A Defense of Modern Pop Music – A response to Thoughty2’s video essay

Almost a year ago today, Arran Lomas, known better by his Youtube moniker ‘Thoughty2’, attempted to pass off his own dislike of modern music as an objective critique of a subjective medium, titled ‘The TRUTH Why Modern Music Is Awful’. Within his video essay, Arran raises a number of points and justifications that are really a thinly veiled attempt to pander to an large, archaic minority that despise and demonise modern music. The bedrock for Arran’s conclusions is an arrogant assumption that complexity has a direct correlation to the quality of music, and in the next 1300 words, I’ll attempt to explain just how ludicrous this is by dissecting the video point by point.

  1. Modern music is too simple.

Arran begins the body of the essay with the bold claim that ‘music is getting worse’, to which he justifies with the Spanish National Research Council’s 2012 study ‘Measuring the Evolution of Contemporary Western Popular Music‘. In his own words, the ‘most shocking result was that timbre has dropped drastically’. He goes on to explain timbre as the ‘richness and depth of sound’, when in reality, it is simply the character of the music. The study itself is deeply flawed, with just three weak and undefined variables being analysed, and completely ignoring all contextual factors that different genres of music have. He goes on to claim that ‘timbral diversity peaked in the 1960’s and has been steadily declining ever since’, due to a mass homogenization of modern music. I have one question; how can that be the case? Does that mean that Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles are ‘definitely’ better and have a greater timbral range than some of the most renowned composers like Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, who used full orchestras of dozens of instruments? I simply can’t see how that is possible.

He continues by coming to the conclusion that this supposed decline in timbral diversity is as a result of a lack of variety in the instruments used in contemporary music, and cites one of the Beatles’ most colourful songs in comparison to Robin Thicke’s single ‘Blurred Lines’, which was a critical flop and is (thankfully) unrepresentative of the majority of modern music. Perhaps the most infuriating moment is when Arran explains that the vast majority of modern pop music is made with four instruments; a keyboard, a drum machine, a sampler, and finally, computer software. His dismissive tone hides the fact that samplers and ‘computer software’, which is a vague term designed to appeal to an older audience who are suspicious of technology in music, unlock a perhaps unlimited amount of potential creativity. In the hands of a talented musician, these two devices alone can reproduce hundreds, if not thousands of different instruments. Besides, it’s not even true, with ‘Everyone’s At It’ by Lily Allen and ‘Gypsy’ by Shakira, which prominently utilize a xylophone and sitar respectively, representing the many billboard songs that do use unique instruments . The takeaway from this first point is that to agree with Arran, you have to agree that the quality of a song directly correlates with the complexity of a song; if so, why not make a song with literally thousands of instruments, as it would be supposedly better than any music ever made.

  1. Modern music all sounds alike

Here’s where Arran’s title stops being representative of the video. A rhetorical question is asked of the viewer; ‘do you ever flick through the radio and feel it all sounds the same?’. But this isn’t the issue that the video proposed originally, as now we are being lectured on why all modern pop music sounds homogenized, and not modern music: An important distinction to make.

So why exactly does all music sound the same? Arran simply points the finger at an easy scapegoat, namely leitmotifs. The bulk of the reasoning comes from a blog post that demonises the ‘millennial whoop’, which is one of thousands of leitmotifs that populate modern music. While yes, it is a mildly annoying leitmotif, it is in no way a part of a larger conspiracy theory designed to ‘comfort’ us.

Finally, a second finger is pointed at a less obvious target; songwriters, namely Dr Luke and Max Martin. While I’m in no way thrilled to have to attempt to defend Dr Luke, it once again appears that Arran has become disconnected from his original aim, and is assuming that modern pop music is representative of all modern music. Yes, some professional songwriters are extremely prevalent in popular music, but that shouldn’t mean that all modern music should take the blame.

This entire point is about songs in a certain genre sounding similar, which is literally the point of having music genres.

  1. Modern lyrics are awful

A part of this supposed homogenization of all modern music is a decrease in the complexity of lyrics, and this is once again where Arran makes the fatal assumption that complexity is the same as quality. He supports this with the Flesch Kincaid Readability Index, a test designed for application such as college essays, not music lyrics, pointing out how lyrics are shorter, less complex and more repetitive in modern billboard chart songs. Frustratingly, the examples chosen, Bob Dylan’s Rolling Stone and Duck Sauce’s Barbra Streisand, are so laughably cherry picked, and again presented as representative of all popular classic and contemporary music. Bob Dylan’s rock ballads are of course going to have better written lyrics than a house track, due to context; one is a focused mode of storytelling, the other a form of entertainment designed to be enjoyed in the background, such as in clubs.

If complexity of lyrics is representative of the quality, let’s add in some of the longest jargon that we can find to our fictional one thousand instrument track.

  1. The reasons for the decline in music quality

The original video offers several explanations for the theorised decline in music quality, one a conspiracy theory, and one a completely naive understanding of the state of the wider music industry. Firstly, Thoughty2 seems to believe that we are actually brainwashed through repeated exposure, and thus, learn to like something. I’m unsure if he has any scientific basis for this claim, but my own reason would state that exposure to an unlikeable thing would perpetuate those negative feelings, and any positive enlightenment or change in feelings is a result of genuinely learning to appreciate the ‘subtle nuances’ that he was keen to mention previously. Not only is his opinion unfounded and likely nonsense, but it’s also contradictory to his previous point against the accessibility of music; does repeated listens brainwash you, or does it allow you to appreciate the ‘subtle nuances’? It’s clear Arran hasn’t decided.

Another theory that Arran has created is that music is steadily getting more similar as it becomes ‘more risky’ and ‘more expensive’ to sign new artists. This is plain wrong. In a world full of platforms such as Youtube and Soundcloud, it’s infinitely easier to self promote and gain a following independently, prior to a record deal, with artists from Justin Bieber to 5 Seconds of Summer, Shawn Mendes and Carly Rae Jepsen all becoming established on Youtube prior to their record deals. Subsequently, it is fair less risky for record companies to sign new talent, as their public acceptance had already happened.

Closing Points

While I myself don’t have a natural attraction to modern pop music, I can appreciate that the very nature of music is subjective, and unlike Thoughty2, have no delusions that music can be objectively better due to an arbitrary factor as to when it was made. There were plenty of terrible chart toppers in the 60s, but they’re forgotten about and instead the very best music of that generation is compared to all modern music. It’s infuriating to be exposed to such a pandering and closed minded view that insists on demonising all modern music. We live in an age where there is more diversity, more independent artists, more creativity and accessibility in music than ever before. Music is in no way dead.

1 Comment

  1. David Grant says:

    I would have to say that I agree with anaylsis. I think that popular should be used instead of modern. There is a lot of music that is modern or contemporary that is very good. When it comes to the popular music scene, the anaylsis seems to fit. When I listen to popular music I find the lyrics are dumber and not in a good way. The lyrics of Kiss are generally regarded as dumb but they are funny. That can’t be said for the music I do hear. While one disagree with technical terms of the study, can anyone really say that the popular music is more diverse today that at anytime? Can anyone really say that the trend towards songwriters not creating their own songs? Can anyone say that a focus from playing your instruments isn’t as good as using computers? Can anyone really say that the popular music that is created today is the best that there is?

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