I am a mother to two teenagers and a pre-teen. Months ago we were all in the car driving when “Boyz II Men” came on. Much to my children’s dismay, I insisted we leave the station there while I belted out my failure to ever leave them, even if we had reached the “End of the Road.” Their eyes rolled, the groans were audible and I enjoyed every minute of it. I told them they were listening to real music. The older ones laughed. My youngest stuck with me – inclined to listen to classics himself.
Thus began the conversation about music now vs then.
I’ve read it on so many forums. People commenting on how a particular song or genre has changed from the time they were kids to now. Very often the comments come under a ‘throw back’ or classic vintage song and we hear (or read) “aaahhh..when music used to be good!” or “They don’t make it like this anymore.”
And they’re right.
Nothing stays the same. In the typical “music now vs then” comparison, it all boils down to what a generation establishes as their norm. Human nature dictates that occurrences outside the norm cause our senses to perk up and perhaps tell us that ‘something’s just not quite right here.’ So the R&B that I knew growing up, has changed and I have to admit when I listen to it now, it doesn’t quite sound like R&B (nor does pop or any kind of music I listen to, come to think of it!) and I’m inclined to yearn the ‘then’ style of what I know. This is common.
The same happens when I hear a song for the first time and REALLY REALLY like it. If I discover later on that it wasn’t the original I fell in love with, I tend to prefer the version I heard first – that was established as the ‘norm’ for me for that particular song – and I enjoyed it THAT way.
This isn’t a new concept and I imagine regardless of age, country or generation, most people would have witnessed a change in lyrics, rhythm, or method of musical expression from childhood to adult.
What’s unique to our time is that there seems to be a current trend of trying to ‘fit in’ by ‘standing out’. It is almost forcing the manipulation and experimentation with music. This has allowed genres to cross in ways that ensure everyone can find their niche whether or not we stay or change our perception of the music now vs then.
I’ve found that even in playing instruments – players – in particular young ones – are finding ways to change it up. So that many years ago when I heard Trinidad’s local music – Soca – played on the violin – an instrument that is typically associated with ensembles and classical music, it told me how perspectives were changing. Or even a quick view on youtube of youth playing the guitar with their teeth or playing an instrument while beat-boxing signals not just a talent but a desire to be different or stand out.
Songs will generally reflect the society at the time of its writing. So, with the passing of each decade, the lyrical content evolves. For me, there definitely seems to be a lot more bravado with lyrics now. Subjects that were once taboo – like one’s sexuality or sexual preference and feelings about religion, love and life are now wider open for exploration. Artists seem to be finding ways to explore even common topics and the way it is expressed.
Decades ago, the artists with the most lyrical genius or bravado stood out . Hip hop saw the likes of Tupac in the 90’s and Eminem in the 2000s. By no means were they necessarily THE best, but they stood out as unafraid to be ‘real’. Now, there are a lot more hip hop artists that display real lyrical flexibility but definitely the ‘then’ artistes remain the standard. Another example for me would be dancehall music which is typically raw in its lyrics about sexual quests. It saw the birth of artistes of the 90’s like Patra and Tanya Stephens who now pale in comparison to what Dexta Daps might currently sing – raw, explicit content that might be jarring for many.
As the thrust towards equality for sexual orientation and/or preference strengthens we now hear very open declarations of support for homosexuality by rappers like Makelmore vs songs that were simply adopted as ‘anthems’- like “YMCA” by the Village People.
Issues of drugs, violence, making money and having sex are written as plain as day in today’s lyrics. Artists no longer rely on metaphors and insinuations to let us know how they feel. In a nutshell, there’s so much more exposure to real-world issues in the lyrics of songs of music now vs then, that for youth, any parent needs to be more conscious of what their young ones to listen to.
Rhythm & Technology
With the avalanche of technology and music production software and the ability to now replicate virtually any musical sound or instrument within a studio, there is less dependency on actual musical instruments when producing music.
As I told my oldest, I can barely tell Hip Hop or Rap artistes apart anymore because they mostly use auto-tune – or something similar. Back then, I KNEW the sound of Eminem, I KNEW Notorious B.I.G. if I hear him – fan or not. Now, I would have to know the song to tell Lil Wayne, T-Pain or Will.I.Am. one from the other. Don’t get me wrong. Auto-tune can be used well, but technology has definitely changed the sound of what we listen to.
With the technology, there has been a huge move towards depending on rhythm rather than melody and lyrics. So much so, that the creation of beats or beat kits is now a thriving business.
I guess when you grow up hearing live brass bands in the background of songs and music relies solely on melody, harmony and lyrics, the music now vs then reveals a perceived gap.
I tell my young humans – everything you see and hear me do will be seen as ‘old’ (and I’m not btw!); when you become adults and have kids, the music you hear now will seem ‘old’ to your kids. They laugh nonetheless. Regardless of changes, I will be holding on to what I know and love as ‘then’ music – even when I get to the ‘End of the Road.’ #stayoffbeat