Why Is Modern Pop Music So Terrible?

Hey Thoughty2 here.

On the 6th December 1966 four guys from Liverpoolstepped into Abbey Road Studios and began to record an album.

333 hours and many questionable substanceslater, The Beatles had emerged having produced their eight album, Sgt.

Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It would go on to sell over 32 million copiesworldwide and be named the greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine andmany other publications.

It was highly experimental, using mould-breakingtechniques and a huge array of unusual instruments.

The band had produced an emotional masterpiecethat epitomised the so called summer of love and was a true masterpiece of its time, yetit remains just as relevant and powerful today.

Fast forward 44 years to 2010 and Justin Bieberreleased his hit single “Baby”, this is generally considered to be a bad move.

So what went wrong? How did we go from Bob Dylan to Britney Spears,from Led Zeppelin to Lady Gaga and The Kinks to Katy Perry.

But who am I to criticise the musical tastesof the vast majority of today’s youth? Personally, my musical tastes are stuck inmiddle of last century, but you may think that just makes me old fashioned, stuck inthe past and I should move with the times.

But here’s the thing, there is far to thisthan simple nostalgia and when your parents keep telling you that the music died longago, they may actually have a point, because it turns out science agrees with them.

Over the past thirty-plus years researchershave been studying how trends in music have changed.

And a recent study in 2012 by the SpanishNational Research Council revealed that the suspicions of somewhat antiquated individualssuch as myself are very true, music IS getting worse every year.

The researchers took around 500,000 recordingsfrom all genres of music from the period of 1955 to 2010 and they meticulously ran everysingle song through a set of complex algorithms.

These algorithms measured three distinct metricsof each song, the harmonic complexity, timbral diversity and loudness.

The most shocking result that the researchersfound was that over the past few decades, timbre in songs has dropped drastically.

Timbre is the texture, colour and qualityof the sounds within the music, in other words, timbre is the song’s richness and depth ofsound.

The researchers found that timbral varietypeaked in the 1960s and has since been steadily declining.

The timbral palette has been homogenised,meaning songs increasingly have less diversity with their instruments and recording techniques.

This divide is clearly evident if we takewhat is widely considered to be The Beatle’s masterpiece, A Day In The Life, which wasrecorded using an orchestra of forty musicians.

But this is not classical music, this is pop.

The five minute piece contains violins, violas,cellos, double bass, a harp, clarinets, an oboe, bassoons, flutes, french horns, trumpets,trombones, a tuba and of course the four band members playing their usual instruments overthe top.

In contrast Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines usesbut one instrument, a drum machine.

And yes this a rather extreme example, a songknown for it’s one-dimensional but punchy baseline.

But it represents an overall trend with modernpop music that the researchers found in their data.

Instead of experimenting with different musicaltechniques and instruments, the vast majority of pop today is built using the exact samecombination of a keyboard, drum machine, sampler and computer software.

This might be considered as progressive bysome, but in truth it sucks the creativity and originality out of music, making everythingsound somewhat similar.

Do you ever flick through the radio and thinkto yourself “all these songs sound the same?”.

What the researchers found is that the melodies,rhythms and even the vocals of popular music have become more and more similar to eachother since the sixties.

One facet of this homogenisation of popularmusic was pointed out by musical blogger Patrick Metzger.

Metzger noticed that hundreds of pop artistswere using the exact same sequence of notes that alternate between the fifth and thirdnotes of a major scale.

This is usually accompanied by a vocal “Wa-oh-wa-oh”pattern.

Metzger named this the “Millennial Whoop”and it sounds like this.

The Millennial Whoop can be found in hundredsof chart-topping pop songs created over the past few years, and its usage is becomingmore frequent.

From Katy Perry’s California Girls to JustinBieber’s baby, literally every single major pop star today has included the MillennialWhoop in at least one of their songs.

But why? Well, quite simply, familiarity.

Our brain likes familiarity, the more we hearthe same sounds the more we enjoy them.

The millennial whoop has become a powerfuland predictable way to subconsciously say to the masses, “hey listen to this new song,it’s really cool, but don’t worry you will like it because it’s really familiar, you’vekind of heard it a hundred times before”.

