Music as a connecting force aligns culture with experience. However, there are dire consequences when the music composed shares an experience that is inauthentic.
As a singer, musician, and writer, I have participated in music’s proliferation across my own background. My own experience revealed that the saturation of music seems to mirror a lack of artistry and creativity in some of American music’s most prominent genres.
Massachusetts comedian, Bo Burnham observes that the much of Contemporary American music that is popular is culturally incoherent when measured against the backdrop of where a performer comes from. Furthermore, he states that such music is also misrepresented as true art.
Burnham’s comedy show, “Make Happy” examines those lies. Using the nursery rhyme, “Baa Baa Black Sheep” he criticizes how most of today’s hip-hop music is “beat-fetishism”. In his on-stage example, he personifies the easy bait and switch that encompasses most popular hip-hop songs. Artists bait listeners with hypnotic beats and downplay lyrical integrity.
When he reaches the line referring to the “little boy that lives down the line”, he asks important about the boy’s living arrangement. This interrogation highlights a “bait and switch” because most hip-hop audiences will not attempt to process the overarching themes of the music they hear because it just sounds good.
Examples of this dynamic in American hip-hop include but are not limited to:
Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” – (self-glorification, with a weird black accent to match)…. she’s Australian. And her name is AMETHYST. Imagine that!
Rihanna’s “Work” – Robin Fenty… You’re from Barbados. We get it.
Desiigner “Panda” – The lyrics are there… but you’re not supposed to understand them or even single along to them… unless you listen to the record several times. Thanks, Kanye for giving us another song about a car—the BMW X6 — (thanks Genius.com)
The same criticism can be applied to some of today’s popular “New Country” songs. Jason Aldean’s “Big Green Tracker” is a song that paints a great picture of the American ideal that many country songs emulate. Written in 2009, the song is literally a love song about how much a man would like to give a woman —that he’s attracted to—a ride on his tracker.
The song appears innocent enough, but it panders to the America ideal of Southern themes, and is specifically for the unmarried single woman that is rough and tumble.
Gradually, there have been slow inroads toward changing the predictability of “new country” , by artist like Dolly Parton, Reba Mccintyre, Kace Musgraves, and Sam Hunt.
These trends don’t suggest that people don’t write great songs anymore. They only highlight that people who want better music are going to have to get choicy and move away from the “neon-light” that is commercial radio. The truth is: You won’t hear substantive music on the radio. Instead, you’ll hear the music that caters to suburbia. In short, the internet is your oysters.
The industry is changing because consumers have started realizing that they shouldn’t have to pay for terrible music that’s cobbled together by the same industry suits.
Why is this important?
I don’t know. Maybe, there are consequences to failing to expand the types of music we are able to hear. Music is a currency often underappreciated for its effortless way to transport ideas and transform people.
My access to a wide variety of music allows me to challenge myself in ways that I wouldn’t dream of , if I heard the same thing for weeks at time. With music as a primary means of expressing my creativity, I am able to communicate with confidence and compassion. Furthermore, music will always connect people in a way that overpowers politics.
There are many different ways to be African-American. With music, I rebel against the idea that blacks are confined creatively to the the “FOR US, BY US” ideal. We are all one family, and we must let go of the ideas that our creativity energy is to be confined by cultural symbols that no longer apply to us.
I do not prefer music by artists that don’t look like me because I’m consciously trying to HARM black progress.
Whatever I like expresses what I understand, what I connect, and what I feel. I reject the idea that I have to be so explicitly black to express how black I am. The notion of performative blackness repulses me. Haven’t African-Americans paid enough in struggle yet? I understand that some of us may need to “PERFORM” to survive, but perform just for an acceptance that may or may not be there in the future is ignorant.