The mainstream music industry does a good job of catering to low expectations. Such expectations are consistently low thanks to the lack of opposition within the music industry (that’s what indie music is inherently for). The industry wouldn’t be what it is without being an absolutely totalitarian entity, one that holds a dangerous amount of sway over the public consciousness.
Too many listeners are lazy. Too few have discerning tastes, and, as such, groupthink frequently takes hold and creates a consensus from a very narrow stream of selections. That is the main stream. For those who know better and want to be in control of their ear’s digestive tract, refuge lies in underground resistances where complex and carefully crafted sonic arrangements run free and unchecked. Unfortunately, the little voice is too often stamped out like an ant crawling in the kitchen of giant breakfast-eaters. Things have a habit of getting blown out of proportion; here are a few examples in extremely recent music history of overrated acts which fly high above the rest:
10. Kanye West
His ego is similar in size to Lil’ Wayne’s, but doesn’t make his eyes bulge out of his head or result in imprisonment. Kanye’s ego stems from his skill as a rapper which he, like Wayne, confuses with real life. His sense of entitlement leaks beyond the studio and into his very functionality as a human being, by which he thinks he can interrupt award ceremonies to make statements which, to him, are revelatory and justified. Just because he can both speak into a microphone, with and without Autotune, as well as operate Pro Tools, he is a genius like so many “apparent” in the rap industry. If only inheriting genius were as easy as sampling Daft Punk…
This band isn’t around currently, for obvious reasons, though it seems always to be treated as though it fits in a larger pantheon of great rock musicians including the likes of the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin. This is a delusion. With only three albums to speak of, it’s hard not to think that part of this rushed status has something to do with Kurt Cobain’s suicide. There are much better examples of artists who emerged from the 90’s grunge movement- ones who didn’t make a conscious and painstaking effort to be so sonically dissonant (i.e. unlistenable). Cobain despised the songs (Smells Like Teen Spirit in particular) his fans actually liked and actively sought to make music contrarily to this fact, playing poorly and sloppily to discourage enjoyment. While Nirvana may be talent in its own way (its very own way) and the group may have tried to be true to self (which is highly respectable), people need to quit jumping the gun (no pun intended). Start by using the phrase ‘musical genius’ more deliberately.
This girl is just like Lady Gaga, only without the class (that’s hard to do). I challenge you to find a dorm of party sluts getting ready for a night of regret without hearing “Tik Tok” being blasted and sung along to incessantly, brain cells at an all time harmonized low. Her songs are repugnant slop, chock full of embarrassingly self-degrading lyrics (brushing teeth with Jack Daniels?). Watching her perform on SNL was just humiliating, mostly because she had no studio synthetics to hide behind (and lip syncing has been long since forbidden ever since Ashley Simpson). Her glow-in-the-dark face paint and trademark –‘un-showered’ appearance at least partially distracted from the cacophony; but, unfortunately, not enough.
7. Green Day
When you ask someone if they like Green Day, one of two responses is typically offered: either a) yes or b) I liked old Green Day. The reason being that they used to make punk music as legitimate punks, and played all the power chords and walking bass lines you’d expect from a young 90’s punk rock band. Now, in the 10’s, they are overrated thanks to the commercial success of American Idiot (currently adapted for Broadway) and its unyielding permeation through the FM airwaves (for years straight following its release). Listening to Boulevard of Broken Dreams out of choice is impossible without also cringing. It’s hard for such a successful (not to mention rich) band of eyeliner-coated, near 40-year-olds as Green Day to feign their status as punks, though they try very hard. Calling them a modern-day Clash, which has been done on too many occasions, is like calling Steel Panther a modern-day Van Halen: they only steal the sound of the band they adore and cop the respective style. Know Your Enemy contains a simplistic three minute-long riff repetition that is too similar to Police on My Back to not be called plagiarism (kind of like how M.I.A. “sampled”- an industry euphemism for plagiarism- a loop from Straight to Hell off of Combat Rock). These guys apparently don’t realize that they are the enemy.
6. Miley Cyrus
She’s really more of a concept than a person. Or is that Hanna Montana? Either way, Disney Channel needs to stop launching children into the music industry and start aiming for outer space (hey there’s a sitcom idea). Miley Cyrus plays a girl with a dual identity on Hannah Montana, as both a celebrity pop singer and an average teenager just trying to maintain a sense of balance with the help of an equally mediocre father who also pretends to be a country musician. The show can now be considered semi-autobiographical. The common Disney Channel transformative/brain-washing tactic is to create hype for some sort of teen-friendly form of hyper-stimulating, sensory-overloading entertainment and sell a spin-off album containing all the music which no doubt got drilled into each viewers skull (see how well it worked for High School Musical and it’s every sequel?). The hook here is that the show is actually about the musician who sings these trashy songs, and thus she becomes one. Miley needs not move a muscle. Look for her latest album where her preconceived persona takes on the shape of a rebellious teen (ironic considering how well she follows suit and is inflated out of control).
