The old song goes “Video Killed The Radio Star”.  It was the very first music video shown by MTV in 1981, and it’s a classic.  But it’s inaccurate.

I submit to you the following question: When did modern pop music turn to crap?

Now, of course the answer is going to vary from person to person depending, in large, to personal musical preferences.  But I’d like to say that pop music died as soon as music label companies thought they could get us to like whatever they thought we should, instead of finding what we DID like and just making it more accessible.

This post was supposed to go in a different direction entirely.  I was going to write about how I missed all the great suburban rap artists that I grew up with as a kid and how catchy their music was.  These guys made music for white kids selling lemonade to enjoy.  It wasn’t hard core gangster rap, and that was OK; at the time the “harder” artists had their own niche to fill and they did well, too.

I was going to write about how I missed those days of laid back hip hop and the good feeling that listening to music would give you.  That was the plan, right up until I was driving back to work from lunch and tried listening to the radio.  In all my presets, only one station was playing a song.  I didn’t know what the song was (the voice wasn’t familiar), but it filled me with rage.  It’s now on my list of “most annoying songs”.  I have no idea what the girl was yelling about (calling it singing would be a bit of a stretch), but evidently she wanted people to know that wasn’t her name.

Maybe she thought singing about her name would garner positive results.  It doesn’t work for everyone, since not all of us are lyrical geniuses.

Somewhere along the lines, a person was put in charge of finding the next big thing that everyone would be groomed to love and bring them into the spotlight.  This worked for a time, and we found new artists and loved them.  But then it kept growing, and growing, and growing until we were expected to love them before we’d even heard what they are capable of.  If we don’t love them immediately, they are thrown by the wayside.

Case in point; ever watch the WB?  Neither did I.  If you did, you’d note that every other episode of nearly every show had a special appearance by some band-of-the-month.  Few of these were well established bands.  Typically a music scout would find some band who was supposed to be the next big thing, sign them into contract, put together 4-5 songs, play the crap out of them on the radio, and book them on the show.

Since the studio who made the show also owned the record label, no extra money was paid to the artist and no extra expenses were ever used to promote the song.  Win-win from an exec’s standpoint. by David Willis by David Willis

Now, I know that my favorite band in the world (The Barenaked Ladies) got their big break into the US scene with “The Old Apartment” and played it on 90210 back in the day.  Believe it or not, that was unusual at the time and was considered fresh and unique.  The first sign that it shouldn’t be done too often is that Fox Network pioneered it.

For the record, Barenaked Ladies lived on past that initial showing on 90210 by doing things their own way and not following the record label’s every order.  So much so, that they split off from the label and created their own.

The worst part of all this is that I’m no longer the target audience for pop music.  Even when I was the target audience, I was older than the current target.  Young ‘tweens have somehow become the spending force in our economy and we bow down to their mentally defunct tastes.


About The Author

Co-founder of and Executive Producer for Stolendroids Podcast. Also resident ‘tech-head’ and de-facto leader of the group.

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  • Dr Squishy

    Well Zuke, it’s official. You have now become the old guy who says “things were getter in my day”. It’s an important moment in any grown ups life.

  • zohner


    I think that a more appropriate title for this post would be “Whatever happened to talent?”  This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  There have been so many good musical acts that have come, made it big, then disappeared.  I’m not talking about the one hit wonders either.  I’m talking about groups or individuals that have had multiple hit singles just all of a sudden disappearing.  It’s understandable if they have one good song and the rest of their CD is crap but if it’s a good album?  I don’t get it. 

    I think you really hit it, Zuke, when you said “Somewhere along the lines, a person was put in charge of finding the
    next big thing that everyone would be groomed to love and bring them
    into the spotlight.  This worked for a time, and we found new artists
    and loved them.  But then it kept growing, and growing, and growing
    until we were expected to love them before we’d even heard what they
    are capable of.  If we don’t love them immediately, they are thrown by
    the wayside.”  How true, and sad, that is…

    For the record, reading this post made me feel very old.  Most of this music came out when I was in high school.  Now, kids just play their noise too loud.  STAY OFF MY LAWN!  …stupid kids…

  • Dr Squishy

    When my Grandfather was young he was told that music from people like Benny Goodman was talentless noise. Grandpa then told my father that Elvis Presley was a no talent hack who “wouldn’t last a month”. Dad lectured my oldest brother that comedians like George Carlin and Eddi Murphy were just crass comedians and not in the same league as their predecesors. In my life I’ve heard about the decline of popular culture because of the likes of Marylin Manson, Eminem, and others. Part of getting old is thinking that what the children listen to, watch, play, what ever is less than what you had in your youth

    The idea of a behind the scenes Oz deciding what’s cool or not is also not a new concept. Check out the scene in the Beatles 1964 film A Hard Days Night. In the movie there is a scene where one of them, I think George, wanders into the office of a spin doctor who is wondering if they are the next thing. He then checks his calender and sees that the next fad change isn’t scheduled for another few weeks.

    For decades American Bandstand told kids what was cool, in England they have Top of the Pops. And several others that have been the near single voice of what is good in pop culture. Many have had moderate success to only drop off the map latter (I’m looking at you Allanis Morrisette and Hootie & The Blowfish). Oprah can make or break any movie, book, or T.V. show with a simple opinion. As much as we’d like to think pop culture has never really been in the control of the artists, but is run by their real bosses.

  • So many of the really good artists had to actually work to gain their popularity.  By the time bands like REM, Chili Peppers, BNL, Bosstones, RBF, Dave Mathews, and Blues Traveler really made it big, they had already been around for some time.  Now it seems more like “make it big immediately or we have no use for you”.  It’s a shame since a lot of good artists have better albums later on, and not their first one.

    A good example is Tal Bachman: His first album gained him loads of awards from a single that I grew to hate with how often it played (“She’s so high”).  In his contract with Columbia records, it was stated that he would release records exclusively under their name in the USA for x amount of years.  But after the buzz around his single died down, Columbia told him that they weren’t interested in his sound anymore and didn’t think they could get any more hits out of him.  They refused to publish any more of his music, but since he was still in contract with them, he couldn’t go anywhere else either.  It was 7 years before he could put another album out in the USA, and by then most people had forgotten him. 

  • Lacey

    Ha ha…so I totally have the The Ting Ting’s albumn…love it!  I don’t like it for the lyrics I like the beats and that they are just two people.  And no I don’t like it because I heard it so much that I grew to like it…I heard “Shut up and Let me Go” once and told Wyatt to get me that albumn.  For the record Wyatt doesn’t really like them…so maybe it’s just a guy thing.  Anyway I don’t think everything out is crap but I am very selective with what I like and if I like it I buy it.  Often I love a band and then they dissapear off the radio because they weren’t popular enough…boo to that.  And just for the record my two favorite band are BNL and Cake…so you know I just don’t have weird taste.  🙂

  • zohner

    Mmmmmm…. Cake….