Why Popular Music is Always Basic – And Why You Don’t Have to Be

Popularity isn’t always a sign of a derivative product, but the frequency at which the two line up does warrant a closer look at what sells – and why.

Let’s face it folks, oftentimes the most popular things that are marketed toward consumers tend to be the most simplistic. Far be it for us to rag on the beloved past times of millions of people, but it’s no secret that to create something that is enjoyed by millions, it must be simple by nature.

Now, more than ever, when you’ve managed to scrape by whatever free time you’ve got left, sitting down by the fire to deconstruct the latest album by your favorite artist down to the last chord isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. There can be so much cluttering up our daily lives every moment that the last thing we want to do is add more complexity to it.

It’s perfectly understandable. But it’s also perfectly safe. If we never strive to understand the complexities around ourselves, personal development will stagnate, and we will inevitably fall into a cycle of self-imposed repetition.

Much like many of the most addictive chord progressions and melodies, repetition, habit, and routine are one of the simplest ways by which we can lull ourselves into a false sense of confidence and safety. It’s no surprise that popular media echoes this trend.

Entire focus groups and marketing departments are dedicated to the uncovering the precise amount of deviation that an album can feature before the risk of losing the audience becomes too great. We might think to blame the creatively-bankrupt studios that keep pumping out this formulaic drivel, but the blame lies squarely on us.

If we refuse to move past the same basic rhythms and lyrics that have been recycled for eras on end, many of the most interesting musicians will continue to atrophy under a specter of irrelevancy – an end that is far too punishing for some of the talent out there.

Fortunately for us millennials, we live in the age of hyper-connectivity. Anyone with a beat machine, a synth, and any conception of harmony can upload the next banger for the rest of the world to play into oblivion. All praise ye mighty Spotify. The platform has been arguably responsible for injecting new and exciting tracks straight into our beat-addicted jugulars. And yet, the culture that follows obscure artists can be as cancerous as the one that swarms around popular music.

太鼓 Live Pic credits : Henri Séguin

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God forbid one of those starving artists dreams come true and they blow up, for they will have inexplicably earned the ire of those who were unaware of their existence until moments before. Yes, for some reason, it’s still “cool to hate”.

And thus, we find ourselves back where we began: bumping the same basic chord progressions and stock lyrics about love, abandonment issues, and cheaply-produced summer dance tracks that worm their way into the collective consciousness when we’re all shitfaced at a function.

Of course, music is a hyper-subjective field to unpack. Far be it from us to tell you what you should listen to and how you should feel about it – but the next time that you’re feeling the urge to blast some phat beats, venture outside of your comfort zone; you might be pleasantly surprise at what you find.