. Yes, I’m sure I sound like an old reactionary, but Pop, make me feel something again.
Is my weariness – rather than old age – a reaction to the destructive capitalism that has reduced pop music to another tier on Jeff Bezos‘s consumerist Valhalla – this has ultimately destroyed the spirit and artfulness of pop music. Could it be that it’s not the fault of the individual stars or young kids coming up through their insta/tik-tok but the structural mould of capitalism which has sucked the air out of any outlandishness and commodified it.
Nick Triani is an editor and contributor to One Quart Magazine.