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Contemporary Taste In Music & Why I Hate Trey Songz
For the nostalgic among the readership, allow me to set up the basis for this article by taking a stroll down Memory Lane.
I belong to the aging generation demographers and social scientists refer to as "Generation X," those born between the mid 1960’s through the early 1980’s (1965-1980 for those of you who need exact numbers). As such, you know you’re getting old when you start your sentences out with the phrase, “Back in my day, the (fill-in-the-blank) was better!” Being older, wiser, and having a frame of reference for comparing then and now, we say it with a mixture of both pride and regret—proud because we’ve gained the wisdom of experience, and regret because of the loss of simpler times. Back in my day. We say it. Our parents said it. And their parents before them said it. But the truth of the matter is when it comes to music, things truly were better back in the day.
I grew up in the 1970s through the mid 80s. And simply put, both Pop and R&B music was much better then. People in the entertainment industry actually made music; it wasn’t manufactured by machine in a studio. They were artists. They played instruments, which required a long-lost concept called “talent.” And the artists who could combine the talent of playing an instrument with being able to actually sing—as opposed to the simple bellowing out notes found in much of today’s variety of what I would loosely call “music”—were gifted.
Back then, the subject of most music was all about finding love, fond memories of having had it, or how that special person made them feel. I remember growing up with song titles such as Head Over Heels, All This Love, Sara Smiles, Let’s Stay Together. In nearly all of those songs, there was no gratuitous swearing, no gross innuendo, or lyrics which left nothing up to the imagination in these songs. They invoked memories of love…lost, found, or remembered. Easy melodies, calming tempos, and soothing voices truly had charm to soothe the savage beast.
But today’s music almost encourages bestiality. Nothing is left up to the imagination. Performers (if I could bastardize the term) croon out words in a manner which mimics singing. But thanks to their subject matter, lack of originality, and manufactured style, the result is a poor cloning of talent that today’s young listeners—unfortunately for them—have no frame of reference for comparison to examples of the real thing…not unless they were fortunate enough to have grown up in a household where old school music was regularly played.
Take for example the urban contemporary music spectacle who calls himself Trey Songz. Simply put, I don’t like him. I don’t like his (ahem) “music.” In the vernacular of today’s youth, he sucks. Bad.
As someone from an older generation, his appeal to the younger (and in a few instances, older) crowd is something which defies all logic and common sense. The only thing he seems capable of crooning about nowadays is sex…graphically…repetitively…unapologetically. Though there was apparently a time when he was actually making an effort to make music, most of his more recent offerings seem centered around the theme of hyper-sexuality…mostly his own. As a sample, take the lyrics of one of his more well-known pieces, “Love Faces”
The way you bite your lip
Is that your way of tellin' me you like it?
Mmhmm, if I'm the best you ever had girl in your life
Say mmhmm, and when your eyes roll back in your head
Shakin' your legs
Mmhmm, mmhmm, that's what she said
Now I’m not so naïve as to think that the thousands of mostly female urban contemporary music fans who flock to his concerts or purchase his CD’s and mixtapes don’t pump his already inflated ego with the thinking that dollars translate into appeal, and that his popularity somehow vindicates his “talent.” But it only proves that there is a great deal of truth to the old adage that there is no accounting for taste.
What’s to like? He’s a one-trick musical pony, with apparently no versatility of range or style (or subject matter). The true artists of days-gone-by proved they had the versatility and range to appeal beyond a niche segment of music lovers. Older artists like Earth, Wind, & Fire, Madonna, and Whitney Houston made music for everybody, not just sex-crazed youngsters with no ear for discriminating tastes. They made music you could dance to, music which brought back memories, and music which made us feel good, not music set to make one think of only one thing.
And like so many aspects of popular culture (or subculture), ideas that Trey Songz represent become the adopted standard for reality for smaller, unsophisticated minds. His presence in pop culture conveys the idea that what he projects is normal, and a universal standard among most adults (which as any rational thinking person knows is simply not true). Unless he’s an established figure in the adult film industry, no man is going to give a woman hours and hours of recreational sex. Nor does any man—at least most of those I know—think about sex so much that every word that comes from his mouth is a sex-related innuendo. However, young people, being a naïve and impressionable lot, are easily swayed by any idea that has some level of group appeal. Such ideas create cultural standards in the minds of some, even if those standards are unrealistic (and no, I can’t go hours and hours nonstop…nor would I want to. I have other interests, interests which are productive. Just thought I’d throw that one in for the Songz-defenders who will no doubt scream, “You’re just jealous!”)
I find that when artists like Songz opt to take the musical low road and use sex as their gimmick, they are trying desperately to maintain relevancy by courting attention in a constantly shifting music scene with evolving (or is that “devolving”) tastes. However, there has to be a foundation of talent to pull that off. It worked for Madonna. Not so much for Christina Aguilera (despite having loads of talent). The fact that Songz has chosen to adopt an oversexed image so early in his career speaks volumes about his absence of true musical talent (his debut album was only in 2007). After all, sex may sell music, but true talent sells itself.
He likens himself to a more contemporary reincarnation of one of his musical inspirations, R&B semi-crooner R. Kelly, who also contributed to dragging musical sensibilities into the gutter with not only his equally graphic sex-laden tracks, but his (alleged) sexual-related antics which have gotten him into legal hot water a time or two. However, in R. Kelly’s defense, he would occasionally come up with gems which inspired listeners on a spiritual level, such as I Wish, The World’s Greatest, I’m Your Angel (duet with Celine Dion), and his perennial masterpiece, I Believe I Can Fly. Funny thing about R. Kelly though, is he would only seem to come up with these inspirational hits whenever he would get into some kind of trouble involving his sexual proclivities.
Since Trey Songz favors himself to be like a contemporary R. Kelly, is a similar experience what it would take in order to get him to stop trying to recreate the wheel with his oversexed songs…introduce him to the prospect of legal trouble and jail time? If so, I say let’s bring him up on capital charges! Maybe he then will give us rousing spiritual for all times, instead of churning out the crap he’s forced those of us with a frame of reference for better music to listen to every time someone pulls up beside us at a traffic light, or when our younger co-workers on the job feel they need to be “entertained.”