time to change the way we view music and the arts

Big Time Bashing Together of Genres

Today I was almost planning on reiterating a portion of one topic I’ve breached before, without realizing it. Seems point of intrigue and hot topics cycle back around to the forefronts of our minds easily lately.

What I had cycled back to, was musical genres. The subject had been repeatedly mentioned during the New Music Seminar, typically phrased along lines of, “Genres are already falling away” and “It shouldn’t be about genres, it should be about good music and bad music and that’s it.” The bulk of the discussion I first heard on the topic was at the Songwriter’s Workshop before the Seminar had even officially gotten underway.

I don’t remember exactly whom among Jodi Marr, Desmond Child and Eric Bazilian had said it, but one of them distinctly commented after Claude Kelly performed a cover of the Bruno Mars Top 40 hit, “Grenade,” which Kelly is responsible for writing. The commentary given (and I’m paraphrasing here,) was that Kelly’s performance just proves how genres don’t have to be important; that the song “Grenade” could easily be shaped to work as a pop song, R&B, soul, jazz…and so on. Furthermore, they went with the premise that any of the songs the composers performed could pull off the same trick.

Seeing as how, during that very performance by Kelly,  I developed a new found perspective and (you could call it) appreciation for “Grenade,” which I had disliked, shaping and interpretation can have a huge impact on listener reaction. Not to mention, I happen to be a big fan of ‘expectation shattering’ covers like the ones the songwriters delivered.

For every agreeable position though, there’s an underside, and I can stand behind either on this one.

To quote myself for a moment, these were some of my thoughts on the necessity for at least partial preservation of genre defining qualities from an earlier post in April:
“…collaborative projects, can lead to more exposure of artists, the growth of fan bases and the sale of albums –helping the breaking down of stereotype-built walls between bands. All the same, a small degree of separation sustained by the remaining ‘smarty-pants-snobs lacking material of social value’ does need to survive. …Keeping a level of isolation between the many colors of artists and genres will sustain the ability to compare, contrast, discover and enjoy. …if a music fan is a paintbrush and bands are colors on a palate, dabble a single drop of paint from every color into every other color and eventually all you’re going to end up with is one discordant shade of sh-t brown.”

Firstly, I hope you to understand that I did understand the songwriters’ intended message of malleable genre shaping, and not infer that I’m merging that premise with my own above, saying excessive genre crossing will cause everything to ‘go to sh-t.’ Things will make more sense once I tell you the other reason genres came up today.

*******************************

During a bit of channel flipping, in about the time it took the TV to respond and change stations, I managed to hear an unmistakeable guitar hook but it was definitely in a different key and there were different vocals over it. Upon looking into things further, I found out that the Nickelodeon generated boy band, Big Time Rush, had just unveiled a new music video for a song called “Windows Down.”
The song overall, built up by its many, many elements, serves as a milder display of the inevitable discordancy I mentioned. See the official video below:

Big Time Rush -Windows Down

The sampled, but modified, guitar hook I heard is right at the beginning of the song and for anyone who is a fan of 90s indie rock, British group, Blur and their American breakout hit, “Song 2” immediately comes to mind. While I’m aware sampling is unbelievably common throughout music’s history, I’d like you to look at the whole picture first.

So we have a straight up, TV manufactured, tween-targeted, pop group, working with what is being declared as, “the ultimate summer anthem.” (by community platform, Cambio.) This pop group, is sampling one of Blur’s most iconic songs (with regard to American audience recognition,) that has connections to indie/alternative rock and the British pop scene, which, in 1997, resonated noticeably different tastes than that of the American pop scene -hence why Britpop became its own category.

By putting the iconic guitar/drum hook at the front, even down to imitating the guitar timbre, by default, I’m expecting a song with more of a rock based focus, even though I know there are still going to be a bunch of guys with excessively polished voices singing over it. There’s a moment of contemplation where I stop to think, “Hey, the tweens that hear this might get to experience their favorite pop group roughing up the edges a little and not just turning to the usual ‘computerized to death’ method. Nice!”

…Song aspirations are diminished 27 seconds in (the first 18 seconds are not the song,) and this is where things get even more mixed up.

The hook goes from being front lined on the guitar, to backseated by a synthesizer played version. The synthesizer has a partner in one, digitally perfected, kick drum beat so invasive that it will sound more like a dance/club track more than anything, if put at loud enough of a volume, because all you will hear is the thumping.

Fast forward to the bridge (at 2:45) and the song takes the plunge into what sounds completely like America’s mainstream version of Skrillex‘s dubstep. In case you haven’t been keeping track, let’s review:

1) Pure Pop boy band

2) Indie/Alt. Rock sampled theme

3) Overwhelming Dance/Club style kick beat

4) Dubstep bridge

*******************************

That’s a lot of prominent, conflicting style mashed together in one, three and a half minute time period. Big Time Rush has, in my opinion, exemplified the confused and less than appealing results of too much color dabbling. Sure, the intended audience will eat it up. It’s catchy, up-beat, fun and released in time for summer. A solid marketing strategy. However, in terms of fostering stylistic appreciation and varied exposure to said audience, “Windows Down” does the opposite of what I believe the Seminar songwriters were getting at. Removing genre boundaries or at least diminishing their label walls, doesn’t necessarily mean “cram in as many trendy genres as you can.” Yes, good music shouldn’t have to be boxed in one slot but pick one ‘unexpected interpretation’ at a time!

(e.g. Metal cellists, Apocalyptica anyone?)

Apocalyptica (feat. Adam Gontier [Three Days Grace].)

Leave a Reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS