In 1971, windswept crooner Don MacLean penned a little-known ditty (presumably inspired by the Weitz brothers film of the same) in which he warbled about “the day the music died”. Though MacLean was actually referring to the tragic 1959 plane crash which claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and JP Richardson, the true fate that has befallen music has proven to be far longer, more drawn-out and exponentially more painful.
Not that careering Earthwards in a ball of flame would be a fun way to go, but at least it would be over in a matter of minutes and carries with it a certain poetic panache. Come to think of it, there are few deaths that are more protracted and boring than the one in the throes of which the music industry currently finds itself – death by streaming.
Even that name sounds too glamorous, since it implies vibrancy, fluidity, motion. In actual fact, it’s death by repetition, death by turgidity, death by mundanity. It’s akin to choking on a piece of dry white toast, or being smothered by a beige cushion, or drowning in a bowl of korma. Where’s the pizazz? Where’s the flair? Where’s the raging against that dark, dark night? Not in the UK Top 40, that’s for sure.
The British radio scene has always been a bit of a let-down, to say the least. Radio 6 aside (and even that’s questionable), there’s very little on our airwaves that gives the boundaries a tentative prod, never mind pushes them. You can rattle through the frequencies till the cows come home – there’s next to no chance you’ll find something to make you really moo.
So the game has always been rigged; what of it? Now, though, the introduction of streaming has corrupted our musical intake beyond all recognition. A device that ostensibly allows us unprecedented access to a staggering amount of music is, in reality, being monopolised by the unimaginative to manipulate charts that at least used to represent something to the more naïve and malleable young minds out there. Oh, and did I mention they’re ripping off almost all of the artists in the process, as well?
The latest beneficiary of this stacked deck is a man who straddles the line between playground bully and playground bullied with unnerving ungainliness; tattooed arms the girth of any deciduous garden stalwart, a barrel chest housing an annoyingly fillable set of lungs and a mouth apparently capable of fitting 55 Maltesers in one sitting (perhaps the most impressive feat he’s capable of). All hail Lord Sheeran, who has slouched his way into 16 of the top 20 singles spots, nine of the top 10, and three of the top five album slots. And all this without even bothering to dream up titles for the albums in question, beyond a simple maths squiggle!
Predictably, the Top 40 have pounced upon Sheeran’s success, being as it is the first bone of publicity that’s been thrown their way this millennium. When else could anyone over the age of 15 say with confidence that they knew what comprised more than half of the current charts? But beware, Top 40 overlords, for Sheeran’s sword is double-edged. He may have dredged up your name for the first time in living memory, but his monopoly is a stark reminder (if any was needed) of just how extraneous you’ve become. It’s like vaguely thinking about some forgotten fragment of your youth – Dale Winton, say, or a Push Pop; wondering briefly whether he’s still alive and whether they still sell them – then banishing all thoughts as utterly irrelevant to every tangible aspect of the modern world.
Now, corruption of the charts is one thing, corruption of the radio is another, but corruption of the entire music scene is where the line must be drawn. The humdrumification of today’s music is so complete that for every Thom Yorke there are ten Ting Tings; for every Kieran Hebden there are a hundred Harry Styles; for every Matt Berninger there are a million Miley Cyruses and for every Bon Iver you’ll see a billion fucking Biebers. Chop off Sheeran’s head and umpteen tiny Sheerans will likely slither out, ready to terrorise the world anew with more monotonous exercises in paint-by-numbers pop (which, according to sources, is actually his real plan for his latest tour – minus the decapitation bit).
Not that the Malteser menace is the real cause of the problem; he’s just the kid in the right place at the right time. He has just enough street smarts to strum a guitar, cobble together a blueprint for mass-produced, mass-consumed drivel and the wherewithal to coordinate his release times according to rival artists.
No, the real problem is twofold. On the one hand, you’ve got an increasingly popular streaming culture, which actively encourages passivity, reaching out to those who mindlessly sit through the same undemanding tunes, rather than actively seeking out new music. On the other hand, you’ve got the mindless cretins themselves, gluttonously gulping down every morsel of melodic mediocrity that they’re spoon-fed by the mass media. It’s a two-way relationship, and both are just as guilty as each other.
So what’s the solution? Put the old bugger out of its misery, I say. Rather than let the music die this slow, painful and deeply undignified death, just take your hi-fi out back and put a bullet between its speakers. Or better yet, buy yourself a one-way plane ticket to Torremolinos or Timbuktu or wherever the fuck the fancy takes you, then find a way to hoik your beloved boombox out of the tin can sans parachute. The cabin crew will scream blue bloody murder and the rest of the passengers might bring back lynching, but Buddy will be proud. Buddy will be proud.