|Exhibit A: Yellowcard|
Most new stuff that I hear on the radio today all sounds the same. I can’t take this new trend in pop music where the instrumental backing sounds like watered-down, slickly produced pop-punk and the vocals sound like those nasty boy bands that we thought we got rid of a few years ago. Well, kiddies, I’ve got something to tell you: the boy bands are still here! They’ve just got a new disguise, and I’m afraid it’s all morphing into something even more sinister, more, dare I say… EMO!
Well, all of this got me thinking. Since the bands today all sound the same and this whole thing seems to be about image over any sort of musical substance (a hallmark of bad pop music throughout the ages), I think it’s entirely possible that there’s really just one band out there recording all of these songs under various band names. “Oh come on, man,” you might say to me. “Your cynicism and paranoia has truly reached an all-new pathetic level. Get over it! If you don’t want to hear it, just don’t turn on the damn radio!” Well, boys and girls, I can’t just sit on my laurels and let a huge musical conspiracy like this continue unexposed, now can I? My conscience simply wouldn’t allow it. Now let me break it down for you:
History Lesson: The music industry has always been a monolithic, greedy, money-hungry, soulless corporate beast that will stop at nothing to get a profit. (I can already hear the groans from some of you out there. Look, I don’t want to sound like some pissed-off middle-aged post-riot grrrrrrrl at some beret-infested poetry slam bitching about her vagina, but that previous statement about the record industry is just the goddamn truth. Read on… that was just the setup anyway for more important points ahead.) As with virtually anything in our capitalist society, as soon as some schlub figured out that it was possible to make loads of cash off of musical performance and recording, a giant industry was created. Now I’m not against money. I like to play a bit of music from time to time and if I could make boat-loads of cash from it (without relinquishing every bit of artistic integrity, ha ha), there’s no way in hell I would say no. However, there was a time when record companies seemed to be able to balance artistic creativity and the search for the almighty dollar, and that time was, of course, the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Record companies were more willing to take risks back then. If you investigate some of the stuff that was released by major record companies during that time period, you’ll realize that some really weird shit was getting out to the public. Now that’s not to say that anybody bought that weird shit, and most of the bands making that weird shit were soon dropped from the label unless they became more commercial, but still, the record companies were willing to try to make money off of the freak quotient. So what happened? My guess is that record executives were smoking more pot and doing acid back then and once they made the leap to cocaine they left all of the strange prog rock, proto-metal, and hippie music behind and plunged head-on into stadium rock and disco. At the same time, the public changed their drugs of choice as well, which meant that they were ready to consume all of this stadium rock and disco. (The freak quotient, of course, retreated back into their caves with their stockpile of hallucinogens and listened endlessly to their Hawkwind records.)
So here we are in the 21st century. The record industry takes no risks. There have been reports that the industry is in a slump, that people aren’t buying like they used to and that downloading has taken over. After years and years of popular music becoming more and more mediocre, the current generation of music listeners (generally speaking) doesn’t even have a fighting chance of listening to anything good at all if they’ve only ever heard what is being played on the radio. (There was that brief bright spot in the early 90’s when Nirvana blew the hairspray off of all those late 80’s glam-metal bands that were more into singing ballads about how tough it was to be a rock star than really rocking, but we all know what happened with that. What survived in the aftermath of grunge? Creed. Limp Bizkit. Kid Rock. What? Then that boy band shit and Britney Spears (I’ll never forget the sick, sinking feeling I had in the pit of my stomach when I found out that she had a song called “E-mail My Heart”). Then there was that other little bright spot at the beginning of this decade when The Strokes and the like erupted upon the scene with that whole post-punk revival thing. Sure it wasn’t original at all, but it was a hell of a lot closer to the real rock and roll spirit than Fred Durst. What happened with that? Well, they do play the White Stripes and Franz Ferdinand on the radio, but there was no grand Nirvana-style bullshit-removal revolution with that. It’s all just joined up with the pop-punk and morphed into this quasi-emo pop of late. Which brings us full circle&hellip So what do the record companies do? They find one style that appeals to the throng of clueless teenagers that will use their parents’ money to consume and hire one band to play every song currently out there.
|The Man Behind The Music|
The Conspiracy: It’s very possible that there’s really only one band for any given genre of current popular music. The record company finds one group of studio musicians (who will do anything for a paycheck) or perhaps even a real band (whose members would have to be devoid of souls or have souls that could easily be taken over by the dark powers of Satan) and tells them exactly what kind of music is needed to keep the teens’ money rolling in. The band spends most of their time in the highest of high-tech studios, recording these rather putrid but somewhat catchy songs about regular teenage concerns (liking someone, not liking someone, liking someone that doesn’t like you, not liking someone that really likes you, not liking someone anymore after you really liked them but you found out that they were a real creep, etc.) that are, of course, written by a crack team of sociologist songwriters, with hooks and lyrics scientifically designed for maximum teenage consumption.
