The contemporary music exposure project – When That David Guy visited me a few weeks ago, he was amused by the fact that I still listen to 80s music pretty much to the exclusion of all other music. After he left, I resolved to get out of the dark ages and start listening to more contemporary music. So I found a “contemporary music” station on the internet and began listening. Every single song that came on was a song that I was hearing for the first time. I was able to hold out for an hour before I was forced to switch back to one of my beloved 80s stations. When I did, a wave of relief swept over me, and I realized that I had been clenching my teeth for the entire hour.
My tolerance for contemporary music has increased considerably since then. I can now listen to it for several hours on end without even flinching. In fact, I am listening to it at this very moment. (Counting Crows, Accidentally in Love—verdict: eh, it sounds like every other Counting Crows I’ve heard.) Oh, yeah, I’ll be doing that throughout this entry—putting in little parentheticals giving my verdict on whatever song happens to be playing at the moment.
To be honest, though, while my tolerance has increased, I don’t know if my appreciation has. It usually ends up being one big blur of indistinguishable music. After I got past the teeth-clenching stage, I was surprised to find that contemporary music hasn’t really changed all that much since I stopped listening to it (which would be the mid 90s). Maybe it’s the station I’m listening to, but there was a pretty big difference between popular music in the 70s and popular music in the 80s, for example. And then in the 90s you had the grunge revolution. But what about the double aughts? What is the new music for this decade? Is there any? (Jason Mraz, Wordplay—verdict: he’s just trying too hard; I’ve never been fond of the rapid-fire singing of lyrics style. In fact, this is annoying me so much that I’m changing the station.)
One thing that has amused me is the number of remakes I hear: Don Henley’s Boys of Summer, Bryan Adam’s (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, Roxette’s Listen To Your Heart, Blondie’s The Tide Is High. The funny thing about remakes is that people familiar with the original version will usually hate the remake, but those hearing it for the first time may like it just fine. The Tide Is High is a perfect example: Blondie’s version is a remake of The Paragons’ 60s original. Yet I was exposed to the Blondie version first, so that’s the one I enjoy the most. I’m not too fond of the new version, even though it was remade from the original.
It’s also been surprising to see that some old artists are still around. I guess it shouldn’t be that surprising, since some bands hang around for decades, but some of the survivors strike me as a little unlikely. For example, I was shocked to hear a new Offspring song. I listened to them in high school, mostly as driving music, but I would never listen to them now—you need a little stimulation when driving around the tiny town I grew up in, but stimulation is the last thing you want when driving around Seoul. Anyway, I was surprised to see that they’re still making music. They never struck me as a band that would stay around long. I wonder if the lead singer ever finished his doctoral degree. (Switchfoot, Stars—verdict: I am violently indifferent to this song. This is one of those songs that fades into the background noise.)
Or how about Kid Rock? Let’s be honest here—the time has long passed since this man had any business calling himself “Kid.” The dude is now 35 years old. But I guess “Man Rock” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, not to mention being a bit weird and possibly even a little lewd. And don’t get me started on Celine Dion. How has this woman not been assassinated yet? I just don’t get it. Not only is she still alive, but she’s even written a song entitled I’m Alive, apparently to rub this fact in the face of her would-be assassins. Talk about gall.
(Gwen Stefani, Luxurious—verdict: more background noise. Not impressed.) In addition to the artists I’m surprised to see still around/alive, there are also some new artists whom I’ve heard of but had never realized they were singers. Lindsay Lohan, for example. I was under the impression she was an actress. I’m pretty sure that she’s acted in some films, none of which I’ve seen. So I was pretty surprised when she started singing from inside my computer. The same goes for Hillary Duff. I had no idea what she was, but apparently there was some sort of tiff between Lohan and Duff a while ago, so I assumed that she was an actress as well. I am very out of touch with the entertainment industry.
It hasn’t been all bad, though. In fact, it hasn’t even been mostly bad. Mostly, it’s been unremarkable. The majority of the music just seems to blend into the background, while a few songs stand out on either end of the spectrum. The only song that comes to mind on the negative end of the spectrum is Ashlee Simpson’s L.O.V.E., which makes me want to tear my limbs off and beat myself to death with them. Needless to say, I change the station as soon as this one comes on (and it seems to come on quite a bit).
