In the past weeks I have written about all the wonderful music released this year. On the whole however, 2016 has been pretty bad. Though it was certainly better than 2013. Or 2007. Or 8 BC.
However, the biggest trend in pop this year was not tropical rhythms (which were everywhere) or retro throwback songs (they were also a big deal). Crushing Monotony was the defining movement of 2016.
I’ll admit, there’s only so far you can go down the road of ‘music is so repetitive’. Music is after all, literally repetition. It is essentially melodic patterns played over a single repetitive tone. So criticising music for being repetitive is sort of like criticising water for being wet.
That said, it is truly staggering how many popular songs this year relied on a simple hook, word or phrase looped to infinity. Take for example, Maroon 5’s latest smash hit:
Now calling Maroon 5 a band is a bit like calling the team of Ground Force a band. Yes, they’re all working towards the same overall goal, but really, it’s just Adam Levine (or Alan Titchmarsh…I know which I prefer) and some nameless twats.
Maroon 5 used to be a great band, an honest-to-God pop cum funk outfit who had groovy basslines and killer licks. But they have enjoyed gradually diminishing returns since ‘Moves Like Jagger’, reaching their nadir in 2016 and contributing to the great trend of Crushing Monotony.
Note just how simplistic this really is. Seriously, have a good listen. Get turn’t, sit back in your La-Z chair and blast the neighbours with Levine’s pathetic warbling. Eat that shit up.
I’ve searched the song on Genius.com, a wonderful annotated lyrics site, to ensure I’m in possession of all the facts.
Here is the chorus:
Here is the intro:
Now let’s just hold there a second. You say: “You can have a great song that has repetitive vocals or phrasing, it’s about seeing the song as a whole.” You are correct of course. It is possible to take lyrics that are simplistic as-written and make them wonderful in the performance. The Delfonics have a song where the chorus is basically just ‘La-La-La-La-La’ but it’s sung with humanity and soul, giving the refrain some depth.
Many of my favourite songs are extremely repetitive. Both ‘Work’ songs from this year (more on them later) were great and I enjoyed them a lot, even though they used the word ‘work’ a whole fucking lot, and had repetitive phrasing and melodies. On top of that, I’ve spent the last year listening to the weird net-based subgenre of Synthwave, which is often instrumental and relies almost entirely on repetition.
But if we return to Adam Levine and the Maroon Fives, no conciliation do we find. The lyrics are basic and shit, and sung horribly. I don’t mind Levine’s voice actually but in this song he tries this weird, bawdy approximation of Sting. He sounds like Sting with no grit, no imagination and no bollocks. So the delivery isn’t going to save this song from joining the ranks of Crushing Monotony.
What about the music?
No. Musically speaking this song is absolutely dire. It sounds nothing like Maroon 5. It sounds like some no-name House producer convinced some horrendous singer to fill the gaps in his demo.
This song doesn’t falter after it starts, because it doesn’t even start. It has insufficient forward momentum even to fall on it’s face. You’ll notice that the central synthesiser is basically just four notes. Over and over again.
The beat is flat, there’s absolutely no groove whatsoever. The guitar touches are so ineffectual it’s hilarious. It sounds like James Valentine snuck into the booth whilst the song was being recorded and only had time to strum a random chord before Adam Levine chased him out with a broom.
The distinction between verse, pre-chorus and chorus is virtually non-existent. Minimalism is fine, but this is toxic. It is tacky, dreadful, chart-aping drivel. There is absolutely nothing at all to enjoy about this.
However, what about ‘Work’?
Or the other one:
Both songs are repetitive and minimalist. Many people find these songs very annoying. Both music videos open with the name of the track written on something?
And apparently the same director. Those videos had a director?
Anyways the Fifth Harmony song is more useful for our purposes because it’s tropical production is closer to ‘Dont Wanna Know’. So why do I like this song? Why do I think Maroon 5, a band I like a lot, have produced a dreadful song, whereas Fifth Harmony, a tacky corporate farce, have produced something fun?
Well, for one, the melody is a lot better. The bass falls nicely, the singing is at least lively even if it’s over-processed. And most importantly, there is some escalation, with a key change in the final chorus. Now when something as hackneyed as a key change in a pop song is heralded as bold, you know the industry is in trouble. But ‘Work’ holds up, its breezy but also danceable and fun.
‘Dont Wanna Know’ is emblematic of how ho-hum pop music has been this year. This is a sound that has been pervasive all year and will probably carry over to 2017, like annual leave, or herpes simplex. While Crushing Monotony is nothing new to those of us who recall Hanson’s ‘Mmmbop’ or the works of Basshunter, never before has it been so meekly resisted.
Everyone thought ‘Mmmbop’ was shit. Everyone thought ‘Now You’re Gone’ was shit. What made 2016 such a bad year is that we stopped noticing when a song was really bad. Because there was so many of them! After a while you can’t see the wood for the trees. And if you think this was the worst offender then you have no idea…