Classical Music Forum banner
561 - 580 of 641 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
12,048 Posts
The problem with "generalisations" is that they are, by definition, referring to the 'general'...ie pretty much everyone, if not everyone. Several posters have taken on the task (entirely voluntarily, and probably fruitlessly) of defending "pop" music from the same kind of generalisation that I'm objecting to now.

Why?

For the same reason that we sometimes staunchly defend the classical that we love, or the right of people to love the classical we hate. Because music - not just classical - is important to us, and "pop" and "prog" and "alt" etc are or have been important to us as we grew up or are growing up.

So, don't be surprised if we get as prickly about pop as we do about Chopin, Cherubini or Carter.
The OP used generalities: "harmony"; "Pop" - which got the thread off to a bad start.

It wasn't until pretty far in before he specified just what he meant by "Pop" - choosing what he thought was the most superficial, trite kind of non-Classical music - and then limiting the genre to only those artists he'd heard of or thought were popular enough.

But the OP basic wrong assumption or focus was with "harmony". (I and others have made this point before) "Harmony" is often not an important aspect of some of best Pop. And anyway, even if a song only has three chords, it can be very effective, evocative, moving, catchy, melodic, interesting, perfectly crafted, and in the final analysis, very good music.

And I haven't even mentioned lyrics or vocals.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
178 Posts
Discussion Starter · #563 · (Edited)
But the OP basic wrong assumption or focus was with "harmony". (I and others have made this point before) "Harmony" is often not an important aspect of some of best Pop.
True, Harmony isn't an important aspect of modern pop. But it used to be important just a few decades ago, that's what I meant by the "death of harmony".

Obviously, different people have different priorities. Some people just need a song to have good vocals and they will be happy. Others have higher demands and want quality vocals accompanied by interesting harmonies and embedded in interesting song structures.

My impression is that older pop music made more effort to provide sophistication on all levels whereas nowadays the focus is mostly on superficial sound effects or catchy hooks. Listeners who want more than that won't find much of interest, whereas older pop offered something for everybody.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
12,048 Posts
True, Harmony isn't an important aspect of modern pop. But it used to be important just a few decades ago, that's what I meant by the "death of harmony".

Obviously, different people have different priorities. Some people just need a song to have good vocals and they will be happy. Others have higher demands and want quality vocals accompanied by interesting harmonies and embedded in interesting song structures.

My impression is that older pop music made more effort to provide sophistication on all levels whereas nowadays the focus is mostly on superficial sound effects or catchy hooks. Listeners who want more than that won't find much of interest, whereas older pop offered something for everybody.
Well, there's a nice big generality. Listeners who want more can find it in some of today's "Pop" but more likely in one of today's non-Jazz, non-Classical, genres you don't consider Pop, but for all intents and purposes is Pop.

Also, even if harmony is not an important aspect to a modern Pop song - it doesn't automatically make it less artistically written, or less sophisticated, or less interesting, or without quality vocals, than older Pop. And if you desire to listen to the kind of music that has "quality vocals accompanied by interesting harmonies and embedded in interesting song structures" listen to lieder, or the Great American Songbook, or your favorite older Pop.

It is surprising to me when I read a post that is essentially saying "Music X does not have Attributes A,B, and C, which I think define good music, and so Music X is not good."
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,304 Posts
Well, there's a nice big generality. Listeners who want more can find it in some of today's "Pop" but more likely in one of today's non-Jazz, non-Classical, genres you don't consider Pop, but for all intents and purposes is Pop.

Also, even if harmony is not an important aspect to a modern Pop song - it doesn't automatically make it less artistically written, or less sophisticated, or less interesting, or without quality vocals, than older Pop. And if you desire to listen to the kind of music that has "quality vocals accompanied by interesting harmonies and embedded in interesting song structures" listen to lieder, or the Great American Songbook, or your favorite older Pop.

It is surprising to me when I read a post that is essentially saying "Music X does not have Attributes A,B, and C, which I think define good music, and so Music X is not good."
Exactly, that hits it on the head. And that is why I repeatedly cite certain scholars and their books, where the question of what makes good music good is addressed directly and knowledgeably. For example, Charles Rosen: He was a concert pianist, lecturer and author whose views on classical music often were highly opinionated and more than a little controversial. But when he set about writing a book explaining why the music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven is good, he made a profoundly wise decision, which was to first define and describe in detail what he called the "Classical Style". For it turns out that these three composers, who knew each other and were from more or less the same time, place and cultural context, all were masters of a specific style of music, a subset of a broader European tradition of circa 1600-1900.

