November 7, 2008.
Now that the presidential election is over, it's time to start talking about important issues again. Where the hell is pop and hip-hop going in 2008? I've been thinking about this a lot. Recently I ran into a comment complaining the new Christina Aguilera single Keeps Gettin' Better is too similar--maybe even derivative of (pop music, derivative, who knew?) the Britney Spear's single Womanizer.
Take a moment and compare. Exhibit A:
Do you think they sound the same? Sure they sound similar. But if you're really interested in finding an overlap compare Keeps Gettin' Better with Gwen Stefani's Bubble Pop Electric. Certainly Bubble Pop Electric has half a gazillion more beats per minute, but apparently sugary vocals riding electronic beats is the order of the day. And the order of four years ago, when Bubble Pop Electric was released.
Pop music is heading towards electronic music and the spectre of overproduction. This is a problem, because electronic music is a genre that has struggled in vain to reinvent itself, but hasn't. Even looking in the revered halls of IDM we're hitting stagnation where the current set of masters are toning down and backing away from the mathematical insanity put together by Aphex Twin. Look at two of the stars of IDM, RJD2 and Elliot Lipp, and how they've ended fleeing Aphex Twin's complexity panic for tranquility. Those, like Venetian Snares, who are keeping at the complexity are creating some amazing things, but you wouldn't know one had been created sixteen years after the other.
Did you know that Aphex Twin makes the most horrifyingly screwed and terrifying music videos ever made? I can't really recommend watching them, but you might do it anyway. Watching Windowlicker is amazingly painful.
As it becomes more apparent that electro-pop has surpassed the critical level of overproduction then there will be a panicked reaction towards almost absurd simplicity. And the sad tale of the electronic genre will be retold with sex symbols and vocalists on the credits instead of producers.
Worse, I think, is that hip-pop is just a couple of years behind pop in descending into that over-produced sweeter-than-saccarine direction. Take a listen to a song from T.I.'s recent album and the production is uniformly excellent (although I haven't found a Swizz Beatz produced song that does it for me). The production is clean, varied and rarely does it overpower T.I. on the tracks. That's the sound of production in hip hop just starting to reach the plateau of overproduction.
If you want another example of the effects of overproduction, when I saw this video I started laughing because it showed Nicole Scherzinger playing the piano. I don't even know that she can't play the piano, but just seeing her pretend to play the piano that was being... looped... by a machine... kind of killed me.
But hip hop is going in a bad direction as well. Take a moment and listen to Universal Mind Control by Common Sense.
I have to say, Common Sense is probably my favorite rapper of all time. And Universal Mind Control doesn't have a damn thing on Common Sense of a 1997. He's decided to be a guest vocalist on his own track. The lyrics still have good wordplay--and Common's delivery has smoothed out over the years--but the quantity of lyrics is miniscule compared to his old stuff.
Do you remember when Paul Oakenfield release Bunkka and you were staring blankfaced listening to the track with Ice Cube on it and wondering what the hell he was thinking trying to merge hiphop and electronic music with such a heavy hand? Which is to say, that it sucked?
Well I remember staring in dismay. I was dismayed, damnit, and a few years later the entire industry has followed that roadmap into the abyss.