What is it that makes music so valuable in today’s society? Why do each of us find ourselves constantly listening to music? It’s playing when you sit down in your car in the morning, in the aisles of the grocery store, in the earbuds you wear as you go about your morning run, and in the air at every restaurant. Perhaps music is so valuable to us because it makes us feel a certain way; it draws a certain emotion from us. Maybe it makes us feel accompanied – as if someone else is going through the same problems as we are. Regardless, music is something that each of us values in an extremely personal way. So what music does our culture find valuable? And why is that the music that makes us feel these emotions? What about our music makes it fit so closely together with everything we do?
For years we’ve seen a string of bands and artists who seek fame based on their classic pop-style band – a band containing a guitar or two, a set of drums, a keyboard, and of course, a lead singer. You can see this from bands such as Maroon 5, or artists like the ever-famous Britney Spears. However, in recent years other instruments and production-induced sounds have begun to meander their way into our music. When surveyed on musical trends, subjects spoke of music having a newfound “diversity” and an openness to “include a wide variety of genres in the pop category.” But what does this new diversity look like?
Last night’s Oscars found the winner of best original song written for a film to be Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes’ “Writing’s on the Wall,” a song that contains a full orchestra. This song is a simple signal to a greater phenomenon that we are seeing in music today. Pop music is beginning to accept instruments that have a different feel then just this classic pop-style band. Pop artists today are suddenly being allowed to experiment with instruments that would once never be accepted in popular music. It’s almost as if entirely new genres are being allowed into pop music, as exhibited here by classical music breaking this boundary.
This year’s album of the year Grammy award winner, 1989 by Taylor Swift, further proves the point that popular music can now contain all types of new and exciting sounds and instruments. In the album, Taylor implores all sorts of musical production elements. In the opening of the album’s song “Out of the Woods” we hear an excerpt of a downwards scale edited electronically to have a more techno-dance vibe. We see these elements repeated again in the opening of the album’s single “Blank Space” which again exhibits natural instruments being edited in an effort to give the song a more electronic appeal. We see this idea throughout the remainder of her albums, taking new forms in songs like “All You Had to do was Stay” where not only is the music subject to computer-alteration, but the voices as well. Overall, the entire album shows a shift in focus from the once typical instruments to the ways in which a computer can make instruments sound new and exciting.
Even Adele, whose album, 25, sold 8.1 copies, making it the number one album of the year 2015, included new instruments on her latest album. Famous for her piano ballads, her album includes songs such as “Million Years Ago” which is almost entirely rooted in guitar. This is completely new territory for the artist who has only ever included songs with strong guitar parts accompanied by strong piano parts in the past. The young artist’s album also includes new and exciting percussive instruments such as the use of the vibraslap in her song “I miss you.” This song also points to a shift in the artist’s music, being an extremely upbeat song. Whereas typically in Adele’s music even the upbeat songs have minor roots, this song seems to be based in an entirely major key.
Overall, we are beginning to see a significant shift in the music that fills our daily lives. Artist’s that have been the business for years are shifting to a new sense of music – a music that includes striking new concepts. We are beginning to see a diversity in music, an inclusion of many different instruments, and an acceptance towards out-of-the-box concepts. Nothing is by the book; nothing is a definite no. Finally, musicians in the pop world are beginning to explore a free, artistic world. Suddenly, there are so many more options and ways for us to feel all of the many exciting emotions that music brings, and that is more than any of us could ever hope for.