For me (as for Rosen), if you want to rank or rate any music or musician (an exercise some here are far more interested in than I), it is essential first to define the genre or tradition they fall within. Musicians then can be ranked according to how well, or how originally or imaginatively, they exploit the potential of their genre, though there always will be a subjective element in such a ranking. If an entire genre is not your cup of tea, then there is no point in going through this ranking or rating exercise for any music within that genre.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
12,048 Posts
Exactly, that hits it on the head. And that is why I repeatedly cite certain scholars and their books, where the question of what makes good music good is addressed directly and knowledgeably. For example, Charles Rosen: He was a concert pianist, lecturer and author whose views on classical music often were highly opinionated and more than a little controversial. But when he set about writing a book explaining why the music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven is good, he made a profoundly wise decision, which was to first define and describe in detail what he called the "Classical Style". For it turns out that these three composers, who knew each other and were from more or less the same time, place and cultural context, all were masters of a specific style of music, a subset of a broader European tradition of circa 1600-1900.

For me (as for Rosen), if you want to rank or rate any music or musician (an exercise some here are far more interested in than I), it is essential first to define the genre or tradition they fall within. Musicians then can be ranked according to how well, or how originally or imaginatively, they exploit the potential of their genre, though there always will be a subjective element in such a ranking. If an entire genre is not your cup of tea, then there is no point in going through this ranking or rating exercise for any music within that genre.
Exactly. :)

This thread can be summed up like this: "Today's Pop is different from Yesterday's Pop. I liked Yesterday's Pop, and don't like today's Pop, it is not as good."
 

·
Registered
Mahler
Joined
·
3,907 Posts
I have made a mistake in expressing myself.

Even if we make a case that contemporary pop music may be flawed, it does not mean that there is a problem with the esthetics.

I do not know the answer to that question.

The last thing I want to do is insult the people who enjoy contemporary pop music. I apologize for doing so.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,963 Posts
It's funny, I left the forum months back when it was plagued by server issues and basically unusable for me. I come back to find that TC has found a new server (I'm assuming), but this same thread/topic is still being discussed! As much as things change, the more they stay the same I guess.

I did note (after catching up with reading the last ~15-20 pages of the thread) that Beato and his videos/opinions were repeatedly referenced and discussed. I actually posted a video on page 1 that I think went mostly ignored that was a direct response to Beato from someone who is quite educated in both music theory and history himself. I'll repost it for those interested in a very intelligent (and amiable) critique of Beato and that general "older pop is better!" mentality:
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
1,700 Posts
Thanks. Enjoying listening to this chap make many of the points we made all by ourselves throughout the thread. One thing I noted around the 10:20 minute mark is the falsehood (Beato's) about major labels not taking risks so they made sure that there were producers doing the writing.

Isn't that what George Martin did for Parlophone/EMI back in 1963? No, not quite, he didn't do the writing, but the important role of producers is not new, and it seems Beato overstates the idea that producers now do the writing. Plainly, they don't.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,963 Posts
Thanks. Enjoying listening to this chap make many of the points we made all by ourselves throughout the thread. One thing I noted around the 10:20 minute mark is the falsehood (Beato's) about major labels not taking risks so they made sure that there were producers doing the writing.

Isn't that what George Martin did for Parlophone/EMI back in 1963? No, not quite, he didn't do the writing, but the important role of producers is not new, and it seems Beato overstates the idea that producers now do the writing. Plainly, they don't.
Just imagine how much time and effort you all could've saved by watching this video back on page 1! ;)

The role of the producer has certainly grown larger with time, but I think that's as much to do with the technology as anything (learning production is an entire discipline unto itself); but I'm sure it didn't hurt that many great producers are also great songwriters. As a label, if you can hire a producer that can also collaborate with your artists to write better songs, then that's just a win-win. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with taking/not taking risks and, as that video shows, there ARE pop artists that have taken pretty big risks recently. Plus, it is worth noting that many current pop stars still write their own material... not that it should matter much given that throughout history it was rare for performing artists to also be the authors of whatever text they were setting to music. It was even a rarity in 20th century pop prior to Dylan and The Beatles normalized it because of their immense popularity.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
178 Posts
Discussion Starter · #571 ·
It's funny, I left the forum months back when it was plagued by server issues and basically unusable for me. I come back to find that TC has found a new server (I'm assuming), but this same thread/topic is still being discussed! As much as things change, the more they stay the same I guess.

