In an attempt to be open-minded, young and hip, I decided to tune in to the American Music Awards last night. Three hours later, pale, shaking and somewhat grayer, I turned off the TV convinced that popular music has gone to hell in a handbasket.
What do you say to a music industry in which a dead guy wins four awards for releasing no music this year, in which J Lo gets yet another chance at a comeback (and falls on her ass), in which the final act is an American Idol runner-up?
What struck me was not the poor quality of their music (and there was plenty), but the emphasis of style over substance. Time after time it happened:
- The only thing worse than J-Lo and her bizarre boxing-themed musical number was her lip-synching (and the fall).
- Lady Gaga wore a nude bodysuit, a light-up vest and phallic headdress, set her piano on fire, and shattered glass liquor bottles all over the place. Okay…
- The Black Eyed Peas did a medley of “songs,” one of which featured the lyrics “All those things we used ta used ta used ta used ta do” and “What’s up, what’s up, what’s up, what’s up.” Brilliant. I will now deny that I ever liked one of their songs.
- Alicia Keys and Jay-Z’s “duet” was the best example of how useless hip-hop is: Keys’ somewhat melodic chorus on the piano, sandwiched between Jay-Z’s tuneless, mindless “rhyming” (At one point he rhymed “marley” with “Marley” – They’re different – one has a capital letter!). I found myself waiting for the endless verses to find their way to the chorus.
- Then there was Adam Lambert. Dear God. We all thought he could sing, but his performance was atrocious, with him consistently being half a tone flat. So he tried to boost his performance by simulating fellatio, putting a guy on a leash and kissing the keyboard player. It was a desperate move, crafted to generate the biggest controversy – and just in time for the release of his debut album!
Are you noticing a pattern here? These people aren’t singers, they’re entertainers, just like a clown or a mime (and just as scary). Their music is boring and unimaginative on a CD, aside from the lewd lyrics; somehow they need to shock us with something outrageous, controversial, or downright weird. It’s typical overcompensation: Pay no attention to the fact that this song sucks; look, something shiny!
Rock musicians have always tried to shock the general public, from Elvis the Pelvis and the Beatles’ haircuts to Boy George’s gender-bending and Prince’s “Darling Nikki”. It generates buzz. It sells records (or MP3s nowadays). But God, what happened to just making good music? At least “Karma Chameleon” had a charming chorus. At one point last night, my wife turned to me after Taylor Swift’s umpteenth award and said, “So is country music the only normal type of music now?”