Monday, 7 April 2014

Past, Present, and Future

I feel like there's this need people have, sometimes, to compare their favourite to something classic and great that came before it in order to give it credibility. For instance, I've gotten into this argument on Tumblr: people love to compare their favourite boy-band of the day to the Beatles. I see a lot of people doing this with One Direction recently, and no shade intended towards One Direction fans, but people did that with the Bay City Rollers and the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC and the Jonas Brothers. None of those bands have gotten a Grammy tribute recently, as far as I am aware. 

That's not to say that I think some comparisons aren't worth making. Personally, I think One Direction is easily comparable to The Monkees, in the sense that they are a genuinely talented group of young men who were created to be famous and achieved initial success through the medium of television. Much like the Monkees they're prefabricated and were intended to elicit screams and adoration from young female fans; whereas with the Beatles it just kind of happened and they went with it. 

Anyway, that's not really the point. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that if you really love something- be it a band, TV show, movie or actor- you should talk about its good points and what makes it special on its own and not compare it to something that came before it because they share some small similarities. 

Plus, I just think it's silly to expect bands and singers and actors of today to have career trajectories anywhere near the way acts of the twentieth century experienced. How can any band follow the Beatles' success and become as big as them if they are constantly looking towards them as the pinnacle of rock 'n' roll? When the Beatles started out, rock was a relatively new genre of music there were no big groups that they had to live up to. There was Elvis, of course, but he was American, a solo act, and his career and image had changed significantly by the time they became famous anyway.

To diverge from the Beatles/One Direction example for a moment, let's talk about Beyonce. I remember when she first left Destiny's Child and started off on her own solo act. She was frequently compared to Diana Ross, because her career path at that point superficially resembled Ross' own. She had just left a very famous R&B/pop trio to embark on a solo career, with a significantly sexed-up image and a dancier sound that what she had previously recorded.

Superficially yes, that's similar to what Diana Ross did, but unlike Diana Ross Beyonce has proven herself to be not only a singer, but a songwriter, producer, and entrepreneur, and I would argue that her music holds more significance to her respective generation than Ross' solo output ever did. To compare Beyonce to Diana Ross does her a disservice because it assumes that all the great pop music success stories have already been written, and that modern acts are simply reprising them for another generation.

Anyway, where was I going with this? I guess I just think it's pointless to try and compare young upstart talents with "legendary" acts. Why compare Amy Winehouse with any other members of the "27 Club"? Why compare Britney to Madonna? (I have always found the Britney/Madonna comparison particularly egregious- though Madonna's obviously an influence on Britney, Britney's identity and image has nuance and vulnerability that Madonna never did). 

All these modern acts may be influenced by the people that came before them, but they will never truly recreate their predecessors, nor should they be expected to: they have their own paths to follow.

4 comments:

  1. Great piece, and it's not just these mainstream artists, but lesser known acts as well. I recently was involved in a discussion with some friends on a musician named Gary Clark Jr. The man is a very talented guitar player in his own right, but can't seem to shake the Hendrix comparison from music critics as well as his "fans". Why do people feel the need to do this? Can't we just love music for the sake of music and love these artists for who they are, and what they are trying to contribute and share with us? Instead of having to label and compare them to what has come before?

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    1. Yes, exactly! How can anyone be expected to grow and change as an artist if people are forcing them into a box and expecting them to repeat what has come before?

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