Does Music Today Stink?

First off; dumb question! Way too broad and general. Right now as I type this, there are probably hundreds of thousands of musicians all over the world playing music and the odds are that a lot of it is at least good.  So, we need to refine the question and define some terms. 

Part of the problem we face on this topic is the inherent subjectivity of musical taste. Now, I'm not going to go all relativist on you and suggest that if someone thinks a particular song is good, then it's good. I mean, it's obvious that it's good for that person or perhaps more accurately that the person likes it.  But for serious musicians; those who practice and work at their craft, there are some objective criteria applied to decide what makes music "good".  These standards for judgment revolve around the skill and/or talent required or applied to the creation of the work or performance.

Looking at the question in this way can remove some of the subjectivity.  For instance, I'm not a big fan of Maroon Five. But they certainly don't "suck". Now there are some who will say "they suck" when what they really mean is, "I don't like them".  I'm not talking about that kind of "suck".  The kind of "suck" I'm writing about here is a lack of ability and/or talent that is either obviously apparent or worse, concealed with technological effects to make the music sound plausibly decent. Like them or not, that doesn't apply to Adam Levine and Maroon Five. They are a talented and skilled group.

Now you might ask; "But why are musicians, singers, songwriters, producers and others in field entitled to be the ones to set the standards by which their art is judged?"  Well, for the same reason that the professional associations on education comprise mostly teachers and business groups comprise mostly businesspeople. In most cases, the serious practitioners know best what it takes to become professional and perform at a high level in a given area.  But even with these more objective criteria, there is still a lot of disagreement among musicians as to who sucks and who doesn't.

Now is this "elitist"?  Hell yeah! And proudly so.  If someone works really hard at developing a skill, they have a justifiable expectation that their hard work will at least be taken into account when judged.  It doesn't mean they're entitled to success on this basis alone. As with any art, music has to connect with an audience and that doesn't always depend solely on the skill or talent of the artist. But when someone who has very little talent or skill enjoys tremendous success through other factors, that's demoralizing. And while "life isn't fair" we can at least right things a bit by characterizing these posers correctly; i.e. they suck!

 When someone says "Music today sucks!", it's usually directed at popular music; i.e. the music that sells the most units (whatever "units" are in the ever-changing commercial landscape). Popular music has always been a target of critics and afficianados.

During the days when pop music was played by the Big Bands and sung by the likes of Sinatra, there was Percy Faith and Leroy Anderson doing "Classical Light" arrangements which went over big at Boston Pops concerts.   In the halcyon early days of rock when you had Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Elvis you also had Pat Boone.  There's a song I remember from when I was very small called "Norman". It's a catchy little number to a polka-ish two beat and sung by a singer named Sue Thompson.  It's as cheesy as you wanna' be; cliché lyrics and as frothy as a latte.  You could listen to that song today (I just did and I'll be singing it in my head for weeks) and say, yeah, that really stinks.  But here's the thing: Sue Thompson could really sing. So could Pat Boone as corny and hopelessly "white" as he was. And trite orchestrations aside, Percy Faith and Leroy Anderson were accomplished and talented musicians.  Compare these folks to some auto-tuned to the max "singer" or rapper whose only skill is how many times he can squeeze "nigga" and "fuck" into his alleged lyrics.  Well, there's no comparison.  The aforementioned group may be cheesy but the auto-tuned warbler just plain sucks.  And I don't mean to single out hip-hop.  There are some very talented artists in that genre.  There are plenty of rock acts who can't play their instruments well and more than a few pop diva singers who would be lost without a resourceful producer.

So the answer to the question is: Yes, some music today stinks. And the "artists" who make it need to take responsibility for that. But the dumbed-down public who accepts what they offer are just as much to blame.

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