Then, through research into demographics and demand for this teenage product, a number is arrived at for the amount of musical groups that are required for maximum profitability. Another team of specialists, with the aid of specially designed computer software, devises the array of appropriate names for the various groups and an image begins to come together. “Band” members are selected from vast underground labs that grow suitable specimens with the desired genetic characteristics (good looks, lack of acne, high metabolism, malleable hair, boundless energy, no capacity for independent thought), and an identity is provided for each member. Each “band” has its archetypes: the pseudo-punk with a slight faux-hawk, the slacker who parts his hair down the middle and usually wears plaid, the sweater-wearing emo (usually the bass player), and the drummer that is slightly more pudgy and less attractive than the other members. Variations on these personae do occur, however slight, and the instrumentation for each type does vary (except for the drummer). Recordings are distributed to each “band”, CDs are manufactured, and then the band sets out on its carefully guided promotional plan for the new product.
The new “band” rehearses the songs that have been written and recorded for them. However, no musical training is actually required on the part of the genetically manufactured “band” members (that would take far too much time and effort on the part of the record company. Besides, the “band” members don’t have the capacity for any kind of artistic expression – it’s simply not part of their genetic code), so their rehearsal sessions consist of them learning to mime the new songs for videos and “live” performance. Since we all know that it takes minimal talent or intelligence to lip-sync or mime a performance (as Ashlee Simpson has taught us), this is not a special feature of the manufactured humanoids found in your favorite teen bands.
At this point you’re probably thinking that I’ve finally really flipped my lid. Sure, a “band” can lip sync a television performance or a video, but there is no way that all of these big-name “bands” can get away with miming all of their live performances! Well, I hate to burst the boy out of your bubble, but that is a very naïve way to view our modern world. Technology has advanced to the point that shitty singers can be made to sound perfect in a live setting, all by machines manipulating the sound coming from the performer, through the microphone, into the mixer, and out of the PA system. And that goes for any other instrument that is mic’ed in a big-budget live situation – guitars, drums, bass, keyboards, etc. It can all be mimed live, and it usually is.
I’ve never seen any of these bands live, nor do I plan on it. Most of the people that I know have no interest in these bands and will probably never see them live either. My friends and I, though, know a lot about music and media (not to sound like a pompous prick or anything, but it’s just the truth—we’re losers and we really don’t have much else going on in our lives) and we can tell when somebody is miming or lip-synching their performance. Do you really think that all of those teens that go see bands like Story of the Year and Yellowcard can really tell the difference? No, they can’t. And what’s more disturbing, they probably don’t give a shit.
|Exhibit B: Story of the Year|
So why should you or I give a shit? Well, I can’t speak for you, but I happen to love music and think that it’s a beautiful, powerful, and mysterious force, capable of causing intense emotional responses and perhaps even being one of the most pure forms of all human expression. These “bands” are basically cheapening an art form that I care deeply about and have spent a considerable amount of my life involved in. These record company executives are basically being paid by the mass of teenage consumers to shit upon them and rub their faces in it. In effect, our noses are catching a little bit of the splat and the executives are laughing at us (as they participate in depraved sexual romps with cocaine-covered hookers, of course).
The Solution: We’ve got to get a message out to the teenage consumers that are buying this crap. Ask them how they feel about their musical heroes being fakes. Ask them if they really like the fact that the meaningful lyrics written by their cute, adorable, oh so sensitive emo pop-stars are really the manufactured product of rich scientists gone mad and are being pumped through the mouths of a throng of test-tube grown, mindless, soulless, and possibly human flesh-craving zombies. Ask them if they really like paying for the record executives’ cocaine. They probably won’t believe you when you tell them that all they hold dear in the music world is empty and fake, but you can at least try to plant that seed in their subconscious that will someday flower into a gigantic zombie-eating venus flytrap once they grow up a little.
Look, do we really need any more of this plastic music that feeds our plastic culture and which will someday reduce all of us to plastic, non-feeling creatures that slither and blather about a worthless plastic planet? I think not. Let’s get rid of the zombie “bands”! Let’s get rid of the big record companies! Let’s gather all of our strength, get some balls for Chrissakes, and just fucking ROCK!!!