A Regrettable Decade in Music
Ten Unfortunate Developments of the '00s
Hands down, end of discussion, no contest, the single shittiest phrase of the '00s—even over "webinar." "Hater" emerged in the '90s, but it seeped its way into pop music's bloodstream during this decade and shows no signs of going away. It's the ultimate cop-out, equally applicable, and specious, whether you're a megastar or a wannabe. Don't want to own up to your own bullshit? Call everyone a hater! No one knows about your piddling little rap career yet? Bitch about all your haters! Selling millions of albums (despite the fact that "albums" are fast going the way of the dodo) and impressing critics all over the damn place? Goddamn world's still full of haters! Somebody disagrees with you about—oh—anything, and you don't have a cogent response? Haterhaterhater! Keep hiding behind your mediocrity by using this stupid term and you'll deserve as many of them as you can get. (And no, "Stop hatin'!" or some variation thereof is not a clever response.)
2. The death of browsing culture
Then: You went to the record store, you looked around, you heard something new, something new caught your eye, you took a chance, you ran into a friend, you sneered back at the clerk, you had an experience. No more—or, at least, a great deal less. Obviously there are still record stores, and hopefully there always will be. But the downsizing of the social aspect of music (and no, slogging through endless "Firsties!" and "Fuck you, asshole" blog comments is not "social") has made the whole thing seem less urgent, interesting, and relevant than ever, even as the sheer amount of good, readily available music has increased beyond measure—and that's bad for the fans, the music, and the ecosystem that nurtures both.
3. Simon Cowell, Inc.
Pop culture slips into slush easily enough without this professional British villain building a new, improved waterslide. Cowell transformed the music business as surely as the iPod this decade by literally remaking the pop process as a game show. Yes, we owe him for a handful of great '00 music: American Idol alums Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" and Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats," and, by proxy—they're based on Cowell's template, though not produced by him—"Cheater, Cheater" by Can You Duet's Joey + Rory and, from Nashville Star, Miranda Lambert's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
But not only did Cowell re-foist Paula Abdul on an innocent public (most prominent airhead of the decade? Discuss), not to mention the term "pitchy," he's responsible for more garbage than actual musicians of the '00s. Unless you have a speed-dialing soft spot for corn dogs, ham bones, and bland media pros along the lines of Taylor Hicks, Ruben Studdard, Bo Bice, Elliott Yamin, Justin Guarini, Fantasia, Clay Aiken, CHRIS! FUCKING! DAUGHTRY!, Sanjaya "Vote for the Worst" Malakar, Blake Lewis, Jordin Sparks (in particular "No Air," a duet with Chris Brown, the most reprehensible man in show business), Adam Lambert (queer chic, go for it, but he makes Eddie Money sound like Al Green), and, now, Susan Boyle, the middle-aged Englishwoman from Cowell's UK program Britain's Got Talent, who just had the biggest opening sales week of the year with her slow, sentimental versions of Monkees, Stones, and Madonna songs. And that's not even to bring in Daniel Powter's "Bad Day," the worst single of the decade in heavy traffic, which rocketed to number one on AI's back. Which just proves that Simon really is a jerk.
4. The Loudness Wars
The real reason music sounds worse than ever? Because much of it is mastered so loudly that it distorts, or "clips," and winds up becoming physically uncomfortable to listen to. If you want to know why most major-label rock records sound so god-awful—aside from their being by terrible bands, I mean—this is your answer. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, either. (Lots of people have written about this: Start with Nick Southall's 2006 online essay "Imperfect Sound Forever" and Greg Milner's 2009 book Perfecting Sound Forever.)
5. The knee-slapping hilarity of white people with acoustic guitars covering rap songs
Dynamite Hack's "Boyz-n-the-Hood," ex–Veruca Salt frontwoman Nina Gordon's "Straight Outta Compton," Ben Folds's "Bitches Ain't Shit," and Milow's "Ayo Technology" all have a special place in hell awaiting them. Oh wait—the hell belongs to anyone who heard, snickered, and forwarded the YouTube links for them in the first place.
6. The knee-slapping hilarity of white R. Kelly "fans"
I fully accept that he's plausibly insane. I also fully accept that plenty of people are made uncomfortable by the fact that this supple R&B singer-arranger was also possibly responsible for some foul shit, even if a jury found him not guilty. And yes, Trapped in the Closet and its videos are ridiculous and entertaining in ways that flummox people. But the tittering around him by white bohos really did work the nerves, especially once his music took a nosedive in the middle of the decade. Writer-musician John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats referred to it as "critical Buckwheatification," and really, there isn't a better way of putting it.
7. The recording career of DJ Khaled
It may have been P. Diddy who rapped, "Don't worry if I don't write rhymes/I write checks," on 2001's "Bad Boy for Life," but it was DJ Khaled who turned it into a working philosophy with no upside whatsoever. At least Puff produced a couple of great Notorious B.I.G. records; all Khaled's autopilot beats (which he didn't produce) have gotten us on his records (on which he doesn't rhyme) was one great Lil Wayne verse on "We Takin' Over." Khaled screams hoarse taunts at the audience, puts his name on ever more worthless product, and cashes checks when not writing them. Aren't you glad you live in America?
8. People taking Green Day's "political" lyrics seriously
If you're not in 8th grade, you should know better. The end.
9. Everyone's a critic/remixer/musician/tastemaker
The sheer glut of available music online has been remarked upon too much to go over again here, but the plethora of available tracks and remixes by every Joe, Jack, and Jill with a laptop, plug-ins, and time to kill are, together, as good an argument about the gross democratization of the Web as anything this side of the Sarah Palin base. What may be worse are the stupid number of "voices" out there discussing it all. The comments box isn't the worst development of the '00s, but it certainly isn't anything like the best, either. It's helped burn people out on music that hasn't even been released, and it helps people—myself certainly included—to lose all sense of proportion in terms of what music actually means in the real world. Perfect example: I recently encountered a guy who said, "Kids in dorms listen to Animal Collective and the Dirty Projectors, right?" "Not really," I said, "mostly they seem to be listening, as ever, to Dave Matthews." The guy literally spluttered, "What?! Still??!!" The world is not like the message boards, alas. Or maybe that should be "Thank god." (Not that I prefer Matthews to the Dirty Projectors, but you know what I mean.)
10. The Kid Rock–Scott Stapp groupie sex tape
No, I haven't seen it. Just knowing it exists is punishment enough.