Throughout time, the quality and diversity of mainstream music has diminished and is now on life support. From the times when artists were giving voices to social injustices and political indecencies through song, it seems that today’s music is laced with synth-heavy production and catchy, lackluster lyrics.
In the ‘80s when pop music reached its peak and hip-hop began to infiltrate mainstream airwaves, lyrics possessed insightful messages whether it was sharing stories of struggles and triumphs as hip-hop often did, or empowering women and youth. Pop belles such as Whitney Houston, Madonna and Janet Jackson were just a few huge performers who received their big break in the ‘80s and dominated the charts with empowering anthems and dance-heavy party records. Meanwhile the late, great King of Pop, Michael Jackson, pioneered the fusion of musical innovation and reality-defying performances.
Many of these artists pioneered brand new forms of music that will be referenced for decades to come. Madonna’s self-titled debut in 1983 brought dance-pop to the forefront of mainstream music, a now luke-warm vortex that we seem to be currently trapped in with artists including Rihanna and Katy Perry topping charts left and right. Afrika Bambaataa’s debut album “Planet Rock” took hip-hop a step further by infusing the lyrical rhymes with electro-tinged production, an influence that can be seen through the likes of the Black-Eyed Peas, Flo-Rida and now Pitbull.
Artist including Rakim, Grandmaster Flash and Janet Jackson took it upon themselves to let their music speak as a voice for socially conscious messages to the nation. Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” (1989) was a concept album dedicated to unite a nation while battling social injustices such as illiteracy, war and crime.
It was these artists that properly defined a generation while influencing many generations to come. Their artistry and innovation spoke wonders to their dedication to pushing the envelope, something we are lacking on today’s airwaves.
Moving into the ‘90s, many acts from the former decade began to reform and reinvent their artistry while sharing the spotlight with new stars. New acts such as Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men and Toni Braxton used their sultry harmonies and love-struck lyrics to captivate audiences worldwide, and brought R&B and soulful influences back to the forefront of music. But it was the late ‘90s where music quality seemed to take a backseat.
Although there were amazing albums to come out of the late ‘90s, it was superstar acts like *NSYNC and Britney Spears that gave birth to a new subgenre, commonly coined as “bubblegum pop,” a sound characterized by shallow lyrics, catchy hooks, and usually overshadowed by high octane, choreography heavy performances.
Diversity in music probably hit an all-time low in 2004, around the time Lil John’s “crunk” music was reborn with Usher’s “Yeah!” and Ciara’s “Goodies.” Every Hot 100 No. 1 single that year was an R&B or hip-hop track. Those findings influenced the development of a new chart, the Pop 100, to balance the tallies and insert a bit more diversity into an already lacking system.
Today, it seems that dance and electro pop has retaken the airwaves as it was in the early ‘80s, lacking the innovation that made it fresh and magical. With a music industry desperate for sales and revenue, it is clear that money is put above all, especially artist development.
With artists like Adele, Bruno Mars and new RocNation star Rita Ora, we can only hope that more artists will stick true to the artistry and bring true emotions back into mainstream music.
Najee Clancy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.