I think Taylor Swift is a lovely and talented young woman who makes appealing pop music in the long tradition of a seemingly endless string of similar artists that goes all the way back to the silly-but-effective teenage love songs that triggered the golden era of rock ‘n’ roll. She is every bit as good as Connie Francis, Lesley Gore, Helen Reddy and Olivia Newton-John in their heydays. Well, maybe.
Minor differences: Swift, until recently, wrote or co-wrote almost all of her own stuff: Gore had the peerless Quincy Jones producing her; Francis covered a much wider range of material, though I suspect this was her record company (MGM) throwing everything against the wall in the hopes of seeing something stick; weirdly, Newton-John was informed of her big break — her role in Grease — while at a party at Reddy’s house.
However, there is no way that I believe she or so many of the other big pop artists of today are truly resonating with the zeitgeist of the millions of young people presently coming of age.
I don’t give a damn how many “spins” these artists are getting on the centrally-controlled robotic radio stations of America. These numbers do not necessarily represent an organic, street level, grassroots reality. And THAT’S what has ALWAYS determined REAL success in radio — resonating with what large masses of people are really feeling in their day-to-day existence and deep inside their souls and psyches.
Except that large masses of people aren’t tuning into the same things. Take a look at the summer ratings book. Stations with ten, even eight shares are few and far between; where I live, even a seven is practically unheard of.
Of course, this was the plan all along for the centrally-controlled robotic radio stations of America: surround and control, engulf and devour. Want to snatch 0.2 away from your two competitors in the market? Put something obscure, or at least somewhat less overplayed, on your HD channel that no one listens to anyway, and then simulcast it on a hundred-watt translator somewhere in the middle of the dial.
The usual excuse is that Gen Y has a short attention span and can’t deal with anything more complex than chirpy girl singers. It ain’t necessarily so:
If Millennials are so riddled with ADD and limited by shallow concentration — why have they triggered the phenomenon of binge watching on the television side of media things?
And if they are so dumb — as implied by every attempt at music and radio geared by corporate media in the past couple of decades to attract their attention — that it would be considered suicidal to serve them up helpings of meaningful stuff, how do you explain the fact that successful television shows that have earned their loyalty are, in fact, complex as hell? Shows with multiple story lines and long arches that unfold over multiple seasons!
When TV is smarter and hipper than radio, something is very wrong with the world.
Still, winning the hearts and minds of Gen Y is not going to return us to those wonderful days of Top 40: there are too many niches, and niches within niches, and they are never, ever getting back together. Like, ever.