In the midst of a post defending his penchant for 80s music, Andrew Sullivan let’s out a mighty curmudgeonly harumph:
There is indeed no pop on the radio any more. Just hip-hop drivel and godawful indie crap or whiny, lesbian complaint-rock. Look at the top ten in any other advanced Western country and pop is alive and well. But in America? Murdered by payola and hip-hop. But maybe that just shows what an old codger I’m becoming.
Well, maybe. Because my first thought was: Who listens to the radio for music anymore? Barring a couple rental cars, I don’t think I have since college. In a world where you can get just about any song or album you want on your laptop in a matter of minutes, or pick from one of thousands of niche Internet or satellite stations tailored to your taste, or take your entire music collection on the road with you, increasingly the only people left listening to broadcast radio for music are people who either can’t afford the technology or don’t have any terribly strong musical preferences. The changes in radio playlists probably say as much about class and technology as they do about the shape of musical culture. That doesn’t mean, by a longshot, that there’s no good pop being produced: We’re living through a period of incredibile musical fertility.
Of course, as anyone who reads this site with any frequency knows, I also happen to like that “godawful indie crap.” But I’m not sure how meaningful “indie” is as a category for music anymore anyway; it covers hugely disparate artists whose only real common trait is that substantially overlapping groups of people tend to like the stuff. Lots of “indie” music is on major labels now, so it’s not even a good market descriptor. “Indie” is increasingly a category of listener more than of musician—if that wasn’t always the case. And it’s not at all clear to me why a lot of what “indie” artists are putting out doesn’t count as “pop” music. The new Decemeberists album, for instance, channels the proggier side of Steve Winwood for a couple of extended narrative epics, but “O, Valencia,” “The Perfect Crime,” and “Summersong,” at the very least, are just straight-up hook-laden pop. Ditto the last Death Cab for Cutie album: If “Soul Meets Body,” “Crooked Teeth,” and “Marching Bands of Manhattan” aren’t “pop songs,” I don’t know what is.