Unlike most people these days, I still rely on CDs for my daily driving’s soundtrack. My car, built in 2002 and in my life since 2004, is not equipped with a means of playing digital music, and even predates the day satellite radio became a standard feature. This fact has been mildly annoying to me for the past 10 years, and recently my self-piteous complaints about it had grown in frequency with each passing day. Then, probably shortly after they reached critical mass—around Thanksgiving—my CD player stopped working.
Out of desire to serve penance (or maybe because I’m lazy; you decide), I have yet to take the problem to my mechanic to fix. Two months of no CDs means two months of radio—which is two months too many.
I haven’t listened to the radio regularly since buying this car [I really only listened regularly for a period where the cassette player in my previous car broke and there was nothing else; don’t bother raising your hand if you sense a pattern], and for good reason. I have settled into my “old fuddy-duddy” stage of life nicely, and have no desire to assault my eardrums with the likes of Justin Bieber and Pitbull. I’ll take another replay of my mix CD with a Cormega freestyle and an unreleased Talib Kweli track from 2006, please and thank you.
Now I don’t have that luxury which I so callously cursed. Instead I have two stations of top-40 and another of rock and alternative [Note: if Pittsburgh still has a hip-hop/"urban" channel, I’ll be damned if I know what it is]. And I’ve come to a few conclusions while enduring this psychological experiment of juggling the most limited musical options the first world has seen in the past 60 years. I now lay them out for you, in no specific order.
- Taylor Swift’s secret of success.
She’s not a good lyricist. She’s really not that good of a singer. And, on the shallow male side of things, she’s not that attractive. Real world “7,” but a celeb “5.” So the normal reasons for a woman reaching pop stardom in this nation don’t apply. But Taylor has something no one else does: a brilliant strategy built around prolificacy.
In the old days—when I was the age of her target audience—flooding the market with your songs was a good way to flameout. Oversaturation meant listeners soon grew tired of hearing you, and would then seek out other artists to play in their Walkmans. But today’s paying audience—millennials—have attention spans the size of an ant’s dick, and as a result frequency is now much more important to keep a presence in the market.
The true cleverness of Swift, though, is that she folds variety into the repetitiveness. Today I heard no fewer than four different Taylor Swift songs on the two top-40 stations during my one hour of drive time. And while I certainly heard some individual songs by other artists more times during that same timespan, Swift’s tracks came in as a fresh palate cleanse each time, to the point that I often forgot I’d just heard them 24 hours earlier. Think of it like M&Ms; we all know that no matter what color they are, they’ll taste the same. But if you’re given a choice between a bag that's only oranges and a bag that's a regular mixture of different colors, which will you choose?
- Pop is a woman’s world...
Michael was the king, but the king is dead (RIP). In today’s pop world, guys seem to come across as inauthentic. I really don’t care that Shawn Mendes is tired of some girl’s kisses. One Direction got me to listen to a song once, but mostly because I was daydreaming and not paying attention to whatever they were whining about. I now change the station if I hear it coming on again. Nick Jonas’ “Jealous” is actually pretty good production-wise, but that’s mostly because it sounds like an Usher track from 15 years ago. The lyrics, though, sound like a sixth-grader talking about a crush.
ifwhen Demi Lovato’s “Confident,” Selena Gomez’s “Same Old Love,” and Ellie Goulding’s “On My Mind” spin up, I’m hitting the volume up button and cheering them on. Alessia Cara and Elle King might be two huge stars in the making, if they can keep churning out genuine artistry like “Here” and “Exes and Ohs” (the lyricism of the latter is just pure genius).
Maybe it’s just me. It’s probably just me. But I believe Demi’s self-assertiveness. I mentally high-five Selena while she rids herself of some jerk (it’s Bieber every single time in my mind). Ellie is plagued by emotions after a hookup. Who hasn’t been through that? I can listen to these ladies all day—especially if it means Bieber and Pitbull don’t get airtime.
- ...But at least one of those women doesn’t belong in it.
Prior to this sudden immersion into the world of current music, I’d never heard an Adele song. My friends say I had to have been in some place or watched some show where she was warbling out one of her tunes. I honestly don’t think that’s true; but if it is, it says even more that I didn’t take notice. Hearing “Hello” come echoing over my speakers for the first time, I was mesmerized…by how indistinctive it was.
The production’s okay, and at first I thought it was part of the formula that made her famous. Then I heard “We Were Young.” Yeah, no. She might as well have Will Ferrell standing behind her with a cowbell in the recording booth.
The one thing left that could possibly explain the kind of acclaim she receives is lyrics. But there’s no winning work here, either. In “Hello,” she decides that the guy she broke up with years ago “clearly” isn’t upset anymore, because he’s not answering her phone call.
If there’s anything spectacular about Adele’s lyrics, it’s the sheer narcissistic delusion it takes to draw the conclusion that the person she knows she hurt years ago must be over it, because he doesn’t want to talk to her. If he was truly hurt, he’d be dying to hear the sound of her voice, right? He’d be waiting feverishly for the day she came back? Fuck. Outta. Here.
- The Weeknd is a powerhouse, and the only exception to #2.
The Hills.” Yeah, I’m eight months late to the party. But here’s an instance where an artist not only delivers on all levels, but takes a few risks while getting there.
I was hesitant when the first few bars of “In the Night” first strode confidently through my speakers—An 80’s retread? I thought we left that kind of stuff back in the 90s?—but I was quickly hooked, pushing my Members Only sleeves up and bobbing my head to the beat.
To this point, there’s only one The Weeknd song I have a problem with, and that problem has nothing to do with The Weeknd himself. But I can never hear “Can’t Feel My Face” and not picture Tom Cruise singing it. Damn it all to hell.
- Hip-hop is no longer pop.
Compare that to my last regular exposure to radio, when Ludacris, Em, Jay-Z, Nelly, Chingy, and even Snoop Dogg were regularly spreading hip-hop’s growing empire across the bubblegum territories of pop. Now hip-hop’s been brushed aside, and the “non-conformists” are young white women (Adele, Alessia Cara).
Is this only what it’s like in Pittsburgh? How am I the only one seeing it? Did police unions take over pop music stations, locking up and killing off all of the young hip-hop artists? The hell?