Experts: Globalization, Television Talent Shows, Desire for Hyper-Crossover Driving Music Scene

As America prepares for the 54th Grammy Awards, a pair of Texas Tech University music experts can discuss how pop music has changed in recent decades and how the drive for hyper-crossover, the influence of globalization and talent shows such as “American Idol” give us the gospel-influenced, patchwork sound floating across today’s airwaves, and how high-volume sales dictate today’s compositions sold for mass appeal.

Pitch

As America prepares for the 54th Grammy Awards, a pair of Texas Tech University music experts can discuss how pop music has changed in recent decades and how the drive for hyper-crossover, the influence of globalization and talent shows such as “American Idol” give us the gospel-influenced, patchwork sound floating across today’s airwaves, and how high-volume sales dictate today’s compositions sold for mass appeal.

 

Expert

Christopher Smith, chairman of musicology/ethnomusicology, director of the Vernacular Music Center, Texas Tech University, (806) 438-5067 or Christopher.smith@ttu.edu;

Elissa Stroman, doctoral candidate in musicology,  (806) 742-3749 ext. 234, or elissa.stroman@ttu.edu.

Talking Points

  • “American Idol” is partly responsible for the over-the-top pyrotechnics of vibrato in today’s music, featuring octave leaps, wide range and extensive ornamentation.
  • Pop music is becoming less about actual composition and more about bites of sound with words composed around it.
  • The lucrative goal of pop music has always been about grabbing the largest audience. That’s why many songs feature guest rappers and borrow or sample reworked melodies from previously popular songs to get the largest audience possible.
  • Globalization continues to diversify pop music into many divergent styles.


Quotes

  • “‘American Idol’ began during the end of a surge of bubblegum pop music popularity such as Britney Spears and boy bands. In 10 seasons, there has been much debate about ‘Idol’ being out of touch with the music industry because music genres and tastes have become so much more diversified. Beginning in about season six and seven, you start to see contestants making the songs ‘their own,’ whereby their ‘cover’ songs are more geared to their own musical aesthetic style, be it rock, country or whatever. So I think more than anything, ‘Idol’ has changed to the popular trends of the time, not the opposite.” – Elissa Stroman
  • “Especially pronounced in the wake of the hip-hop revolution, DJs and rappers are able to remake or even ‘reinvent’ classic tracks – either whole songs, as Sean Combs did, or just short snippets of drum breaks or speech. Moreover, the presence of a guest, especially a rapper, means a single song can take on appeal to diverse audiences: fans of both pyrotechnic vocalizing and of rap/hip-hop can find something to like in a single track.” – Christopher Smith
  • “I do see pop music continuing to be more and more structured, but not really composed, around bits and bites of symbolic sound: The ‘sound’ of gospel vocals, the ‘sound’ of ’80s drum machines or loops, the ‘sound’ of twangy country guitars, etc. Recordings are not really about compositions or songs anymore: they’re about stringing together bits and bites of sounds that remind consumers of other sounds they’ve previously liked and consumed.” – Christopher Smith
  • “I think in an era of ubiquitous music consumption, record companies have to find some way for their music to reach the widest possible audience. The Internet has allowed music fans to become more niche-based, meaning today you don’t have to listen solely to the top 40 chart hits. But those top 40 charts are still important markers for record companies to ensure they make money. Thus, crossover songs are utilized to win over not only a Katy Perry fanbase but also Snoop Dogg fans with their mega hit ‘California Gurls,’” – Elissa Stroman
  • “Look at the Grammy nominations for best pop vocal album. Three of the five (Cee Lo Green, Bruno Mars and Rihanna) utilize elements of hip-hop, R&B and various other styles of music to create their signature sound. I believe we’ll see more sampling, more incorporation of past styles and genres, and more melding of genres, such as Taylor Swift’s country/pop style.” – Elissa Stroman
  • “‘Pop music’ is essentially now an advertising jingle. There is little or no distinction between the compositions, sounds or intentions between a Madonna half-time show or a Chevy truck commercial. It’s about selling a lifestyle. But then, so were the Beach Boys.” – Christopher Smith
  • “The advent of the Internet and of digital downloads has essentially killed the record company as a mediator between artists and consumers. Artists simply do not require the budgets, technology or distribution networks that record companies formerly monopolized. Almost anybody can make a good-sounding record in her or his spare room. This is the ‘Long Tail’ approach to marketing music, and ironically it takes pop music back to the DIY ethos of early hip-hop, of punk rock before that, of folk music before that, and back and back to the days when music was a process to be shared, not an object to be manufactured and sold.” – Christopher Smith
  • “We began the 2000s with boy bands, who quickly fell out of favor for rock stars such as U2, Blink 182 and Green Day. Later in the decade, we saw hip-hop and rap artists reach wider audiences, but in the end Katy Perry and Lady Gaga ended the 2000s with some of the biggest pop hits. Popular music goes in waves, pendulum swings of styles. It always goes somewhere.” – Elisa Stroman