And in this wildly unpredictable world, thismakes us feel safe.

Sticking to the same cookie-cutter formulacomforts people and that’s important.

But what about lyrics? Well, I’m afraid it’s bad news there too.

Another study examined the so called “LyricIntelligence” of hundreds of Billboard chart-topping songs over the past ten years.

They used different metrics such as the Flesch–Kincaidreadability index, which indicates how difficult a piece of text is to understand and the qualityof the writing.

This was the result, over the past ten yearsthe average lyric intelligence has dropped by a full grade.

Lyrics are also getting shorter and tend torepeat the same words more often.

We’ve gone from the absolute poetic beautyof Bob Dylan and Morrissey too well.


and this.

What if I also told you that the vast majorityof chart-topping music in the past 20 years was written by just two people.

What do Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, EllieGoulding, Robin Thicke, Jessie J, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Justin Timberlake,Maroon 5, Pink, Leona Lewis, Avril Lavigne, Christina Aguilera, Kesha, The BackstreetBoys, Westlife, NSYNC, Adam Lambert and Will.


Am all have in common? The answer: their songwriter.

I’m not saying 100% of their songs, but agood chunk of all of these artist’s songs were written by the same Swedish man, Mr.

Max Martin.

This one man is singlehandedly responsiblefor over two-dozen number one singles and thousands of songs in the top 100 charts overthe past decades.

He has written universally recognisable trackssuch as “I kissed a girl”, “Baby one more time”, “Since u been gone”, “California Gurls”,”Shake it off” and so, so many more.

And if Max Martin didn’t write it Americansigner-songwriter Lukasz Gottwald most probably did.

Known professionally as “Dr.

Luke”, togetherwith Max Martin, they account for the lyrics and melodies behind the vast majority of popmusic today.

You’ve likely never heard of them and thatis very intentional.

These two men are the hidden pop factoriesbehind virtually every single band that is played on the radio today and probably everymusic act you grew up with, if you’re under thirty-years old.

And you wondered why everything sounds thesame.

There are still popular, chart-topping musiciansthat write the entirety of their own music today, but you have to look really, reallyhard.

Research has also shown that the hook, thepart of the song that really grabs us and pulls us in, is occurring sooner in modernsongs and they happen more often.

Researchers believe this is because when itcomes to music, our attention spans have drastically shortened, unless a song instantly grabs usour brains tend to shut off and ignore it, often skipping to the next song.

This shortened attention span is a trend amongstpeople that has only occurred in the past ten years and it’s believed to have been causedby the instant access to millions of songs at our fingertips.

It used to be the case that if you wantedto hear a song you had to go out and buy that one single or album, take it home and playit.

You would probably play it countless timesbecause you had spent so much money on so few songs.

Over time you would learn to appreciate allthe subtle nuances throughout the album.

And then the iPod happened granting accessto thousands of songs on one device, which eventually led to streaming.

Today we flick through songs on Spotify withoutmuch thought to each song’s subtleties and unique talents.

This has caused musicians and record companiesto favour punchy bass lines that demand our attention and to stuff each song full of socalled “hooks” to instantly grab our attention and keep it for as long as possible.

And they’ve been doing something else in recentyears to grab our attention, something subtle but very powerful, yet so very, very wrong.

For the past twenty years music producershave been engaged in a war.

The “loudness war”.

The aim of this war is to produce louder musicthan your competitors.

But how do you make music louder when thelistener is in control of the volume, not the producer? Well, they use compression.

You may have heard of dynamic range compression,it’s the process of boosting the volume of the quietest parts of a song so they matchthe loudest parts, thus reducing the dynamic range, the distance between the loudest partand quietest part.

This makes the whole song sound much, muchlouder than the un-compressed version, no matter what volume the listener has set theirdevice to.

It’s like me standing in the middle of thestreet and mumbling nonsense to myself, occasionally whispers and sometimes speaking a bit louder.

A few people might notice and avoid me.

But then if I were to compress my dynamicrange I would suddenly be bellowing out every single word at the top of my voice, loudlyand proudly.

Suddenly everyone turns around to look atthe crazy man shouting in the street and the police would be called.

But this is exactly why producers do it, asthe market has become increasingly crammed with similar sounding pop music, making yoursong shout louder than all the others ensures it will be heard amongst all the competition.

But there’s a big price to pay for loudness.

Dynamic range compression, when abused, asit often is today, is an absolute travesty when it comes to the art of creating music.

Where physics is concerned, the rule is thatyou can’t make a sound louder than the volume it was recorded at, without reducing its quality.

Compressing a song’s dynamic range stripsaway its timbral variety.

It muddies the sound, subtle nuances thatwould have before been very noticeable and could have been appreciated are now, no longernuanced, they sound exactly the same as the rest of the track.

Listen to this short recording without anycompression.

Now hear what happens when the dynamic rangeis compressed to match that of modern pop music.

Hear how everything sounds less punchy andvibrant, the drum beats stand out less, everything just makes less of an impact.

But there’s very real reason why popular musiciansand producers today don’t stray away from their safe-haven of repetitive, monotonousdrum machines, unimaginative, factory-produced lyrics, rhythms stolen then from the previouspopular song then chopped up and changed slightly and of course, their ever popular millennialwhoops.

It all has to do with risk.

In the fifties, sixties and seventies recordlabels would receive hundreds of demo tapes from budding young artists every week.

They would sift through them and the mosttalented acts would be offered record contracts.

Even if they weren’t that special it didn’tmatter too much, the record label would just through a few thousand pounds into marketingand if the public liked their music they would gain traction organically and make it big,if not, they would fade away into the night.

And this is crucial because importantly, thepublic were voting with their ears for the best, the most talented musicians, singersand songwriters.

We, the people were the final judge and jury,the ultimate arbiter.

And so musicians had to be really bloody talentedto impress us enough to stick around and make more music.

But this was risky, because many times recordlabels would pump thousands of pounds into an act that weren’t destined to be and theirgamble wouldn’t pay off, losing their investment.

But when they signed the really big acts itwould balance the books.

However today promoting a new band is moreexpensive than ever.

Over time the cost of breaking in a new artistonto the global music scene has sky-rocketed.

In fact the IFPI reports that today it costsanywhere between $500,000 and $3,000,000 TO sign a new act and break them into the musicscene; that’s a hell of a lot of money.

Would you want to gamble with three milliondollars? No? Neither do music producers.

So the industry has reacted by removing therisk.

Instead of trying to find genuine musicaltalent they simply take a pretty young face, usually from a TV talent show and then simplyforce the public to like them, by brainwashing them.

Instead of allowing the public to grow tolike an artist and make their own mind up about the quality of their music, the industrynow simply makes you like the music, thus removing all the financial risk.

Brainwash you say? How on earth do they do that? Have you ever noticed how “that” popular newsong seems to follow you around, everywhere you go.

It’s on every radio station, it’s played inyour favourite stores, the supermarket, online and its even in the latest Hollywood moviesand popular TV shows? This is no coincidence.

What that is in fact, is the record label’s$3 million making sure that that new single is quite literally everywhere, completelyunescapable.

Remember I was talking about the power offamiliarity? It’s called the Mere-exposure effect, a physiologicalphenomenon by which people develop a preference for things they see and hear often.

Our brain releases dopamine when we hear asong we’ve heard a few times before and the effect only gets stronger with each listen.

Can you remember the very first time you heardyour favourite pop songs from the past ten years? Whether it be Gangnam Style, Happy, All AboutThat Bass, Blurred Lines, Hotline Bling, did you truly like it the first time you heardit? Or where you kind of repulsed? Did you have this brief moment where you thought,what the hell is this? But then you heard it a few more times andyou began to think, well I guess it’s kinda catchy.

And they your friends are all listening toit and you hear it a few times and boom, it’s your favourite song and you can’t stop listeningto it.

If this has happened to you then I’m afraid,you have been brainwashed.

The mere-exposure effect has gotten to you.

