Monday, June 09, 2003

Here's a piece on the revival in popularity of swing and jazz standards; this is not quite new news, since Tony Bennett, for example, has been hip again for several years, and "lounge" music was a trend a couple of years back. Lounge was a joke, though, but both the retro and the innovative trends in music today have a common source.

I really think the trend in question, applicable to both retro and new music, is toward "authenticity", however we want to define that. Now, commercial pop music can be "authentic" as all hell--look at the Motown singers, for example, or the Beatles, but a lot of the stuff that used to be hyped up by the media is not catching on with the American public in general.

What's popular now among a lot of younger people is funk-dance beat stuff, hip-hop plus soul and rap or whatever you want to call it, the stuff the kids like to listen to and can experiment with making themselves. It's got authenticity because it's the music that these kids would be making if they weren't trying to be big stars. Something that's very hip among the twenties-thirties crowd is so-called world music, especially fusions of Algerian or Dominican or West African or whatever dance music and standard Western pop-rock. This stuff gets its authenticity because it's what the people in other countries really listen to. Country music, especially the "authentic" bluegrass and Bakersfield strains, is increasing its popularity a great deal since it's seen as the real voice of the American people. Rock and roll is still healthy, and it's certainly always been hip to be into blues.

What's dropping off in popularity, I think, are the wilder excrecences of Eighties pop, from Madonna to Jacko. Remember that crap like Culture Club and A-Ha and the Thompson Twins and Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Adam Ant? A Flock of Seagulls? How about those one-hit wonders like "99 Red Balloons" and "Der Kommissar"? (Van Halen, who had a sense of humor, got the "Der Kommissar" guys to open for them once in Kansas City.) Have they euthanized Cyndi Lauper yet? God, that stuff stank, just as bad as the last gasp of Rock Music, your last and most incredibly boring albums by the Who and Floyd and Zep mixed with your wimp-metal bands like Journey and Foreigner and REO mixed with those hair-metal bands like Quiet Riot and Twisted Sister and Poison. God, the Eighties were an awful time. I'm supposed to be nostalgic for it, and I suppose I am, but not for the music that was on the radio at the time in the deep Midwest. It was phony, riddled with Salingeresque arch-phoniness.

Anyway, the Eighties stars who did that wacky shit are seen today as a bunch of phonies, and even the ones who didn't do wacky shit sucked. Huey Lewis and the News. Bon Jovi. Duran Duran. Hall and Oates. Billy Idol. Bryan Adams. Ouch. Phonies all and commercially dead now, if they were ever alive. Remember that Bryan Adams song called "Summer of '69" about how cool it was in 1969? Bryan Adams was like eight when the righteous shit was going on at Woodstock or whatever. Phony, phony, phony. Maybe we can deport Bryan Adams back to Canada if our relations with our northern neighbor get any worse. They can have all the old Second City TV people and their friends back, too.

Next trend to get the axe for being phony: the boy bands and the teenage sluts of the late '90s. In three years no one will remember any of them. Some of them, like Christina Aguilera, are already as forgotten as Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.

Comment: British music is as non-influential as it has been in the United States since the Beatles. I can't think of a British artist who's broken out in America for a few years now. Oasis bombed. So did the Spice Girls. As did Kylie Minogue, who I think is Australian anyway. Hypothesis: the British pop culture scene is seen as phony in the States.

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