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
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
“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
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.