Surely if a song is truly a great song, thenyou wouldn’t need to force yourself to love it, you wouldn’t need to be won over througha period of repeated exposure, you would just like it the first time you heard it.

We all have different musical tastes but theyare sadly being overridden, diluted and emulsified by the brainwashing activities of big recordlabels, the repeated and constant exposure to manufactured songs that we’ve heard a hundredtimes before.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many fantasticallytalented bands out there, but in today’s industry virtually none of them will ever be signedbecause they are simply too risky to promote, because they don’t fit the usual pop formula.

They are different.

But being different is important.

You may be thinking, “so what if I’m beingbrainwashed, I enjoy contemporary popular music and isn’t that what’s important?” Yes, of course, music is an expression ofyour personality and it should be enjoyed, no matter what others think.

But it’s also really important to not letcreativity and originality disappear.

Music as an art form is dying, it’s beingreplaced by music which is a disposable product, designed to sell but not to inspire.

So we shouldn’t be so complacent in allowingsystematic, cold, factory produced music to dominate or else the beautiful, soulful andtruly real music that we’ve all at some point loved and has been there through our darkesttimes and our happiest times, could soon be a distant memory, never to be repeated.

Thanks for watching.

About Thoughty2

Thoughty2 (Arran) is a British YouTuber and gatekeeper of useless facts. Thoughty2 creates mind-blowing factual videos, on the weirdest, wackiest and most interesting topics. Combining fascinating lists with answers to life's biggest questions.

5 Comments on Why Is Modern Pop Music So Terrible?

  1. jaime jimenez // January 16, 2018 at 6:08 pm // Reply

    I’d love to get the sources, like the Spanish study

  2. It doesn’t, anymore than music from any age sucks. Others have pointed this out.
    The crap being played on the radio sucks for the most part because radio stations are all owned by the big entertainment conglomerates, who are pushing their bland, synthetic, plastic music down American throats. The public has responded to this by listening more & more to such apps as Spotify or Pandora, going to YouTube to find & listen to a huge number of independent artists.

  3. 1) Regarding the study conducted in 2012, science agrees that music is getting worse; how so? There’s been a shift from the focus on music to a focus on looks and how well an artists image sells. There is some amazing music out there being made today. But those making it don’t have the right look. Some of the best songs you’ll hear today are written by one person who doesn’t have the right sound or look to sell to impressionable teens so they sell their music to these faces.
    2)Scientists use three distinct metrics of each song that they studied. What are these three metrics? Consepts, Terminology, Methodology
    3)Who are the two main songwriters that have written #1 hits? Max Martin & Paul McCartney
    4)What is “the hook”? a “hook” is a short, catchy tune and/or phrase that is appealing and catches the listener’s attention and is typically located in the chorus if a song.
    5)What is the “loudness war”? Basically it’s making music sound as loud as possible. If you import any song from today fashionable acts to Audacity, you’ll see a block from beginning to end, whereas an older recording, from the 60s, 70s or maybe even 80s, will feature more ups and downs or more quiet and loud parts in a song.
    6)What is the Mere-Exposure Effect? It mean that you expose yourself slowly (baby steps) to that stimuli that scares you. During the process you form defenses or weapons to protect yourself. You also tell yourself “everything is going to be ok.” If you keep avoiding what you fear – that fear will control you and it will get worse.
    7)Do you agree with the thesis of this video? Why or why not? Explain your answer in detail and use supporting evidence to back-up your I somehow do, but in my opinion, the 50’s-80’s were the best year of music. The 90’s and 2000’s were pretty impressive, but nothing super special. Today’s mainstream music (with the exception of one or two artist for example Vance Joy & Maroon 5) is progressively getting worst. It seems as though music has devolved from an art form to a product. It might get annoying to hear all of these kids song saying that they were born in the wrong generation, but they were right about music being terrible, which is why we’re going back to listen to older stuff.

  4. The most popular legacy act with young people – by far – is Queen. So at least they still recognise decent music, even if many of the new artists are putting out crap.

  5. Invaluable research thank you. Now I don’t feel so crazy that I don’t like today’s “music” and it’s just noise to me. But how do we defeat this menace?

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