The Top 40 illusion
90% of every art form is garbage - dance and stand-up, painting and music. Focus on the 10% that’s good, suck it up, and drive on.
–Patton Oswalt (stand-up comedian, writer, actor)
One of the mistakes you should not make is to believe that the music of the past was generally better, or that the masses have ever been listening to great music. This may have been true for the 1960s to some very small degree – but generally speaking, we have always been living in a world full of terribly bad music, and most people have horrible tastes.
At least 90% of all music is obviously just okay, or even crap.
This has even been true in the days of Mozart and Beethoven, it has been true in the 1960s and 70s, it is true today, and it will be true in future. Get over it.
The illusion that music was generally better in the past only has to do with the fact that people tend to forget about most of the bad stuff, while only remembering the great tunes that will last forever.
The masses have always been buying mostly singles, and the result of this behaviour is that the tastes of the masses are being reflected by the Top 40 singles charts. And if you take a look at the Top 40 charts of the past, then you’ll notice that they have always been full of horrible shit.
Only in the 1960s some really great artists could be found in the Top 10 on a regular basis.
But since the 1970s, really great music has always been the rare exception in the Top 10 or even in the Top 40. The fact that the better songs are usually the ones to be remembered leads to the illusion that they were dominating the charts, but that’s just wishful thinking. Even Nirvana only reached #6 of the Billboard charts with Smells Like Teen Spirit in 1991, while some of the higher positions were occupied by absolutely horrible crap at the same time. And even if Nirvana was the most influential act of that time, you should not forget that only a minor fraction of the population was listening to grunge, while the masses continued to listen to the usual commercial mainstream teen pop, commercial hip hop, cheap techno, and low end dance music. In other words:
90% of all Top 40 music has always been somewhere between “okay” and “horribly bad,” while only 10% of it was good, or even really great. The masses have always been listening to bad music, this is still the case today, and nobody will ever change that.
Accept this, and move on. You can’t change this, and you shouldn’t fight a battle you can’t win. You also shouldn’t forget that we don’t need to get rid of bad music if we want good or even great music to return. After all of this being said, it seems that only one important question remains, and that’s a very important one:
What’s wrong with today’s music, why is today’s music so much worse than the music of the past?
Well, today’s problem is that even that small amount of great music, those rare exceptions don’t seem to exist anymore, which leaves us with nothing but a huge pile of shit. In the 1970s and 80s you still had at least one or two really great songs plus a whole bunch of good songs every month that had a massive impact, while this may be down to less than a handful a year nowadays.
In the 20th century at least you had OPTIONS.
You were able to check out the Top 40 singles charts and you could actually chose between good and bad. If you wanted to listen to great new music, then this was easy, because great new music was just everywhere, even if the bad stuff still dominated. Nowadays those options are gone, because good music mostly only happens in the underground. And even then, today’s best music is no longer really outstanding or even revolutionary, which means that great music seems to be completely gone.
It’s important to understand that it’s not the taste of the population that has changed, but the focus of the music industry – it’s a shift away from music that appeals to different subcultures, towards mass-compatible commercial low end pop, dance, R&B, and hip hop music.
The shift away from music being made for subcultures also means a shift away from music that would appeal to well-educated young adults (18-24 year olds), towards music that’s being made for kids and the less-educated masses. Music should be for everyone of course, and we need music that appeals to all kinds of people, but by killing off diversity the music industry prevents the rise of all kinds of music that would be “different”, and thus there will be no innovation, no evolution, and certainly no revolution.
Don’t forget the the “music industry” not only consists of record companies – the artists themselves are also part of this broken system, as they are no longer challenging this entire industry. Most artists, even the better ones, are willingly following trends and pre-defined rules, hoping for some quick success. Today’s artists aren’t rebellious or revolutionary anymore, they just want to please both the masses and their bosses. Which means that the age of rock ’n’ roll seems to be definitely over. You also shouldn’t be surprised that the masses are not upset about the fact that good music is mostly gone:
The masses simply don’t care about quality.
They are lemmings and they will be happy no matter what kind of bullshit you will offer them, no matter if we talk about junk food, reality TV, stupid politicians, or crappy music. They don’t have taste, they even don’t really know what they want, and they will like whatever the media will tell them to like. And the media will only start talking about good or even great music if it really has a huge impact on some subculture first. And that’s no longer happening nowadays, because everyone is only producing mainstream music.
Good music tends to be more complex, more sophisticated and more challenging, while most people just want to be entertained.
The masses like things that are simple, things that are easy to understand, and that don’t require them to think a lot. The music industry started to understand this in the 1970s already, and began to produce more and more simplistic music that’s perfectly fitted to the masses. Of course there still is some good music out there today, but as mentioned before it either doesn’t make it into the charts at all, or it doesn’t have the same kind of impact than the killer songs of the 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s for example. We’ll explore the reasons behind that problem very soon, and we’ll also check out some possible solutions.