I did note (after catching up with reading the last ~15-20 pages of the thread) that Beato and his videos/opinions were repeatedly referenced and discussed. I actually posted a video on page 1 that I think went mostly ignored that was a direct response to Beato from someone who is quite educated in both music theory and history himself. I'll repost it for those interested in a very intelligent (and amiable) critique of Beato and that general "older pop is better!" mentality:
I've watched this video when you first posted it and just thought that his arguments miss the point.

1.) The "sieve of time" is irrelevant to this topic. The thing is, that music today has become on average much less sophisticated, even if we adjust for the sieve of time: You can actually find the Number 1 hits of all decades on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Billboard_number-one_singles
You can compare the hits of earlier decades to the latest ones, and in most cases the past years had much more sophisticated songs than today. Here we cannot argue with the sieve of time as these are number 1 singles that were actually popular back in the day.

2.) 12tone argues that there are still pop artists making amazing harmonies and then posts 3 "examples" which are not special at all. The Lil Nas X example is actually just a 2-chord loop which is EVEN simpler than the average pop song.

3.) Next argument: Interest in Indie music is growing and thus Top 40 music is not as representative anymore as it used to be. Maybe true, but I've actually listened to the Indie examples he mentioned and they are not much more sophisticated than current chart music (in some respects they may be even worse):
Some of these songs use different chord progressions than chart music, which is nice, but in the end its still mostly 4-chord loops without real change or surprise. Certainly a far cry from the music of past decades.
So the decline of Pop music may apply both to Top 40 as well as Indie music if his examples are anything to go by.

4.) Final argument: "Melodies must be simpler to leave room for the production".
This is a common but very poor argument. I have yet to find a solid argument how interesting melodies and harmonies are harmful to production. Besides, a lot of hits nowadays really aren't that interesting in regards to production:
This song doesn't do anything crazy with production, yet it's just a simple diatonic 4-chord loop, as most pop songs these days. It's just one example, but from my experience songs like these are common. I cannot see a real correlation between complex production and simple harmonies/melodies.

Overall the arguments presented in this video hold very little water.
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
1,700 Posts
They don't "miss" the point: they contradict the point(s). You just don't accept the evidence he puts forward. For example, the sieve of time is of course relevant, though the point is not as convincingly explained as it might be. It is that there was as much dross in the charts back in the 60s/70s etc as there is now, but the sieve of time means we tend only to remember the good stuff. So Beato is (and you are) comparing a remembered past with a current present: these two things are not comparable.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,963 Posts
I've watched this video when you first posted it and just thought that his arguments miss the point.

1.) The "sieve of time" is irrelevant to this topic. The thing is, that music today has become on average much less sophisticated, even if we adjust for the sieve of time: You can actually find the Number 1 hits of all decades on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Billboard_number-one_singles
You can compare the hits of earlier decades to the latest ones, and in most cases the past years had much more sophisticated songs than today. Here we cannot argue with the sieve of time as these are number 1 singles that were actually popular back in the day.

2.) 12tone argues that there are still pop artists making amazing harmonies and then posts 3 "examples" which are not special at all. The Lil Nas X example is actually just a 2-chord loop which is EVEN simpler than the average pop song.

3.) Next argument: Interest in Indie music is growing and thus Top 40 music is not as representative anymore as it used to be. Maybe true, but I've actually listened to the Indie examples he mentioned and they are not much more sophisticated than current chart music (in some respects they may be even worse):
Some of these songs use different chord progressions than chart music, which is nice, but in the end its still mostly 4-chord loops without real change or surprise. Certainly a far cry from the music of past decades.
So the decline of Pop music may apply both to Top 40 as well as Indie music if his examples are anything to go by.

4.) Final argument: "Melodies must be simpler to leave room for the production".
This is a common but very poor argument. I have yet to find a solid argument how interesting melodies and harmonies are harmful to production. Besides, a lot of hits nowadays really aren't that interesting in regards to production:
This song doesn't do anything crazy with production, yet it's just a simple diatonic 4-chord loop, as most pop songs these days. It's just one example, but from my experience songs like these are common. I cannot see a real correlation between complex production and simple harmonies/melodies.

Overall the arguments presented in this video hold very little water.
1. It's very much NOT irrelevant to this topic unless you are taking a very large, representative sample of all the music produced "back then" vs now and comparing them using some rigorous, quasi-scientific standard. Without that all you're doing is cherry-picking examples that serve your point, and there will be selection bias for the precise reason that video mentioned: you will remember the best tracks from the past and be comparing that with the average tracks of today. You selecting #1 hits, while not falling into the above type of selection bias, is rather pointless as at that point you're no longer talking about comparing pop music from the past and today, you're talking about a comparison of number 1 hits from the past and today, and you won't be able to generate a large enough sample size to know how representative it is.

