Some would say that we are in a strange phase in the evolution of the Internet. It takes no less than five minutes to complete a digital ride scrolling through Instagram’s many algorithms dead end bang on a reel with a track so familiar it’s creaky. But usually it’s a snippet of a track – the “drop” or chorus being the most catchy part of a song. The pay-off is served prematurely hot in order to cool quickly and fade.
The reel dances themselves originated from TikTok – now banned in India – which is a platform that has been describe by Rolling Stone as “the stomping ground for hits”. TikToks also serve as extremely resilient sources of earworms – popular TikTok songs and remixes stay stuck in our heads for far longer than we’d like and are, increasingly, a recipe for success. song.
“Leaving a task unfinished leads to a feeling of tension, as you feel psychologically compelled to complete the task. Thus, your mind cannot let go of the task,” Callula Killingly, a researcher who studies earworms at the University Queensland Technology, Told CNET. This is apparently a good thing for musicians, but it is also rapidly changing the musical landscape.
“To keep streaming consumers engaged, it is increasingly common for songs to begin in the media — with a square bracket, followed by a square bracket and ending with another square bracket”, wrote Charlie Harding and Nate Sloan in The New York Times. Increasingly, artists are being paid for the number of streams, which incentivizes them to “attract” listeners from the first second and change the order of the traditional song itself. The days of the tried-and-true verse-chorus format of decades past are over, it seems, as Harding and Sloan explain. The 2010s brought a breakdown of traditional music structures, and digitization and social media disrupted the structure of song itself.
It’s not all bad news. Billie Eilish’s ‘Bad Guy’ has been hailed as the first hit that broke with traditional song structures – songwriter Emily Warren Noted how Eilish’s music was key to “breaking down the rigid song structures of a decade ago”, where artists now focus on “the hook” more than they traditionally would on the chorus. “You’re not just competing with other creators. You are also in competition with everything that takes our time: podcasts, television, applications, etc. said Harding and Sloan, of the demands of artists in the age of streaming. There is a compelling argument to be made here for the claim that things get worse: when music is no longer music but content, it is bound to lose some of the distinctive qualities that give it texture and meaning.
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The researchers also studied how an old form of the “pay to play” or “payola” model that was previously regulated has now taken on new forms – artists can pay influencers on TikTok or Instagram to play their songs and direct new listeners to stream their music. This is how TikTok is also becoming a new place to discover new music, which makes the 15-second clip version all the more crucial. It also makes TikTok essential to marketing a song – often propelling them into become the top hits. In a report published by TikTok, the company said how 90 songs trending on the platform reached Billboard’s top 100 – and five reached the top spot. As a result, the streaming business is shorten songs and catchier – but does that necessarily mean better?
No doubt, yes and no. TikTok has given birth to Lil Nas X – the most irreverent and quintessential Gen Z artist to come out in the past two years. Lil Nas X first promoted his record-breaking hit ‘Old Town Road’ on TikTok – paving the way for his quixotic genre, and a radically queer character who seamlessly blends artist and music.
TikTok being virtually free and available to everyone has also forced record companies to heed their own imposition of rules and transform a creative enterprise into an industry. New possibilities, diverse talent, and a rejection of the old guard seem to be the order of the day on TikTok.
But not everything about the reels music trend is as simple as rearranging the order of things. rolling stone reported how mega-influencers on TikTok like Addison Rae charge tens of thousands of dollars to perform a dance to someone’s song — and not even original dances at that. It’s then not just a question of whether the platform is diluting the music, but also the culture of profiting from it – as white influencers with clout end up climbing on the hits of other better, lesser-known and other dancers. generally marginalized on the platform.
Pop music has always responded to and been shaped by the dominant technologies and economies of their time. But the question to be faced in the age of streaming is: how much of the music is dictated by the algorithm and how much is due to the creativity of an artist? “That’s what talented musicians do: bend the rules to convey meaning. When enough of them bend the rules at the same time, the rules are rewritten,” Harding and Sloan wrote, adding that “to some these changes may seem like grim omens, hints of a future in which the chorus becomes enslaved to the hook just so our impatient, digitally-tangled brains don’t pressure us to press “skip.”
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This type of music has been variously described by critics as mundane, “streambait” or “Spotify-core” pop – referring to a “blandness” that “[has] gripped an audience of distracted, perhaps overworked or anxious listeners whose stress-filled clicks… generate anesthetized, algorithmically designed playlists,” according to Liz Pelly. But researchers say such notions of today’s music are likely to fall on masculinists, ‘rockers’ [meaning rock music zealots] discourse aimed at undermining the creativity and inherent value of this type of ambient music — popularized by Brian Eno.
Additionally, many scholars point out that concerns about shorter songs ruining the music echo earlier concerns about the three-minute song format popularized by the record. But brevity can capture much more about a generation than it omits: it “can distil an essence, capture a moment, sum up a movement, galvanize an audience”. according to critic David Marsh.
On the other hand, the ubiquity and lack of choice in what algorithms present to us has led some to Argue that audiences have been ‘brainwashed’ into loving music objectively worse – according to a major study in 2012, the songs became more seamless, more risk-averse, with less timbre (or texture), and less “harmonically complex” over time. Moreover, the algorithms contain built-in biases, which could lead to the reproduction of old hierarchies in a seemingly democratized model.
But another analysis Remarks that many of today’s music bashings “too often risk simplifying, downsizing and snobbery, and tapping into old anxieties in thoughtless ways”, while also acknowledging that “music cannot escape fundamentally damaged nature of the societies in which we live.”
In short: there are no easy answers. The music changes and evolves over time – but the jury is still out on whether this time, in particular, makes it worse. If you find yourself mentally humming “my money isn’t moving, it’s going to bed,” in an endless loop with no idea what’s next, you’ll be the judge.