Pop Music Essay

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Turn on your favorite pop radio station, playlist, video countdown, etc.It’s hard to catalogue these moves while they’re happening sometimes, the same way it’s tricky to notice long-term shifts in the structure of your face because you see it in the mirror every day. In writing about many of the biggest pop records since January, I started to notice similarities across the board that weren’t as pronounced in years past — sounds were shared by artists who didn’t work in the same sphere or even the same country.This is different from producers having a signature sound, like the standing four-counts and zany key changes of a Pharrell vehicle or the drowsy, gauzy synths and samples favored by Drake’s right-hand man Noah “40” Shebib.All three songs mix mainstream “indie” flourishes — fluttering horns, folk-pop–indebted guitar licks — with fat synth lines played staccato or else broken up into choppy eighth and 16th notes, and drums that nod either to the hand claps and finger snaps of epochal post-millennial Cali rap hits like “Rack City” or southern trap beats.The mix comes out a little different each time — Hailee’s song sounds like a funeral procession breaking out into a trop-house second line, while Selena’s sounds like Mumford & Sons with drops — but the core ingredients are largely the same. Cue up Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry,” Lady Gaga’s “The Cure,” Lorde’s “Perfect Places,” Fifth Harmony and Gucci Mane’s “Down,” Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder,” Lana Del Rey’s “Coachella — Woodstock in My Mind,” Taylor Swift’s “… ,” Katy Perry’s “Hey, Hey, Hey,” Pink’s “Beautiful Trauma,” Dua Lipa’s “New Rules,” St.(Indeed, Jack Antonoff has co-produced or co-written enough of the songs mentioned above that synth-pop riffs like the ones in “Beautiful Trauma” and “Out of the Woods” signal his involvement almost as cleanly as a producer tag.) I don’t think it’s his or any in-demand producer’s fault that pop music feels like it’s folding in on itself.They’re just perfectionists providing a service a little too cleanly.Pop’s not in crisis per se — most of the aforementioned singles are doing all right for themselves even in the cases where their respective albums might not be — but it is locked in a losing battle to match steps with the infinite, effortless cool of young, savvy rappers, as the Taylor Swift–Cardi B Hot 100 baton pass and the enduring successes of Future, Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, the Migos, and Kendrick Lamar illustrate.There’s big money in sticking to your guns, as the huge paydays of the most recent Drake and Adele albums and the respectful first week haul of Sam Smith’s soul and gospel-infused I’ve heard a few friends and colleagues rail against what one buddy cleverly referred to as the “Antonoff-ization” of pop music.The knock against Taylor Swift records is that they neatly summarize pertinent developments in the music of the present when they could be using their power to point the way to the future.To that end, is an important album for sheer reach and craft, but it’s not necessarily visionary.


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