Music is definitely a reflection of the time in which it is produced. I will examine and primarily focus on America’s most influential genres; Blues, Jazz, R&B, Rock, and Hip-Hop. Blues is a direct descendant of old work songs that slaves often sung in the cotton and sugar cane fields, has influenced just about every genre of modern music, from the somber and sometimes grim lyrics filled with self-pity, or the actual musical structure of the Blues. Looking back, the lyrics of these songs often were about being cheated on, missing home, being penniless, or generally feeling worthless and low. Their songs attempted to identify with other people who may listen and find themselves in similar circumstances. Time progressed and Jazz started as New Orleans street music, which quickly gained in popularity across the country.
When Jazz became more than street music and attracted reputable and renown performers, the identity of these performers became not unlike the mythical lone cowboy, reveling in his uniqueness and self-reliance, his utter coolness standing above everyone else. Along comes R&B and this cult of personality we saw in the Jazz era is still applied heavily to individual performers, but the formula and content of the songs are almost identical to Blues. Rock hits America like a sack of delightful bricks in the late 50’s, and a mythical individual archetype really takes off and influences all these genres.
Rock and Roll artists dressed to impress, had impeccable hair, and all the ladies wanted to be with them. Songs became more about the artists’ overwhelming awesomeness, and how great they were at playing their instruments, or singing their songs. Fast forward to the late 70’s and 80’s, and you’ll find the foundations of Hip-Hop are all about wearing the right clothing, accessories, jewelry, and bragging about one’s capabilities, possessions and most important, money.
Today, you’ll notice people seem to be much more interested in the wacky hijinks of Pop stars instead of their ability to sing, dance, or whatever their talent requires them to do. The appearance and behavior of these Pop stars on stage and in the newspapers is now what is of most importance to push sales. The content of the songs is often braggadocios and aims to establish the artist as a lone rebel amongst a sea of conformists.
My perspective, this period of music we have been trapped in for over a decade is the worst this country has ever endured. I’m not sure if we can pull ourselves out of this funk, but I have a feeling that the poor quality of the music is inextricably tied to the horrible economy. In the 70’s, when the economy wasn’t doing so great, Disco was quite popular and was viewed with the same scorn as Pop is today.
Alas, maybe there is still hope for the future of music.