My article on the current state of popular music appears in today's edition of National Review Online.
Award shows are almost invariably about three things: p.r., p.r., and p.r. The leaders of an industry get together not to honor greatness or artistry but instead to recognize those who most fully exemplify the things that make money.
Thus it is with the Grammy awards, the recording industry’s big annual event, which will be shown on CBS tonight. What makes money today in the recording industry is apparently two things: intellectual simplicity and overt passion. Thus the nominations for major awards tend toward works with simple, driving beats, lyrics that express an uncomplicated point of view, and wailing or shrieking vocals loosely derived from the gospel-music tradition. (The drawling inflections of rap seem to derive from country music more than anything else, which itself has gospel roots.)
Jonah Goldberg aptly described the prevailing attitude of contemporary pop music on NRO last week as “canned rebelliousness.” The appeal of canned rebelliousness, I would submit, is that it allows a consumer to feel both individualistic and one of the crowd. That appears to be a central premise of consumer culture, as it happens.
The great majority of the article, however, is a look at a sampling of the "significant number of artists [who] are venturing outside the boundaries to create music that is simultaneously interesting, pleasing, educative, and challenging," including my choices for Debut of the Year and Album of the Year. I hope that our readers will enjoy the article and find it informative and constructive.