John Blake writes on CNN:
Listening to black music today is depressing. Songs on today's urban radio playlists are drained of romance, tenderness and seduction. And it's not just about the rise of hardcore hip-hop or rappers who denigrate women.
Black people gave the world Motown, Barry White and "Let's Get It On." But we don't make love songs anymore.
I asked some of the stars who created the popular R&B classics of the late 1960s, '70s and early '80s. Their answer: The music changed because blacks lost something essential — something that all Americans, regardless of race, should regret.
"We had so much harmony"
Some of what we lost, they say, was an appreciation of love itself.
Earth Wind & Fire keyboardist and founding member Larry Dunn says a new generation of black R&B artists is more cynical because more come from broken homes and broken communities.
I'm an old codger so my views should be taken with a grain of salt, but African-American music in the 21st Century definitely seems a lot worse overall than in most decades of the 20th Century. In contrast, electric guitar rock sounds about as good as ever, it just sounds the same as ever. I hear new songs all the time that would have been classics if they had come out in 1979.
One question is whether it's a supply side problem (as Blake, who I believe is black, suggests) or a demand side problem. The EWF old-timer's supply side suggestion makes a lot of sense: 1970s black music stars were raised during the improving era for blacks after WWII and benefited from relatively stable upbringings. (This was also an era when blacks still felt like they needed to prove things to whites, so they worked hard on their crafts to be accepted.)
But, what about demand side explanations? One change is that popular music today is usually aimed at microniches. If you like, say, sludge metal but not industrial metal, well, you don't have to put up with any of that horrible industrial metal on your iPod. You can have 100% sludge metal all the time.
In the old days, people had fewer channels of music, so you had to put up more with stuff that wasn't exactly to your taste. Earth, Wind & Fire, for example, was a black band that aimed more at women than men and more at 20ish people than teens, but they were widely respected across many demographics. If you were looking around the car radio dial for, say, the Stones or Zeppelin but could only find EWF's September, well, you might listen to it because you didn't have too many other choices and, while it definitely wasn't crafted with you in mind, it was clearly of high quality. So, bands had incentives to be broadly appealing.
I don't listen to black radio stations because I don't like rap, but I've recently listened with some fascination to the big pop station in L.A., KIIS, the one with Ryan Seacrest as DJ.
The biggest demographic group left today that wants to like what everybody else likes, that wants to be up on the latest fads, are teenage girls. So, mainstream pop music today reflects the tastes of just that narrow demographic. And the music industry has gotten used to catering to their desires, which in turn makes teenage girls more addicted to their urges, more in need of ever stronger doses.
Commenter Title in Caps calls what they now want narcisso-fascism. As far as I can tell, most pop songs these days by female singers are about "I'm so sexy." Meanwhile, pop songs by male singers aimed at the teen female market are mostly about "You so sexy."