By Matthew Zacher ’18
Music of the 20th century featured The Beatles, Rolling Stones, U2, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Billy Joel, The Temptations, The Eagles, Nirvana, and Bob Dylan–artists who rose to the heights of American culture and changed its scope forever.
These artists created the American songbook if you will, providing a wide array of rhythms and sounds representative of America’s great diversity, but always using meaningful lyrics as a means of influence.
Today, we see several artists who are also using lyrics as a tool to reshape society. Artists like Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, Eminem, and a select few others are using music as a refined channel of honest personal expression.
However, most of these expressionists today are rappers, and the brashness and overwhelming nature of rap does not appeal to a wide audience. Regretfully, some rap music normalizes the abuse of women, popularizes foul language, and elevates violence.
Thus, rap is not a reliable nor appropriate foundation for the 21st Century’s American songbook.
Enough with rap, though.
The vast majority of mainstream artists today rely on “catchiness” and the ability to make the audience’s feet tap or heads nod. We live in the era of commercial music, in which far too many artists try to make their choruses energizing and captivating at the expense of honest and real musical expression.
A perfect example is Meghan Trainor. Nearly every person in America knows the song “All About that Bass.” Even my Nebraskan grandma has it on the top of her playlist.
Meghan Trainor’s song has permeated our culture and has everyone from third graders to 70-year-olds singing about the importance of a big caboose.
Music is an opportunity for artists to share their experiences with love, loss, suffering, injustice, joy and discrimination. It cannot devolve into a game of who can get their song stuck in everyone’s head the fastest.
Today, our musical hierarchy is composed of Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift, Adele (who I love), Meghan Trainor, Ed Sheeran, Selena Gomez and Imagine Dragons.
While many of these artists do craft deep, contemplative records, the vast majority are of this “clickbait” brand.
American music is at a crossroads. We can take the path toward a musical culture anchored by rap and supplemented by cute little choruses like “All About that Bass,” or American listeners can empower artists who display the proper combination of rhythm and lyrical gusto that Billy Joel would be proud of.