So yesterday I suggested that factors like the increasing homogenization of radio playlists, the eradication of local talent, and the avoidance of new music was hurting rock radio. I wanted to take the time to explain how this affects rock radio on a cultural level today, as well as leveling my own criticisms towards some aspects of modern music, including its current personality.
Now, I don’t want to be a complete buzzkill here. After all, perhaps not all hope is lost. Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters explained how his belief in purely good music and authentic sounds means that artists can always produce compelling material that transcends sales charts. And perhaps this collective drought of engaging new music on the airwaves is just what those who subsisted on the burgeoning alternative scene in the 1980s had to endure while hair bands and synth-pop overtook radio and the collective visual consciousness via MTV. However, it still doesn’t answer the question of “Why is the center of rock music so rotten?”
I’ve suggested some pretty intangible ideas, but think about it: Why does your mom listen to Coldplay? Hell, why do you? Let’s get to their most popular chart song, “Viva La Vida.” This song is written from the perspective of a man that comes from a monarchic class, oversaw an entire empire, and watched it disintegrate as he died and departed to heaven. There is not a person alive that should be able to identify with this song, especially not based on the story being told, and yet I can understand a deeper meaning behind “Be my mirror, my sword and shield/my missionaries in a foreign field.” I’m certainly creating it and applying it to my life. There are certain details behind these oblique lyrics that make it stand out.
To begin to explain this problem, let’s look at one of the highest-selling rock records from the beginning of this decade: My Darkest Days’ song “Porn Star Dancing.” It’s a song about a stripper who will grind on lead singer Matt Walst’s crotch after having danced for others at the club because “you know those normal girls won’t do.” That’s it. If you’re watching on YouTube, you can see rock guitar god Zakk Wylde, rapper Ludacris and Nickelback singer/guitarist/songwriter Chad Kroeger in the music video with dozens of bikini and leather-clad woman at a pool in Las Vegas. Kroeger is in the video because he discovered the band and signed them to his record label 604 Records.
You might also hear the following songs if you are cruising FM rock radio at anytime during the day:
Nickelback “Figured You Out” (Sample lyrics: “I like your pants around your feet/and I like the dirt that’s on your knees;” #65 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and spent 13 consecutive weeks at #1 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart)
Hinder, “Get Stoned” (“Go home and get stoned/cause the sex is so much better when you’re mad at me.”) Charted at #4 on the Billboard Mainstream Rocks Chart in America in 2005.
Theory of a Deadman, “Bad Girlfriend” (“My girlfriend’s a dick magnet, my girlfriend’s gotta have it/she likes to shake her ass, she grinds it to the beat/she likes to pull my hair when I make her grind her teeth.”). Spent 18 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and peaked at #75, with a #8 chart position for Alternative Rock. Their first song released from their newest album was “Bitch Came Back,” which was a song about how frontman Tyler Connolly turns off his phone because of his overbearing ex-girlfriend and how he likes her “so much better when she’s down on her knees.” The music video is a charming narrative about how a spurned female fan willfully murders the band after their manager refuses her entry into the party with other bikini babes because she wanted to give them a music box. (Actually, the video almost redeems the song. Almost.)
Buckcherry, “Crazy Bitch” (“Hey, you’re a crazy bitch/but you fuck so good I’m on top of it/Get the video, fuck you so good”). Two million copies sold, peaked at #59 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Do you see a pattern here? If this is the lifestyle music of today, then what is that lifestyle supposed to be? I don’t think all the listeners of modern rock radio explicitly condone the intense sexual power dynamics that drive these songs, nor do I think everybody has a female romantic partner that is sexually dysfunctional. But every one of these songs glorifies the dominance of its lead singer over the female sex object, eventually reducing the unseen and unheard female to the spoken equivalent of a prostitute, gold-digger, or stripper. In the “Bad Girlfriend” video, the male “hero” of the video discovers his girlfriend has been moonlighting as a stripper, and he loves it.
But here’s the thing: The prevalence of these songs on the radio and their subsequent success sent a message to the homogenized offices of Clear Channel and its programmers. In order to have a successful playlist, more of these programmers are going to fill the time between beer ads and used car sales with these songs because they think it’s representative of the audience. They think that if you listen to the radio, you will automatically like these songs and want more of them because that’s the lifestyle you want and/or have. This is an idea that is so repellant to me that I am shaking as I type this.
So what will the future hold? Shockingly, I’m still an optimist. At some point the bubble of Clear Channel will have to burst, but I’m not sure it will be in my lifetime. We are still living in a car culture in America, one that supports the radio lifestyle and dynamic. While that might change in the future as our population heads towards larger urban areas and centers, the small-market stations will still be dependent on the force-fed playlists from offices 1,000 miles away. I hope that the increased homogenization of national playlists and the continuing creativity at the fringes of rock music drive more people to discover them. But I still worry for those persons entering the world of rock music through rock radio because it paints a picture of a scene that hasn’t changed since the 1996 Federal Telecommunications Act.
Maybe the problem IS Nickelback…or at least what they represent.
And no, it won’t end with a prediction that it represents the end of civilization as stated by the Mayans.
Well, maybe it won’t…make sure to tune in and find out!
FYI, My Darkest Days released a new single in advance of their latest album. The song’s title? “Casual Sex.” It’d be funny if it weren’t so depressing.