As an artist, I have spent my entire life waging an all out assault and war against artistic mediocrity in any way I could. I’m especially referring here to safe, disposable, forgettable, predictable pop (meaning “hit records”). To have the supposedly sacred gift of the hit record, the music must be a statement of complete mediocrity, as fine art is never for the masses. As the masses can only receive and relate to the level of consciousness they possess (which is of course, mediocre at best), that’s the kind of “art” they’ll gobble up and buy. The same boring chords and melodies grace the airwaves and the charts over and over, and when someone comes along who adds just a smidgen or a twist of a different flavor, they’re heralded as geniuses.
Throughout the history of popular music, the historical and cultural value attached to an artist has been largely based on how famous they’ve been. However, in today’s culture, someone’s sole value as an artist is now based on how famous they are – pure talent, innovation and artistic contribution don’t really matter. All one has to do is to be famous and all kinds of erroneous labels are attached to them: genius, pioneer, visionary, trailblazer, icon, legend, etc.
When I saw a parody video by the comedy musical group Axis of Awesome on this very subject, I wasn’t able to stop laughing all day. And if you’re a musician or have ever been around music making, you’ll really get how brilliant this video is. First, they take just 4 chords, and convincingly assert that all pop songs of the last 40 years only use these 4 chords. And then they back it up by performing an extended medley of these songs without missing a beat, even performing 2-3 of them simultaneously. Since these songs are so utterly mediocre from a musical perspective, 2-3 of them can be performed at the same time as if they are all the same song.
In addition to that, they left out 1950’s doo-wop hits which they could have also included, as so many of them use the exact same 4 chords. Just think, if I could only use those 4 chords, I’d be famous too, lol!
Then, I came across another video that captures the same spirit: A comedian named Rob Paravonian talks about his experience as a young cellist performing the Pachelbel Canon in D. Then, in the video, he starts humming multiple pop songs that all musically fit on top of the Canon. Ironically, all of those songs have the same 4 chords as mentioned in the Axis of Awesome video. For me as a musician, I found this to be as hilarious as one of my favorite movies, This is Spinal Tap.
As the musical world turns, our current artistic culture continues to be as lasting and brilliant as a gourmet McDonald’s cheeseburger.