On the positive end of the spectrum, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I like Bowling for Soup. Wikipedia describes them as a “pop-punk band,” which strikes me as similar to describing a political figure as a “Republican-Democratic,” but hey, what do I know? The first BFS song I heard, on that very first, teeth-clenching day, was Almost, and I immediately liked it for its lyrics and upbeat style. I later heard 1985 (a remake itself) and Ohio (Come Back To Texas) and liked those as well. I know it’s tough to make a judgment based on three radio singles, but I think it’s safe to say that they stand out for me.
I also like Moby, who has that techno-Euro-trance kind of thing going on, and I’ve always been a fan of that genre. The only two songs of his I’ve heard on the radio have been Where You End and Lift Me Up, but they were both pretty good. Where You End was another bright spot in that first hour of listening, along with BFS’s Almost. (OK, time for another review... Matchbox Twenty, Disease—I think that Matchbox Twenty might be one of the bands That David Guy cited as examples of music he likes. If so, I am unimpressed. Very mainstream, and very bland. More background noise. Sorry.)
So that’s the state of the contemporary music exposure project (CMEP) so far. Through all the pleasure and pain, I’ve learned two things that might at first seem to be contradictory. (Ha ha, sorry to interrupt, but BFS’s Almost just came on, so I’m going to take a little break here and listen. OK, I’m back. Yep, I like that song.) First, I have not quite hit the stage where I cannot tolerate new music, but I’m getting pretty close. Second, as that guy who cuts babies in half for kicks put it, there is nothing new under the sun.
Why are these two ideas seemingly contradictory? Well, if there is nothing new under the sun, then how can there be new music to dislike? But I think it makes sense. Even though a lot of the music does sound the same, what I really mean about there being nothing new under the sun is that music is still music and singers still sing about the same thing they’ve sung about for centuries. Granted, there is still a lot of similarity between the music I’m hearing these days and the music I heard in the mid 90s, but if we were to compare it with the music of the 80s, the difference becomes more apparent. The ideas—love, rebellion, fear, loss, etc.—are all still the same, and the musical principles are still the same, but the methods of expression are different.
So is it the methods of expression that we reject as we grow older? Maybe. But maybe we reject the message as well. (Better Than Ezra, Our Last Night—verdict: I can’t say that I’m a big Better Than Ezra fan, but I don’t dislike them either. Their songs are pretty easy to listen to, and I guess they’re decent background music. I have a difficult time telling their songs apart, though, maybe because they fail to inspire me to the point of actually paying attention.) Maybe these themes don’t appeal to us as much any more. Or maybe it’s just the general idea of something new versus something familiar. We develop a lot of our tastes during a relatively few formative years, and some people just don’t develop new tastes.
But I don’t really like to think of myself as a person unwilling or unable to adapt to the new. For me, I honestly think my enjoyment of 80s music may have a lot to do with the memories associated with it. On the other hand, there are also certain songs that I generally avoid because of the memories. I was always a big fan of Yazoo, but Only You was a special song for me and an old girlfriend, and whenever I hear that song it feels like someone just put a shotgun to my chest and pulled the trigger. Not that I still miss her, but music has a way of bringing back certain feelings.
So what is it about most 80s music that brings back good feelings? It doesn’t really make much sense, since I was an alienated and confused adolescent for half of that decade. Why would I want to remember that? I honestly do not know. Maybe it’s just the familiarity after all. It’s kind of strange, because during the time in my life when I really could have used an anchor (the few years after I came to Korea), I didn’t listen to 80s music. I only actually started listening to it again a few years ago, after my life was established enough that I didn’t need as much of an anchor.
Ack. I don’t even know if I’m making sense anymore. This often happens when I try to analyze myself and end up realizing that I don’t really know who I am or why I do the things I do. Honestly, that’s a rather disturbing thought. I like to think I have it together, but even a simple attempt to figure out why I like the type of music I like just ends up leading me around in circles and never getting anywhere. So I’ll abandon the current attempt at self-analysis and wrap up with the conclusion I’ve drawn from the CMEP: I guess I’m still at the stage where I can listen to new music, but I don’t know if I’ll develop any new favorites (with perhaps a few notable exceptions). I’ll probably continue to listen to contemporary music on and off, but I think I’ll be more likely to flip an 80s station browse through my CDs (which are mainly 80s music, with the exception of current CDs from my favorite groups). But at least I can say that I made the effort.
Update: OK, I finally got the correct info on my brother’s gig. He’s playing in the CBGB Lounge (not the main venue) on April 22. He’s with a band called “Nekronet,” and they will be going on at midnight. Nekronet describe themselves as “extreme Industrial-Goth cyber electronic Metal.” If that happens to be your cup of tea (and you happen to live in NYC), stop by the Bowery and check them out.