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Home Related Thoughts Why Is Indie Rock Today So Pop?

Why Is Indie Rock Today So Pop?

by Alana Ballantyne

The early 2000s had a particular sound.

Think early Green Day, The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Panic! at the Disco, Paramore, and Oasis. Heck, even Maroon Five fit into that category of early 2000s bands (their second album ‘Songs About Jane’ is still their best to date). Panic! At the Disco practically founded Hot Topic. Teenagers who were a little quiet and didn’t quite fit in were finally having ‘their moment’. You could not be a preteen in the early 2000s and have been isolated from the lyric heavy, emotional pho-punk rock that ruled the airwaves fifteen years ago.

But I’m sure you’ve noticed something about all the aforementioned bands; they have either dissolved or drastically changed their sound. And is that sound some glorious new version of punk rock or indie? No.

Nearly all of the bands listed that are still producing music have become decidedly more pop.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the bands in question. Arguably, bands that have embraced this trend have more number one hits and chart toppers than ever before. Take Maroon 5, for example. At one time they ruled the airwaves as the slightly more mainstream version of bands like Oasis or Panic! Parents could listen to them. But their music was still played on instruments, their lyrics were still deeply personal, and, on the whole, their songs each told a story. The band was known for punchy instrumentals that incorporated soul, funk, rock and disco constructions.

Now. . . not so much.

Maroon 5’s most recent offerings are nearly all collaborations with famous rappers who tend to break into the song mid-chorus. The choruses are more repetitive and tend focus on getting ‘lit’ and have a very ‘living for the weekend’ vibe are now the band’s norm. This new formula has proved massively popular on the radio-making Maroon Five seemingly the go-to band for collaborations.

Paramore is another example of an early to mid-2000s band that has also moved away from playing actual instruments with their latest album, “After Laughter”, released in 2017. The fan reaction was decidedly mixed, as Paramore abandoned many of their earlier musical themes and went for a more preppy, poppy sound. Much of the music on the album is incredibly catchy, and though it doesn’t necessarily feel like ‘old’ Paramore, the final product is incredibly cohesive and finely tailored, with vestiges of the lyrical strength that marked the early 2000s Paramore. Additionally, Paramore was much more “pop” and “synth” to start with. The album feels much more like a natural progression for them then with the other bands mentioned.

Panic! At the Disco also recently made a comeback with their hit “High Hopes” . Though they sound closer to their old selves than any of the aforementioned bands, “High Hopes” does mark a decisive step towards a more formalistic, more synth sound.

To what do early 2000s bands owe their changes? It really boils down to “tastes in music change”.

The rise of the DJ and the birth of “Remix Culture” in the late 2000s meant that every new song needed to be packaged to make them suitable for clubs. This standardization process made it easier for DJs to string and chain many songs into long sequences of continuous music. Slowly but surely, the production of remix versions of songs became common practice even before the song became popular in its original form, as a means of helping it become successful. Moreover, the beat-creation mentality of many creative DJs brought the concept of the use of short samples from the original song, which represent exclusively just the most memorable hook lines of the song, excluding all further developments and nuances. In other words- lyrical narrative was no longer ‘in’ and bands that relied on that kind of music, like early 2000s punk rock bands, were now decidedly ‘out’.

So, is music today more poppy? Yes.

You don’t even have to take my word for it. Scientific American did a study on the composition of modern music. They found that musicians today use less of a range when it comes to composition. Musical sentences are becoming shorter, more simplistic, and sometimes of incomplete grammatical structure; much like the sentences in cell-phone text-messages or people’s posts on Twitter. Melodic and lyrical complexity, something actively sought after by musicians up until the “modern” era of pop music, is a thing of the past.

Music today is also far louder then it was even ten years ago. The same Scientific American study found that loudness comes at the expense of dynamic range—”when the whole song is loud, nothing within it stands out as being exclamatory or punchy”. Indeed, the study found that the loudness of recorded music is increasing by about one decibel every eight years. So the range is smaller. Traditional instruments have been abandoned. And songs are now so loud that it actually impinges on the quality of the recording.

Is music today worse than it was 15 years ago? No. Tastes change, and bands that want to be in the business for the long hall change with it.



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