“Music these days just isn’t that good”: In defense of pop music today

Rebecca Kuo

The title of this piece is a sentence you hear coming from a certain group of people all the time. The only real music is the kind that contains more than four different chords and involves real instruments and not synths. Or maybe it’s only ’80s rock that’s considered good. Whatever it was, they were “born in the wrong generation.”  

They bemoan the fact that pop music today doesn’t speak to them. Maybe the rise of electronic music and producers like Diplo and Calvin Harris starting in the 2000s was just a sign of what was to come. When Martin Garrix’s “Animals” topped the charts in 2013 and was nominated for six different awards, it might have seemed like the end of the world. Club music was now what our peers were into, and nothing could stop music from devolving into a world of boosted bass and four-by-four beats. 

People who think this are ignoring that musicians today are creating never before heard sounds. Eventually, every genre runs out of noises to make. Classical music ran out of new noises to make a while ago. As a result, “new music” as a classical music genre tries to do exactly that, creating new techniques with which to make sounds on old instruments like sul tasto and sul ponticello. This is similar to, if not exactly the same thing as, what electronic music does these days. Producers are pushing the envelope of sound. Because new and interesting noises can be made, there’s no need to spice up the chord structure. Electronic music is interesting because of the, for lack of a better word, texture of the sound. Synths are so customizable and so broad in the kinds of sounds that can be made that the interest lies in the sound itself, not necessarily in the chords. Someday, perhaps, electronic music will come full circle and begin to experi-ment with more types of chords. Some are already doing it; look at Dirty Loop’s song “Hit Me,” released in 2014, which features almost inanely complicated chords as F#m7(b13). 

Clearly, the problem isn’t that people aren’t being inventive enough. Could it be that people these days don’t create things that are as good as what people used to make? The past is always seen with rose-colored glasses. We have a wealth of music from the ’80s, but the only things that get radio time now are the songs that were popular. The process with which music is produced has also changed. With the advent of synths and the accessibility of software such as Ableton, Logic and more, it’s easier than ever to make music that calls to you as a person. It’s not a stretch to say that it has both never been easier and never been more difficult to make music, with easier access but a definite over-saturation of the market. (I’m looking at you, SoundCloud rappers.) 

Criticisms about how young people are always on their phones and never go outside will always fall on deaf ears. The past really isn’t a better place to be. The next time someone says that when they were a kid, their social network was being outside, ask them how they liked dying of polio (or maybe something a little less extreme). If you’re blinded by nostalgia, you’ll never be able to see the road ahead.

Rebecca Kuo ’22 is from Hightstown, N.J.