Saturday, February 21, 2015

"pop is dead-ish ; the soundtrack lives, kinda" - Or, 2014: Year of Blah and "Bundled Mundane"

"It all started with Frozen. [which] caught fire as a cultural phenomenon throughout the [2013] holiday season, and by the first week of 2014 the soundtrack was on top of the albums chart. Frozen eventually racked up 13 nonconsecutive weeks at #1, the most for a soundtrack sinceTitanic....   Meanwhile, the Guardians Of The Galaxy soundtrack sold impressive numbers during summer blockbuster season. Subtitled Awesome Mix Vol. 1, it was designed to mimic the mixtape of ’70s and ’80s hits Chris Pratt’s character listens to in the movie.... The soundtrack resurgence spills over into 2015 with Fifty Shades Of Grey, which debuts at #2 this week with...  a mixture of original singles by stars like Ellie Goulding, the Weeknd, and Sia; old hits by Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones, and Beyoncé; and an original score by Danny Elfman. 

"So why have soundtracks suddenly become a big deal again?....   Steven Hyden’s hypothesis at Grantland... boils down to pop is eating itself. As if fulfilling Simon Reynolds’ Retromania fears about endlessly pressing backward against the current, Gatsby style, the charts have been dominated by retro sounds throughout 2014 and early 2015. Sometimes it takes the form of revivalists like Sam Smith, Meghan Trainor and Pharrell; sometimes it’s covers albums or standards collections by old-timers like Tony Bennett and Barbara Streisand. So of course a “mixtape” of old-school hits resonated."

Hyden's take at Grantland from November last year: 

"Many of the top soundtracks of the early 21st century have a distinct mid–20th century feel, with the High School Musical and Hannah Montanafranchises returning to the roots of ’50s and ’60s musical and TV tie-ins. Then there are truly corny throwbacks like the chart-topping soundtracks for Mamma Mia! and Les Misérables, where Russell Crowe scored the Pyrrhic victory of finally notching a no. 1 album but without the other 29 Odd Foot of Grunts. Other recent soundtracks have been positioned as mixtapes supplementing YA-berthed juggernauts like the Twilight andHunger Games films, recalling how John Hughes once operated with non-undead teen films in a pre-apocalyptic world. Both kinds of soundtrack albums still sell, so long as they can be integrated into a culturewide cinematic experience...."

"Curator” is an annoying, overused buzzword that has replaced perfectly fine preexisting terminology like “producer” or “A&R.” (It’s kind of like how people say “stan” when “fan” already exists as a modified version of fanatic. Hasn’t The Marshall Mathers LP already done enough damage to our culture?) But soundtracks really are an orderly oasis in an otherwise maddeningly cluttered pop landscape. Soundtracks make consumers feel safe. What else explains one of the more confounding success stories of 2014, the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, which ranks among the year’s best sellers with sales nearing 600,000?

"Guardians of the Galaxy fits in neither the movie musical nor soundtrack auteur slots. It is an utter anomaly in the history of big-time movie soundtracks: In August, it became the first soundtrack ever to top theBillboard albums chart without a single original song. How threadbare is the Guardians soundtrack? Even 1987’s mega-selling Dirty Dancingsoundtrack, which was rounded out by golden oldies like the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” and Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs’ “Stay,” turned out newly recorded hits by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, Eric Carmen, and the man himself, Patrick Swayze. And that movie is actually set in the early ’60s, as opposed to “the present” in outer space. Back then somebody decided it was a good commercial decision to set Dirty Dancing’s climactic dance number to a song obviously recorded two decades in the future with synthesizers and drum machines. Guardians,meanwhile, was assembled with the idea that “I Want You Back” requires a fresh introduction.
"Not only are the tracks on the Guardians soundtrack old — the newest song is Rupert Holmes’s spry 35-year-old “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” — they are as familiar as the playlist for the safest soft-rock radio station in your town. Several tunes (including Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling,” Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” and Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”) are already associated with other movies, making the Guardians soundtrack a de facto greatest-hits compilation for some of the greatest soundtracks ever.
"Frozen has the numbers, The Hunger Games has Lorde, but Guardians might be the year’s defining soundtrack, the one that most accurately reflects the times. With the exception of the backward-looking 1989, Pharrell’s “Happy,” and that goddamn Iggy Azalea song from the summer2014 has been lethally bereft of pop touchstones. Consumers have instead drifted to the comfort of the bundled mundane. Two volumes of the deathless NOW series also topped the charts this year, and, in the year’s most egregious callback, the Bob Marley greatest-hits package Legend entered the Top 10 for one week in September, 30 years after it was first exhaled into our nation’s dorms. Pop lately hasn’t just been hooked on a feeling — this is a relapse."

The "bundled mundane" - love it. 

I too thought 2014 was a blah year -  certainly in terms of chart pop, coming after several exciting pop-radio years in a row (2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2013 fading-a-bit-but-still-strong).  

In the summer, I noticed a few people voicing similar sentiments, including some who are obliged for professional reasons to be poptimistic but unable to hold back their ennui. Could it be objective truth then?  

Oddly, though, I started the year really really enthused.  Did something I haven't done for a long long time -  make a mix of fave stuff off of the radio, burned it and sent to some friends (nearly all of whom were just as enthused).  Stuff off of LA rap radio, plus some Top 40; slathered with Mustard, and kicking off with the tune that has stayed my favorite all year and never fails to make me swoon like it did the first time it oozed out the car radio: Tinashe "2 On".

That now appears to be peak Mustard. Indeed for the entire rest of 2014 his productions blanketed the radio with runny, subdued midtempo blaaaaaaaaaaaaaah like “Hours”, the one that recycles Fugees’s “Na Na Na”, and others that sound like slowed-down Nineties house (licks pilfed off of Robin S "Show Me Love" and the like). 

That sent me back to the mix-CD I’d made in the spring, and I saw that a lot of the tunes were actually 2013, even 2012. One or two were from 2011 and 2010.

From this I concluded that a particular cycle in chartpop, that kicked off approximately  2009 - the interfusion of rap and R&B with Euro, EDM, house, trance, brostep etc, forming a "total" dancepop deploying every trick in the contemporary production arsenal and the last two or three decades of club music, with the ruthless  single-mind intention of  thrilling the listener, buzzing you up as you go about your daily business, make dancefloors rage, and shift units.....   that four-five year epoch was sputtering out. 

The second half of 2014, whenever we put on pop radio or a commercial rap station in the car, it felt flat. 

Face it, a year ruled by Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea is a nothing year in the history of pop.  

Last year, there was nothing on the level of a "In The Dark," a "We R Who We R" this year. 

But nor was there a “Royals,” a “Somebody That I Used to Know”.

It was the year of "Rude" and "All About That Bass" and "Happy" - retro, or at least old fashioned styled pop all.

A year that led into a new year kicked off by "Uptown Funk" - retro-nuevo producer Mark Ronson meets atemporal-jukebox singer Bruno Mars.   

1 comment:

  1. Happy reached Rick Astley overexposure levels, I´ve checked and its not only me.