The annual American Music Awards aired this past Sunday, armed to showcase some of the year’s hottest hits in the mainstream music world. As the performance lineup carried out (which included artists like Chainsmokers, Green Day, Ariana Grande, and even Sting) there lingered a subtle monotony in the background of the entire show. It occurred to me that the focus of pop music has shifted.
Popular music today reveals this unspoken pressure to collaborate with a popular rap name of the year or an electronic artist in order to achieve radio airplay.
Take Maroon 5, for example. The music group—who have been together for over twenty years and famous for Billboard-charting numbers such as “She Will Be Loved” and “Maps”—took the stage and performed one of their newest songs, “Don’t Wanna Know“. It was a largely digitized tune, with an electronic soundboar heavily present in the backdrop and an uncharacteristic Kendrick Lamar guest appearance. The soft pop rock that has become such a trademark sound for the band over the decades was unrecognizable in this performance. It was almost unsettling the way that this theme carried out and made itself so recognizably real.
Even Justin Bieber has demonstrated this transformation from a band-based live act to putting his vocals on the back burner in order to rely on DJ Snake for a catchy backbeat in his performance of “Let Me Love You“.
This is not a criticism of the infiltration of electronic and rap into mainstream radio, considering popular music is a reflection of the populatrity of culture of the time. But it is rather the observation that the pre-existing dominating forces of mainstream radio have come to adapt to the less admirable characteristics of the genre. Maroon 5 have evolved to dropping their commanding pop rock wholesomeness, built upon guitars, a bass, and a drumset, for the more robotic digital output–which, in this case, also features an odd hip-hop interruption. This is merely one of many examples present on the airwaves today.
As far as its interference with live instrumental quality, electronic music serves to exist in its own realm because that’s exactly the standard it has set itself up to exist within. With technology’s rapid advancements and availability, it is very difficult to compare the skill level of a DJ with that of a traditional musician. However, that is not to say the core ethics and ideals within the EDM community are to be underappreciated or criticized. The values placed on unification and togetherness demonstrated in EDM culture are a respectable aspect of this genre’s composition. But when it boils down to display of talent on a concert level, the traditional means of instrumental performance is an untouchable one.
It remains by opinion whether or not the rapid change in pop music makeup has been a degradation of the genre or purely a lateral progression. Individual, separate values exist within both hip-hop/rap and electronic. The simple observation to be made is that the tangibility of performance is no longer there in the way it used to be. And—when it comes to the electronic influence, anyway—the exceptionality in talent it takes to perform to a live audience is no longer there, either.