The Shallow Waters of Modern Pop Music

January 7, 2014
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Above: Lady Gaga. Image by JStone /

What is it about pop stars these days? I can’t recall another time in history when they were able to polarize opinion so dramatically. When I was growing up I remember my Dad thinking that Take That was a bit of a twat, but that was it, just vapid distaste. Today’s installments are more detestable than Hitler, and that may all have something to do with an agreement between YouTube and Billboard.

In 2009 Google (who own YouTube) and two of the ‘big three’ record companies, Sony and Universal, entered into a joint venture which was to become VEVO in an attempt to gain more revenue through the advertising on their products. Four years later in 2013 they reached a deal with Billboard and many of its contemporaries, stipulating that their clients’ chart positions would now be calculated with a consideration of their YouTube hits.

Robin Thicke
What’s in a name? Robin Thicke… Image by Debby Wong /

By making controversial videos the record companies are now able to affect their artists chart position more directly, as the more YouTube hits their artists have, the higher up the charts they are, which ultimately means more exposure, equating to more sales. The strategy now seems to be one of baiting until they get a media reaction. In the fallout, otherwise uninterested users are now checking out the videos in order to see what all the fuss is about.

Take for example, 2013’s biggest selling single, Robin Thicke’s Blurred lines. It was never going to be too far away from controversy given that its undeniably ‘rapey’ lyrics were teamed with a music video so invitingly offensive it was down right cynical. I mean they haven’t even bothered with a flimsy pretext as to why the girls are just walking around topless.

Another artist that has commanded knee jerk criticism is Beyoncé for using an audio clip from the 1986 Challenger Shuttle disaster in her latest saccharine installment, XO. This is an audio clip from the same disaster, which claimed seven lives. Incidentally, the song was released 27 years after the tragedy, so perhaps by 2028 we can all look forward to witnessing a bloated Lady Gaga building up to an auto tuned chorus of the 9/11 victims discourse with the emergency services just before they leapt to their deaths.

Now, sanctioning a controversial video in order to create a buzz is hardly a novel concept, but one only has to look at 2013’s most polemic videos, Wrecking Ball, and the aforementioned Blurred Lines to see that there is something so undeniably calculated about the way they are produced these days. I imagine that by 2028 you’ll be able to make one of these videos with an iPhone app and a few drop-down determinants.

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