Despite this, I did agree way back in this thread that my instinct/intuition (based on my own experience) is that pop music on average has gotten simpler, at least harmonically, but I'm not going to stake or bet anything significant on it.

2. I don't recall the examples he used for contemporary pop with interesting harmonies, but to me the more interesting point is just how easy it is to find (well-regarded) pop from the past that's every bit as simple, if not more so. The point being that harmonic complexity has never been a common feature of most successful pop. Even in the past the examples you (or anyone) can find would've been exceptions.

3. IIRC his point about indie music was in response to Beato's point about the artistic control of major labels not being all that relevant in an age where people have access to a near infinite amount of music, including all those indie and even purely home-grown artists. Both Eilish and Bieber started out on self-publishing platforms like YouTube, and regardless of the quality of their music it's clear they weren't the products of artistically controlling labels.

4. I wouldn't say that melodies MUST be simpler to make room for production, but in any work of art if you want to make one element more prominent or put the focus on it it's common sense that you reduce the prominence of what's around it in order to make it stand out by contrast. Production might not play a huge aspect in every modern pop song, but clearly it does in a lot. I posted an example many pages back of Lana Del Rey's Summertime Sadness, which I think is a clear example where the production is doing all the heavy lifting in terms of the song's aesthetics:
Could you keep that production and utilize a much more elaborate melody or harmonic progression? Sure. Would it still be a good or as good a song? Perhaps, but it would probably come down to taste. What's certain is that it would be a different song. The simplicity of the melody and harmonies IMO very much help to make the aesthetic of the production a key focal point.

I'll also mention that pop isn't monolithic and it does a disservice to the entire discussion to treat it as such. Even the example you posted of the mxmtoon track is what I'd call indie folk, and folk music has ALWAYS had simplicity as a key element of its genre's tradition. Similarly, that Sam Smith track sounds like R&B, which is also typically pretty simple outside of the R&B artists that leaned more into their jazz roots. When I think of pop songs in which production plays a huge role I'm not thinking about the pop that's clearly rooted in genres with a tradition of simplicity: I'm thinking of stuff like this:
Which is a track that even Beato did a "What Makes This Song Great" on in which he focused on Max Martin's production. It's also a track that I'd be willing to bet a sizable amount if I gave it to you (or anyone else) blind they'd utterly fail at identifying all the tracks involved in the production. It sounds much simpler than it is, and is a great example of how complexity exists on multiple levels in music, and production is one of those levels that most people are not good at really hearing.

I'll also mention that there's a lot more content in that video that you haven't addressed, including what I mention above about harmonic/melodic complexity not the being the only ways to measure a song's complexity. As much as we may agree that songs have decreased in harmonic complexity, I can't imagine that you (or anyone) would disagree that they've increased in the complexity of their productions.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,945 Posts
I skimmed through the Ariana Grande song just to hear your example.

Yep, simple song. Stunning production. Minimal "percussion", with the rhythm being carried by melodic instruments.

No guitars. Great vocal stacking. She's got a great voice, and is very camera friendly.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
12,048 Posts
1. It's very much NOT irrelevant to this topic unless you are taking a very large, representative sample of all the music produced "back then" vs now and comparing them using some rigorous, quasi-scientific standard. Without that all you're doing is cherry-picking examples that serve your point, and there will be selection bias for the precise reason that video mentioned: you will remember the best tracks from the past and be comparing that with the average tracks of today. You selecting #1 hits, while not falling into the above type of selection bias, is rather pointless as at that point you're no longer talking about comparing pop music from the past and today, you're talking about a comparison of number 1 hits from the past and today, and you won't be able to generate a large enough sample size to know how representative it is.

Despite this, I did agree way back in this thread that my instinct/intuition (based on my own experience) is that pop music on average has gotten simpler, at least harmonically, but I'm not going to stake or bet anything significant on it.

2. I don't recall the examples he used for contemporary pop with interesting harmonies, but to me the more interesting point is just how easy it is to find (well-regarded) pop from the past that's every bit as simple, if not more so. The point being that harmonic complexity has never been a common feature of most successful pop. Even in the past the examples you (or anyone) can find would've been exceptions.

