A Sincere Question about Contemporary Pop Music

Photo by Sašo Tušar on Unsplash

I just got home from a family vacation with two teens and two tweens. Throughout the trip, the young people controlled the music, so I heard a lot of contemporary pop music. I noticed something as I was listening. Many of the songs sounded as if they were incomplete. Not all of them, but a significant number felt like I was listening to a demo instead of a fully realized and mastered release. The songs often sounded like they were at the stage where the songwriter presents them to the rest of the band to get fleshed out. This raises the simple question of why. Why do so many of today’s finished songs sound unfinished?

Last week, I particularly noticed the unfinished sound in Post Malone and Khalid, but the first time I ever noticed it was way back in 2013. Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ came out late in the year, and it was everywhere. It’s not unpleasant as it is, but I find it incredibly frustrating. It doesn’t even sound like it’s ready for the band. It sounds like an idea for a song, quickly recorded so Williams wouldn’t forget it.

There are only two reasons that I can think of for unfinished songs to get released. First, it could be an aesthetic choice and I’m just old and out of touch. Maybe these artists just like the sparse sound of computer-generated backing under their vocals. To my ears, it lacks soul, but, again, I’m old. Get off my lawn.

The other reason I can think of is that record labels have become too cheap to spring for a backing band. People will basically listen to whatever they put out, so why bother making complete tracks when demos will do? It’s probably good for the labels’ bottom line.

I suppose it could be a combination of both reasons. Whatever the reason, I’ve decided I don’t like listening to incomplete songs. It’s great that the kids enjoy it, and I’m not the target audience anyway. I do feel a little bad if it’s the second reason, though. Who knows what we might be missing?

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