5. Taylor Swift
What is there that needs to be said about Taylor Swift. She’s an ingenuous teenager, she plays a sparkly guitar on stage, and she is a genuine sweetheart in the face of a sea of enabled and self-entitled teens. Her music? It’s too pure to even hear (like a dog whistle), pure meaning heavily-synthesized. It needs not even exist. She’s won several awards for being likable (as per how the industry operates), including an MTV Video Music Award, a Country Music award, and a 2010 Grammy for Best Album (to be fair…against a bunch of rubbish, slanting the decision inundatingly in her favor). Being the best, in industry terms, is defined exclusively by quantity in lieu of quality (this case being the quantity of units sold). Confusion is shown thusly to trickle up the tiers of the music food chain, feeding a self-perpetuating cycle of awfulness. Or McAwfulness.
4. The Jonas Brothers
They’ve been compared to the Beatles (and not just as a franchise or brand name, lunch boxes and television series included). These three purity-ring-sporting brothers make squeaky clean, studio-polished Disney Channel pop and have a habit of finding someone in Rolling Stone willing to label them as a modern incarnation of the Fab Four. Usually that idiot is Rob Sheffield, who also digs Miley Cyrus and writes rock reviews with rap in mind (see his feckless review of JET’s last album). Everything the Jonas Brothers create, however, sounds hardly more advanced than that Baby Bottle Pop jingle they wrote several years back. Also, they perform live with backing musicians, which seem to make several of the brothers really just for show. And they are. Just see fifteen-year-olds filling their stadium venues (well not lately thanks to inflated ticket pricing) and 3D concert movie premieres; these shows really aren’t about the music played within so much as how dreamy Joe is (who used to date Taylor Swift, both of which have devoted albums to their dramatic break-up) and how adorable the diabetic one is. And #3…um…well…he’s related.
3. Justin Bieber
Boy can this boy sing. Poorly. At age fifteen, with no acne in sight, he is the perfect jail bait for cougars and desperately lonely teachers (such as Tina Fey portrayed in the SNL sketch she shared with him). He seems to take all of his hairstyling advice from Rod Blagojevich, which is fitting as his music is manufactured and peddled by similarly seedy music industry wrinkle-necks. Discovered by Usher, and appearing on his label, Bieber is given an arsenal of utensils and studio tricks that can turn any blemish-free twink into the next pop icon (even if Usher can sing without the assistance of Autotune). R&B and Hip-Hop are the perfect avenues for any hollow vessel that wants public acceptance but has no intrinsic talent. Preteens don’t care about integrity or artistic craft so long as they can sing along to the radio on the way to the mall (ask any mom on her way to a Twilight premiere).
2. Lady Gaga
Originality no longer exists in the mainstream. This stripper-turned-musician (or is it the other way around) is an exaggerated pastiche of Bowie’s outer-spaciness, Madonna’s overt in-your-face sexuality, and Britney Spears’ role as a bimbo that makes a peepshow out of a live performance. Lady Gaga has come out with two albums, both of which contain the word “fame” in the title and break no new ground. Nonetheless, she receives endless radio overplay and plenty of undue praise (like from Sting, who still believes that the Police was the worst thing he was ever part of). Gaga (like Usher, Chris Brown, Justin Bieber and a plethora of others) has been prematurely and fallaciously (not to mention outlandishly) hailed as “the next Michael Jackson” on gossip TV and other filth venues that commonly lack a penchant for making unique analogies. She’s also been the closest thing to publically nude on innumerable occasions, both on and off the stage. That, more than anything else, seems to explain her frequent landings on Rolling Stone covers (even while she offers no forthcoming material, just clichéd insight and a hackneyed back-story). A monster indeed, her ego she feeds and from a dumpster she finds ideas and outfit selections. She seems to take the song Ziggy Stardust a little too seriously, creating an identity solely from its lyrical cues. There is no visible end to her reign of terror. Gaga was quoted in a recent Rolling Stone article, saying (for apparent shock value) that “all music is a lie.” No ma’am. Just yours.
1. Lil’ Wayne
Little (or Lil’ to those who fear syllables) Wayne is the quintessential example of a music artist (namely rap) whose ego vastly outweighs his talent. Proof? He has a tattoo above his right eyebrow which states “I am music,” as if he is a genie and the Descartes quote “I think therefore I am” applies to him in a supernatural way. Rolling Stone tossing around the title ‘musical genius,’ as it does so liberally in his direction, doesn’t help any. Wayne made quite the imposing gesture by hyping his conversion to a rock musician, marked by his rock crossover album called Rebirth. Not surprisingly it failed, drowned in a pool of poorly contained ambition. His definition of rock is apparently something like Kanye West’s 808’s and Heartbreak, featuring nothing but studio software loops, samples of synthesized instruments, and about a gallon of auto-tune providing the vocal melody. As far as rap music goes, he may deserve credit for his virtuosity within particular conventions, but a genre that lacks melody and little more than vocal dexterity and intrinsic rhythm just does not transfer directly to its antithesis. Instrumental skill and tonality is a must in the realm of quality rock music. You can’t just point a gun at a guitar and tell it to play (he learned that the hard way).