Nov 192003
Authors: Nicole Davis, Elizabeth Kerrigan

Imagine turning on the radio to the oldies station 20 years from

now and hearing your kids groan as the antiquated lyrics of Eminem

or Britney Spears make their way through the mini-van.

Your parents probably never thought that Stix or Olivia

Newton-John would one day be considered archaic, just like it’s

probably hard to imagine Blink 182 or Michelle Branch being

featured on Kool 105.

It is, however, inevitable that today’s Top 40 will become

tomorrow’s oldies.

For the past 50 years, and even longer, musical trends have come

and gone, providing evidence of a continuous musical evolution.

Each new decade builds on the music that came before it, so in a

very remote way the musical innovations of Elvis are responsible

for those of Eminem.

“Everyone tends to think that the new (music) is sophisticated,

but people will always laugh at what used to be considered

sophisticated,” said William Runyan, professor of music at CSU.

Despite the fact that music often becomes the center of jokes in

later decades, the original purpose of music is to convey a

message, whether it is political, social or just pure fun. However

the degree to which this is evident has changed throughout the last

50 years.

“Music, like all the arts, always reflects the society it is

imposed in, and not just the subtle or vast aspects of history, but

it reflects everything that goes on,” Runyan said.

For example, in the ’50s the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll was a

challenge against the conservativeness of older generations, said

Naomi Rockler, who teaches speech communication and popular culture

at CSU.

Rockler also said that ’60s protest music and the origination of

rap in the ’70s had the same goal, to change current


“When rap first started it was a countercultural critique of

mainstream white culture, although it didn’t become popular in the

mainstream until the late ’80s,” she said.

However, in some decades, such as the ’70s, music made less of a


“The ’70s, as a decade, had really bad music,” Rockler said.

“Disco was all about having fun and dancing because after the ’60s

people were fed up with the political nature of music.”

Many people feel that the current era has fallen into another

period of musical shallowness.

“In the ’60s music had something to say, but now music has

nothing really to say. It’s so commondified,” said Christina

Wilson, who is a graduate teaching assistant for speech

communication and popular culture at CSU.

Ryan Auker, lead singer and guitarist for the local band Orsun

Swells agreed and said that this trend is especially prevalent in

the hallow content of mainstream rap.

“The least innovative decade is the current rut that rap artists

and mainstream rap has gotten into,” he said. “It seems to be all

about remakes and materialism.”

This presents a central conflict of music between purpose and

popularity, Rockler said.

“There is a tension in music between the very commodified,

mainstream music that makes money for companies and the purpose of

music to question society,” she said.

One of the greatest generators of this commercialization trend

is MTV, which forever changed the face of music in 1983.

“MTV started as a way to generate more profit for the record

companies because the industry was going downhill,” Wilson


By bringing music to television the visual appeal of artists

became more important than ever, some might say even more important

than the music itself.

“MTV made it more important to be able to sell and play with an

image in order to gain popularity,” Rockler said.

And because of this, the creativeness and content of new music


“Music lost much of its creativity because artists had to

formulate music for the videos,” Wilson said.

This made it hard to present messages that challenged society

because such complex issues were hard to present visually, Wilson


By enhancing the visual aspects of the music industry, image

became essential to success, which led to increased sexualization

especially among female artists.

“It’s hard for women to make it if they don’t sexualize

themselves,” Rockler said. “I don’t object to women dressing how

they want, but it seems that it is almost essential in order for

women to make money and become popular.”

This trend does not influence male performers as much because

they have more strict gender roles, unlike women whose role in

society has changed dramatically over the years, Wilson said.

“Men get their power through strength and women get their power

through sexuality,” she said. “While I don’t agree with it there is

a whole new wave of feminism that says women can use

sexuality…and use their image to make money for their own


Aside from the fact that many people believe that the image of

women in music tends to be over-sexualized, music has made positive

cultural changes as well. It has served as a medium in which racial

lines have been erased.

“Unlike the TV and movie medias, music is very integrated,”

Rockler said. “TV is much more segregated in that whites tend to

watch certain shows and minorities watch others. Music, however,

has much more crossover.”

For the first time ever this year, all of the songs on the

Billboard Top 10 were made by African-American artists, Rockler

said, which is evidence of the cross-racial support for music.

This may in part be a reflection of the work of artists such as

Eminem, Hootie and the Blowfish and Elvis who produced music

typically associated with another race, helping to erase racial


However, this continual evolution does not mean continual

popularity, and this may be why many people feel that we have come

to a lyrical halt in the current music of today.

Runyan believes that even the disco music of the ’70s was better

than what our culture is producing today.

“Some of (the music of the ’70s) was pretty cool, although it

was fairly unimaginative, it was fun,” he said. “At least they

weren’t singing about the abuse of women and glorification of drugs

and violence like they are today.”

People like Runyan are looking for a positive change in future

music and artists like singer Auker are working toward that


“For the future I hope to end the cycle we have been in. In

order to keep music true we have to ignore the boundaries,” Auker

said. “Music can be endless and go everywhere.”

Despite the general attitude of pessimism toward the cultural

value of today’s music, many believe that not all the music being

produced today is bad.

“There is crappy music in every decade, but the good stuff

endures,” Rockler said. “There will be music from this decade that

will endure, we just don’t know what that is yet.”

Some music, no matter how long ago it was made, will endure


“Things in music that will always have lasting appeal are the

issues of lost love, unattainable love or complex and universal

human emotion,” Runyan said.





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