I saw Christina Aguilera’s video for “Not Myself Tonight.” While the sexual antics in the video were not surprising, the sound of the song was. “Futuristic” techno dance pop (ex. Lady Gaga) is currently popular, and “Not Myself Tonight” fits that mold. In Christina’s 12 years an artist, I’ve never seen her be such a conformist. Her albums (in their entirety) are always vastly different in some way from her counterparts’ projects. If “Tonight” is a reflection of how the “Bionic” album will sound, I will be disappointed; as it will be falling in line with not only Aguilera’s counterparts, but the newer generation of pop artists as well. “Rolling Stone” magazine hinted at this idea, saying that the “Tonight” single sounded like it could be from Gaga’s “The Fame Monster” or an outtake from Britney Spears’ “Blackout.”
Destiny’s Child’s Kelly Rowland has out new material (her next album will be her first under a new record label/management) that also has a techno-pop feel to it. In Kelly’s case, it’s not so much that she’s doing dance music that’s the issue. The problem is that the songs “Smooches” and “Commander” (the officially released single) completely lack substance; the lyrics have no point. Again, if the singles are indicative of what the completed album will sound like, we won’t have an artistic or masterful product. The music is catchy and will probably get her some attention, but that’s what new artists do. Put out catchy, pointless songs to get attention and sell a couple of records. An artist who has been in the industry for 13 years shouldn’t sound like a new artist.
I’m seeing a pattern in music where older, more established artists are musically conforming to whatever is currently popular, resembling the sound of newer artists. This is a problem to me.
You can’t become an icon going backwards. As you progress as an artist and have some years under your belt, you set the standard and the tone for those who come behind you. I’m not sure what the industry horizon is going to look like if artists keep regressing.
I also see this pattern as a problem because the fans who have been following the established artists are going to feel abandoned/or frustrated. They listen to these specific artists because they relate to and identify with them. They are the artists that they have matured with. If the artists have a regressive sound, the fans now have to go elsewhere to find music they can enjoy (if they can find it). If fans have to go elsewhere, the artist loses their primary fan base, and that can be detrimental to the artist’s future success.
Who’s to blame for this and why is this happening?
Well, this typically happens because an artist is trying to stay relevant or popular. As far as blame is concerned, it could be both the recording artist and their record label. The artist may feel it necessary to sound like a newer artist to stay afloat, or their record label may be requiring that of them. Either way, if this is about staying relevant, regressing is NOT the answer. Like I mentioned before, you run the risk of losing your primary fan base when you do that. Furthermore, it sometimes comes off desperate, gimmicky or like a cheap trick and the new sound or persona is just not believable.
A lot of these artists who came out during the 90’s are in an interesting position. They’re at a crossroads point in their careers. They’ll either take the path to greatness and become full-grown icons, or they’ll just be fairly relevant or dissipate. They’ve now been around long enough to where they have SOME respect and control of their careers, but they’re still young enough to have to play by the current industry rules and meet certain expectations. Cards have to be played right, and steps have to be taken carefully. All I know is that regression is definitely not the answer. Take the case of Madonna. In my opinion, it’s not a coincidence that in comparison to her previous, platinum albums, her latest album “Hard Candy” only went gold. “Hard Candy” featured the production stylings of Justin Timberlake and Timbaland; artists the generation BENEATH Madonna’s. The material on “Hard Candy” could have easily been on a Nelly Furtado or a Britney Spears record. Moral to the story, sounding like the kids under you doesn’t work.