Robert Christgau is the only music critic I’ve ever read compulsively. His enormous online catalog of reviews makes binging easy. Here he is in a recent interview:
“The notion that no current popular music is of quality is philistine.”
He’s right, but this borders on tautology. After all, some of it must be good.
He implicitly shies away from saying if it’s gotten better, or if it’s gotten worse, and with good reason. As a man who’s written with nuance and humanity about 15000 albums, and who’s approaching the end of his career, I’m sure he’d rather not be remembered as one of those cranks that complain it’s all gone to shit.
But I think it has, a little, and I aim to prove it via the method of cherry-picking examples and asking rhetorical questions.
In 1965 the biggest act in the world was the Beatles. In 1820 it was Beethoven. In 2016 it’s Beyoncé, whose hits are written by luminaries such as Tor Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen, collectively known as Stargate. My grandma, who smoked 60 cigarettes a day in front of the tv in her nightgown, watched Stargate.
In 1965 Palo Alto produced The Grateful Dead and a year later San Francisco produced Sly Stone, musicians trying to experience life and death, joining “the fatalism of the physical frontier with the wonder of the psychedelic one”. In 2016 SF produces Uber and 120 million dollar mayonnaise.
Ask yourself: 50 years from now, will people regard Beyoncé like they regard the Beatles? Or like they regard Beethoven?
What the fuck happened? Could money have anything to do with it?