Yesterday, about a half-dozen of my Facebook friends forwarded a gloom-and-doom listicle from a site called Buzzfeed entitled "12 Extremely Disappointing Facts About Popular Music." Now up to over one million hits, the doom-and-gloom piece is subtitled "This is the saddest thing you'll read all day!!! You let this happen! You!!!"
Okay leaving aside the fact that it was far from the saddest thing I'd read all day -- that would probably have been the deaths of the final two of the four children of that homicidal dad in Bay City -- it's difficult to conclude that the article was anything other than dishonest, a compendium of misleading BS, cherrypicked facts, and apples-and-oranges comparisons purporting to show...what, exactly? That people suck? That music is in the toilet as never before?
If that was the article's intent, it fails on anything other than the most superficial analysis. Let's examine its contentions point-by-point.
1. Creed has sold more records in the US than Jimi Hendrix
Okay, that sucks. But in Jimi's heyday, rock was young and only young people were listening to rock. Also, there were close to 100 million more people in the America of Creed than there were in Jimi's America. And note it says in the US only. Because he had to go overseas to make his name, Hendrix is hugely popular in the UK. Today, a black man with his looks and lyrical and instrumental talent probably would not have to go to London to make it. Witness the later success of the far-less-talented if somewhat similar Lenny Kravitz.
2. Led Zeppelin, REM, and Depeche Mode have never had a number one single, Rihanna has 10
Rihanna is a pop singer from today's neo-singles era. REM, Depeche Mode, and Zep were rock and/or new wave bands from the album era. This article fails to mention that Rihanna's 10 #1 singles are matched by Stevie Wonder. You did that too! You!
3. Ke$ha's "Tik-Tok" sold more copies than ANY Beatles single
The same phenomena as in the Hendrix example: There are millions more people in Ke$ha's day than there were in the Beatles' day, and the Beatles were only popular with the young in their time. Today several generations are into pop. Will Ke$ha have 19 more #1 singles? We think not.
4. Flo Rida's "Low" has sold 8 million copies -- the same as The Beatles' "Hey Jude"
Again, population. And it's not like people in the swingin' '60s had hugely better taste than the morons and philistines and squares who allegedly dominate today's music-buying public. "Hey Jude" was the top-selling single of the '60s, but do you know what was number two? If you guessed Percy Faith's "The Theme from 'A Summer Place'" treat yourself to a hit of acid.
5. The Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" is more popular than any Elvis or Simon & Garfunkel song
By what standard? Sales? We'll see if the Peas stay relevant for 40 or 50 more years. We'll see if there's a reunion concert in Central Park or a comeback special in Vegas.
6. Celine Dion's "Falling Into You" sold more copies than any Queen, Nirvana, or Bruce Springsteen record
And "Feelings" was on the charts for longer than all but six singles released in the groovy '70s. And it's a silly comparison. Likening a suburban-mom schlockmeister like Dion to a trio of rockers is just silly. There's always been a huge market for musical wallpaper and there always will be, and it will always exceed those of teenage / twentysomething rage and ennui, glam-rock theatricality, and hard-won nuggets of wisdom from blowsy Jersey Shore bar-rooms.
7. Same with Shania Twain's "Come On Over"
Laura Branigan's "Gloria" was on the charts for longer than all but five records released in the '80s. Sex sells, and few stars were ever sexier than Shania.
8. Katy Perry holds the same record as Michael Jackson for most number one singles from an album
And was her album anything like the phenomenon Thriller was? Hell to the naw. With total record sales down across-the-board, chart success means much less today than it did in the early '80s. All I know is that while you could escape Katy Perry if you wanted to, there was no corner of this land you could run to if you wanted to escape Thriller.
9. Barbra Streisand has sold more records (140 million) than Pearl Jam, Johnny Cash, and Tom Petty combined
So? They aren't competitors. I'm sure Thomas Kinkade has "outsold" many much better artists who are nevertheless wildly well-paid themselves.
10. People actually bought Billy Ray Cyrus' album Some Gave All... 20 million people. More than any Bob Marley album
Billy Ray was the beneficiary of a fluke ditty that became a phenomenon like "The Twist" or "Macarena." Beyond that, he's actually a pretty decent trad country singer. If that album has outsold Legend it all came in its year of release, and it hasn't been by much and one day Marley's hits will pass it by. And can anyone argue that Billy Ray has more relevance than Marley today? Sure, he sired that once-ubiquitous, now-baked-as-often-as-a-Rasta daughter of his, but people don't go around solemnly misquoting him on Facebook like they do with Marley.
11. The cast of Glee has had more songs chart than the Beatles
As we said earlier, the charts simply ain't what they used to be. If the cast of Glee racks up 20 #1 hits, as the Beatles did, then there might be some cause for alarm.
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12. This guy [Justin Bieber] exists
What, there were no teen idols before today? Is that the point? Or is that Bieber lacks talent? If either of those are the contention this writer was trying to make, he is sadly mistaken.
As Warren Graves and I put it in my Facebook page, Bieber is just a one-man version of New Kids on the Block which was in turn a white copy of a New Edition, which was something of an update on the Jackson 5, which had its own white doppleganger in the Osmonds. So guys like him have been around -- you could go all the way back to Frankie Avalon and beyond. And in that tradition, I'd contend that Bieber is among the most talented.
All in all, in the words of veteran St. Louis critic / writer Rene Spencer Saller, this article was "pretty inflammatory, but not necessarily in the way that the 'writer' (lister? bullshit stat compiler? trivia aggregator?) intended. More than the devolution of pop music, it underscored for me the devolution of journalism."