3. IIRC his point about indie music was in response to Beato's point about the artistic control of major labels not being all that relevant in an age where people have access to a near infinite amount of music, including all those indie and even purely home-grown artists. Both Eilish and Bieber started out on self-publishing platforms like YouTube, and regardless of the quality of their music it's clear they weren't the products of artistically controlling labels.

4. I wouldn't say that melodies MUST be simpler to make room for production, but in any work of art if you want to make one element more prominent or put the focus on it it's common sense that you reduce the prominence of what's around it in order to make it stand out by contrast. Production might not play a huge aspect in every modern pop song, but clearly it does in a lot. I posted an example many pages back of Lana Del Rey's Summertime Sadness, which I think is a clear example where the production is doing all the heavy lifting in terms of the song's aesthetics:
Could you keep that production and utilize a much more elaborate melody or harmonic progression? Sure. Would it still be a good or as good a song? Perhaps, but it would probably come down to taste. What's certain is that it would be a different song. The simplicity of the melody and harmonies IMO very much help to make the aesthetic of the production a key focal point.

I'll also mention that pop isn't monolithic and it does a disservice to the entire discussion to treat it as such. Even the example you posted of the mxmtoon track is what I'd call indie folk, and folk music has ALWAYS had simplicity as a key element of its genre's tradition. Similarly, that Sam Smith track sounds like R&B, which is also typically pretty simple outside of the R&B artists that leaned more into their jazz roots. When I think of pop songs in which production plays a huge role I'm not thinking about the pop that's clearly rooted in genres with a tradition of simplicity: I'm thinking of stuff like this:
Which is a track that even Beato did a "What Makes This Song Great" on in which he focused on Max Martin's production. It's also a track that I'd be willing to bet a sizable amount if I gave it to you (or anyone else) blind they'd utterly fail at identifying all the tracks involved in the production. It sounds much simpler than it is, and is a great example of how complexity exists on multiple levels in music, and production is one of those levels that most people are not good at really hearing.

I'll also mention that there's a lot more content in that video that you haven't addressed, including what I mention above about harmonic/melodic complexity not the being the only ways to measure a song's complexity. As much as we may agree that songs have decreased in harmonic complexity, I can't imagine that you (or anyone) would disagree that they've increased in the complexity of their productions.
Your arguments are well reasoned and most, if not all, of your points have been made previously by more than one poster. They would carry some weight and effectively counter the premise posed in this thread to anyone with an open mind.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,963 Posts
I skimmed through the Ariana Grande song just to hear your example.

Yep, simple song. Stunning production. Minimal "percussion", with the rhythm being carried by melodic instruments.

No guitars. Great vocal stacking. She's got a great voice, and is very camera friendly.
She does have a great voice, though I think it's been ill-served in her studio music, which in itself has been ill-served by her collaborating with too many songwriters/producers that have pulled her in too many directions, not allowing her to find any coherent artistic voice. She's better live where she can stretch her voice more than what she tends to do on the records. I'm particularly fond of this track, which, though using less production magic, is a convincing pastiche of 50s doo-***:
WARNING: Go easy on the volume before you hit play, it opens with annoying fan screaming.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5 Posts
You are correct, contrary to the people falsely claiming otherwise.

A few points for the laymen in this thread:
  • trying to disprove the correct statement in the title through exceptions to the rule proves only an inability to comprehend the concept of a trend
  • trying to disprove the correct statement in the title through semantic manipulation such as "what is 'pop music' exactly?" proves only an inability to solve the paradox of the heaps and a desire to derail the discussion
  • the many ad hominem against the OP are what we in Germany would call an "Armutszeugnis" and provide further evidence for a lack of actual arguments
  • trying to disprove the correct statement in the title through statements like "complexity is in no way better than simplicity" proves only an utter lack of understanding of even the basics of music and makes me wonder why laymen feel such a strong temptation to push uninformed opinions
As for OP, don't take discussions such as this one too seriously. Most people in online forums have little understanding of the topics they try to discuss. This goes, too, for people talking about classical music on a classical music forum, who overwhelmingly tend to be 'audience' - nothing else.
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
1,700 Posts
But who says the statement in the title is correct? Where is the evidence of a trend aside from that provided anecdotally by the OP?
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5 Posts
But who says the statement in the title is correct? Where is the evidence of a trend aside from that provided anecdotally by the OP?
I do, and given what I know in combination with not only the lack of arguments to the contrary from anyone in this thread but also the many irrational non-arguments, the validity of OP's statement is cemented further by it.
 
561 - 580 of 641 Posts
Top