A few weeks ago I read the graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim. In volume 5 (of 6), before Scott’s band plays their first show in a while, an extra character says, “A whole generation of bands have come and gone since your last show in 2005.” Scott quips back, “That was in May this year! Four months ago!” The joke is a forth-wall breaking jab at what’s referred to as “comic time”; time passing outside the comic much faster than in-comic due to the fact that comics take a while to draw, get edited, published, etc.
But I think it applies for modern pop music as well. Think about it like this; how long ago does it feel like “Bad Romance” came out? No, don’t sit there and Google it, think about how long it feels like it’s been since you could look at someone and shout, “RAH RAH RA AH AH” and not look like a sputtering dolt. Feels like it’s been awhile, huh?
It’s been a year last week. It’s been a year last week since Lady Gaga went thermonuclear on us, took over the pop scene, and has now almost completely disappeared (meat dresses be damned). On that note, “Tik Tok” came out last December, and now Ke$ha has a new EP due out in a month. Rihanna’s “Rude Boy”, the big single from her Rated R album, went to #1 in March and she has a new album slated to come out in a few weeks. Katy Perry just put out her third goddamn single in five months. Kanye West has been putting out a song every week for the past month and a half.
It certainly looks like the production turnaround in pop music’s gone through the roof. The hits come more often, free downloads are the norm, and it seems like a week can barely pass without the headline “Download a new song by ______” on music sites the world over. And, for the most part, the quality never really takes a nosedive.
Music culture’s sense of instant gratification has spiked in the last few years. I’m not saying everyone’s doing it, but a lot of artists have caught wise that once you’re in the spotlight, you damn should damn well hold onto it. Hell, Ke$ha out and out said “I don’t want to go away!” (probably because we’d remember what vocal talent meant once she took some time off) when she announced her EP.
It’s actually interesting to watch. I remember when Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You” was released out of nowhere, and within days it went from a lone mp3 somewhere to one of the most talked about songs of the time. And I’m not saying that the music industry has always been this slow-moving dinosaur (well, at least in terms of music, they only managed to shut down Limewire last week, and I think people stopped using Limewire in 2006). After all, The Beatles released Please Please Me and Abbey Road within the span of seven years. But still, it’s been curious to watch an artist like, say, Lady Gaga go from “Oh, she has a weird outfit or two” to “What the hell is that?”
But what is it turning us into? There’s always an eye on the horizon, always someone looking for the next hit. Artists might have a faster turnaround, but they can blow up and then essentially disappear from mainstream consciousness in shorter amounts of time. Even the songs that are everywhere feel like they have a shorter lifespan than they did a few years ago. And sometimes with everyone always pushing to get that new single, the hot new video, or the latest collaboration, we can lose sight of what makes great music enjoyable.
If an artist puts out a whole album and everyone clamors for the singles, what happens to the other songs there? Last editorial, I talked about streamlining the industry, and one of the negatives of that approach is trimming out experimental work that can lead to artistic growth. Then you can just miss a great song. For example, Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream has a tune called “The One That Got Away”. It’s accessible enough, catchy, not terrible…and because it probably won’t be a single, no one’s listening to it.
Ah well, at least people are churning out more music.