Music For The Masses
Hello everyone, today I want to talk about music. I’m a massive music fan and believe there’s a real magic in the way certain music or lyrics stir emotions. My own music tastes are somewhat eclectic. If someone were to steal my phone and check out my music they would probably
piss themselves laughing be surprised at the mix of people I like. Singers like Mika sit alongside AC/DC. Black Veil Brides next to Scouting For Girls.
This post however isn’t about my weird music tastes although it is to do with cool and uncool bands. It was actually inspired by a couple of things I saw on Twitter this week. The first was this fab post If Music Be The Food Of Love by my lovely friend Jan. In the post Jan mentions one of her former girlfriends only liked music that wasn’t mainstream.
The second thing was a twitter thread on the subject of one of my all time favourite bands Green Day. Somebody said they only liked Green Day early albums before they went mainstream. This got me thinking about what mainstream means and whether it’s a fair criticism to level at bands.
When good bands go mainstream
‘They’ve gone mainstream’ is something most successful bands will be accused of at some point in their career. It’s usually defined by a certain album. Critics say Green Day went mainstream with their American Idiot album, for Coldplay the change came with the album Vida La Viva.
But what does it actually mean for a band to go mainstream, and is it a fair criticism? I think the issue of mainstream-ness can be broken down into several parts
They have too many fans
When starting out bands tend to play small venues, so fans have the opportunity to get up close to bands at gigs. There’s even the possibly meet with the band after the gig. People who support bands when they start out also have the advantage of having discovered something the rest of the world doesn’t know about and this can add to the coolness of a band.
When a band’s music starts to get played on radio suddenly a lot of people including Uncle John and the 15 Yr old from next door find out about them. Bands gradually start to play bigger venues to accommodate Uncle John and all the other new fans wanting to watch them. As a result the intimacy of the small venues is lost, and the chance of an after gig drink with the band rapidly diminishes.
The increase in popularity of a band doesn’t necessarily mean anything about the band has changed. However there can be consequences to a band becoming more popular.
New bands often offer unique twists on styles or come up with totally new styles of music. Punk, grunge and indie music all started off underground. But when these bands becomes listened to the masses some people will inevitably mimic their style. The 15 year old from next door (lets call him Tom) begins a band based on his new favourite band, and he isn’t the only one. Before long there are loads of bands playing that style of music. The style has through no fault of the original band become mainstream.
When band get big they change their style to appeal to the masses.
This is the biggest issue a lot of people have with their favourite bands going mainstream, because they believe it’s something the band could prevent. The chain of thought is that as the band gets heard by a wider range of people such as Uncle John and Tom they change their writing style to appeal to the suposedly more pop based music taste. They lose their unique edge and become tame.
I think this criticism is a bit harsh. It is based on the assumption that the masses only like pop based music and doesn’t take into consideration the natural growth of bands. Change is inevitable as bands get older. Indeed if bands didn’t change at all, they would be (fairly) acused if going stagnant.
Looking at Green Day, they were formed in 1986. That’s 32 years of writing music. Bands write about things they experience or things that inspire them. Back in the 80’s the boys in Green Day were inspired by raising anarchy, smoking weed and wanking!
However by 2004 when American Idiot was written those boys had grown up and were husbands and fathers. Their outlook to life changed and so the focus of their music changed too.
Is The Mainstream label fair
For the most part I don’t think so. I believe it’s in part a dig at bands becoming successful and in part a reaction to the natural changes in style and content as they get older.
However my opinion and this little post wont change things. The mainstream label will always be attributed to bands who achieve a certain level of sustained success. And there will always be a certain type of music fan who won’t listen to a band once they have been identified as such. Personally I don’t get that level of music snobbery and think it makes people look
like twats rather silly, but everyone is free to their own opinions.
I shall continue to listen to my favourite bands regardless of how cool or uncool they appear to other people.
Are you a fan of non mainstream music? Do you think bands have a tendancy to become too pop
based? Should bands activly avoid becoming too popular?
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