My blog today is about Studio 54 and the disco era. Everyone has commonly heard that disco is dead, but what killed it? Is it possible that a club can make or break an entire genre? I think that for disco that is absolutely the case. Prior to Studio 54, discotheques were around but not extremely popular. It was considered to be a genre set aside for African-Americans. When Studio 54 came along, disco took the main stage because of the inclusiveness to all people. Disco was on top of the world, arguably because of the club. People traveled from all over the world to visit the club and foreigners would take the discotheque model and bring it back to their own countries. When Studio 54 was closed, it seemed that disco closed with it. Is it possible that when the energy of the American discotheque ended, the genre of music ended too? I believe this to be true and you can ad-lib new genres to test the theory. Think of what EDM would be if music festivals and raves didn’t exist. Sure, EDM is good music and people enjoy it, but if raves and music festivals were outlawed, the music would not gain the same popularity that it has and it would eventually fiz out. It is still amazing to me that one club, Studio 54, built and destroyed disco.
Everyone who is alive knows that Elvis was labeled “The King”. Exalted as the king of Rock n Roll, Elvis’s records went platinum and he became one of the most popular artists of all time, but why? He rarely wrote his own music, his style was copied from jump blues artists, and the term “rock n roll” was coined by Allen Freed. Let’s break down a few things. First off, he was white. I’m not supporting the argument that just because he was white he was popular, but artist like Little Richard and Chuck Berry sounded almost identical to Elvis but didn’t receive nearly the same amount of fame. His race allowed him to be popular amongst a white and black audience where as Chuck Berry might have been forbidden to be listened to by some teenagers with racist parents (presumably). Second off, he hit the wave at the right time. The market was over saturated with crooners and doo wop bands. Everyone got a taste of fast paced blues for the past few decades in the form of jump blues, electronic blues, and urban blues. Elvis blended them together at the exact right moment for his music to be a hit. Third, and most importantly, he launched the concept and style of the American rock star. He danced provactively, dressed in wild clothes, had a model wife, got drunk and high before shows, and died on a toilet. These things might not have been new to artists, but he made them public. He made these traits to be admirable and Elvis alone is the reason that rock music was associated with “bad boys”. Generations of rock stars have come and gone but they never would have existed if Elvis didn’t pioneer their behavior. It’s almost like he made a rockstar handbook. His biggest contribution wasn’t the music, that’s not what made him “the king”; His contribution and title was earned through his his actions.
In class, we discussed the early origins of popular music. Wailers were mentioned and easily distinguishable from crooners. Typically, wailers were female singers who projected their voices, and had a similar blues/jazz sound like the crooners did as well. Artists like Billie Holiday, Doris Day, and Ella Fitzgerald come to mind when we think of these artists. I believe that this style of singing is making a come back today. New age female vocalists are starting to make popular music which sounds reminiscent to wailers of the early 20th century. Today’s modern wailers may not have the same swinging jazz sound as original wailers, but it sounds most comparable to the blues and jump blues. Artists today which remind me of this style are Billie Ellish, Lana Del Ray, and Florence Welch. These artists have many songs which feature rappers and even have some songs which have an EDM flare to them. I personally think that these songs are only put out to pander to a radio audience. For all four of the aforementioned artists, they typically have a blues style while projecting their voices in a very strong manor. To hear specific examples of this, listen to “When the Party is Over” by Billie Ellis, “Blue Jeans” by Lana Del Rey, and “Over the Love” by Florence Welch. When listening, notice how each artist has a strong voice that dominates the track. Each song has a melancholy sound as well which is very reminiscent to the blues and the style that wailers had.
We all know the impact that minstrel shows had on racial stereotypes. It painted African Americans as primitive and highlighted characteristics of slavery for the benefit of a white audience. We discussed in class whether or not minstrel-type of entertainment exist today and I believe that answer is yes, but in a different form. Minstrel shows had a touch of comedy in the performance, but they still acted as stereo-typically as possible in order to please a white audience. I believe that some black musical artists today do the same thing, but without the comedy. Many new rappers have started a sub-genre of “mumble rap” which places emphasis on the beat and black stereotypes rather than lyrics with substance and meaning. To me, this is a form of a minstrel show. Many artists “rap” about drugs, sex, money, or violence without providing any context for talking about these things. In many cases they are just saying random words to appease an audience of mostly white teenagers. I am not saying that rap is a genre without substance, in fact, I’m implying the opposite. Rap is a genre that empowers African Americans and helps them express their lives in an artistic manor (although this genre is not restricted to just African Americans). Rap at it’s core is a great genre of music, but some artists pervert rap by acting and sounding as ridiculous as possible. J. Cole points this out in his song “1985”, which criticizing mumble-rap. The lyrics illustrate my point:
“But have you ever thought about your impact?
These white kids love that you don’t give a fuck
‘Cause that’s exactly what’s expected when your skin black
They wanna see you dab, they wanna see you pop a pill
They wanna see you tatted from your face to your heels
And somewhere deep down, fuck it, I gotta keep it real
They wanna be black and think your song is how it feels”
I believe that J. Cole is eluding to the fact that modern rap is a form of minstrel-type entertainment; Black artists degrading themselves for the benefit and entertainment of a predominantly white audience. I see no difference from modern rap of the 2010s and minstrel shows of the 19th century.
My blog today is about something that was not yet talked about in class: What is the new sound of rock music? I ask this question because it seems that there is no definitive new sound when it comes to rock n’ roll. Since the time of Elvis, rock has been on the forefront of popular music. Even as hip hop became the dominant style of popular music, rock music was still listened to by a large mass of people. It just seems that there is no new rock sound for the 2010-2020 era. Every decade has their own style of rock. The 50s introduced artists such as Elvis Presley and The Beatles who had a blues sound infused with a new style of rock. The 60s introduced psychedelic rock. This sound was pioneered by artists such as Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, and Pink Floyd who had a trippy sound that inspired an entire culture of music and fashion. The 70s was the era of hard rock. Bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, The Who, and The Rolling Stones introduced the hard, fast paced sound of new rock and brought new energy into the genre. The 80s was the decade of hair bands like Twisted Sister, Scorpion, Motley Crue, and Pat Benetar who undoubtly had a unique sound and style. The 90s was the birth of grunge and alternative rock. Nirvana, Soundgarden, Greenday, and Red Hot Chillipeppers introduced a new sound of rock with a bit of teenage angst mixed in. In the 2000s, a new version of rock was introduced in the form of emo bands and teenage angst. Fallout Boy, 3OH!3, My Chemical Romance, and Blood on the Dance Floor had a unique style and sound. The big question is what new sound was introduced in the 2010s? What new rock sound was made? What new style is memorable enough for the youth of today to play for their kids and remember the good ol days? Hopefully the 2020s will introduce something new because this is the first decade since 1950 that rock has not had a new sound and style.
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