Even without the Beibs, we’re all doomed
The Huffington Post reported today that, during an interview with Big 106 in Los Angeles, nineteen-year-old Justin Beiber said he was going to retire from the music industry. He went on to say that he wanted his music to “mature,” he wanted to grow as an artist, and was “probably gonna quit music.” Before you applaud and begin chanting “Miley next!” ask yourself how Justin Beiber became so phenomenally popular in the first place.
Beiber, whose Wikipedia entry is longer than actual musician Jack White’s, was discovered in 2008 after he posted a series of YouTube videos of himself singing and playing acoustic guitar. You know the rest of the story.
Maybe you hate him, maybe your kids like him, maybe your girlfriend likes him, maybe everyone you know thinks he should just go away and make good on his threat. But, much like the old adage regarding terrorists: take one out and three more will take his place.
So what gives? Why does Justin Beiber have 47 million followers on Twitter when Mick Jagger has around 800,000? Considering the age of the respective fan bases, you could make an argument that Rolling Stones fans are less inclined to log on to Twitter than your average Beiber fan. A more apt comparison, as least as far as age demographics and genre go, would be to compare Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga (16 million and 40 million followers, respectively) to Sky Ferreira and Lana Del Ray (223k and 3 million followers, respectively). To say the difference between Cyrus and Gaga and Ferreira and Del Ray is talent would be correct. Ferreira and Del Ray (both pop musicians) outclass the former with regard to talent and musicianship by miles and miles, to the point of complete inequity in the comparison.
The popularity of “bad” music and “bad” entertainment in general is the result of consumer laziness. I wrote an article on the pitiful state of college sports, attributing the lack of values to a lack of expectations. Like college sports, entertainment is reflective of our cultural economy. Do not fault major music labels or major movies studios for giving us crap because, frankly, crap is what we demand.
Music in general these days – whether its tween pop, Glee, American Idol, or The Voice – appeals to the lowest common denominator because that, sadly, is who dictates the quality of mass media.
The public at large is a lazy, all-consuming, undulating mass that will creep towards the path of least resistance. Why take an hour to listen to a complete LP when you can spend three minutes listening to a single? As music fans have become lazier in their consumption, the music industry has met that sloth with single-driven garbage like the artists mentioned above. Simply, there is no money in producing albums anymore because a relative few fans purchase full albums. It’s easier and less time-consuming to load a single onto your MP3 player than it is to play a CD, pull out the booklet, read the lyrics, memorize the personnel, and read the thank-yous.
While singles have always been a part of music, there was a time when the release of a single was meant to entice fans to go to their local store and buy the album. There was a fun discovery element in finding your favorite deep-tracks and talking to your friends about them. Once fans gained the ability to purchase singles so easily, singles were all they wanted. Granted, the Justin Beibers of the music world do not write most of their own music, but what incentive exists for people to make anything substantial if the key to financial success lies simply in producing that one single that will garner a million-plus downloads?
Fans’ refusal to dedicate any amount of time or effort to the things they consume has created the dearth in good entertainment. Even albums that are touted as 2013’s Best are reflective of artists’ conscious decision to put out one or two good songs in hopes that they will bank on that. Fans have not let them down. Kanye West’s Yeezus is a perfect example. A controversial figure who is not nearly as talented as he thinks he is, West has indeed produced good albums before. Yeezus is not one of them in spite of near universal acclaim. What he gave us in 2013 are three strong tracks and seven tracks of filler. This sluggish apathy, it seems, has lowered critics’ standards as well.
Lazy, undiscerning consumerism drives the boat. This is why Hollywood continues to recycle, throwing money instead of time at projects and why half-wit cop shows like CSI have turned into franchises. We are inundated with mindless entertainment because the majority of Americans mindlessly consume; labels and studios are simply feeding the beast.
If Justin Beiber actually goes away – I have my doubts – you can expect him to be replaced within the year by whomever produces the next catchy single. Meanwhile, you can find Aimee Mann, Shelby Lynne, and their ilk in your local record store…assuming you know where that is.
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