The Pop Cycle Part 1: Does Music Ever Change?

With over 10 million views, one of the most popular VSauce videos on YouTube answers the question: Will we ever run out of new music? In it, show host Michael wonders whether music really can be made in new and different combinations of sounds forever, or whether we will inevitably make the same music, reinvented and rediscovered generation after generation. While his ultimate conclusion is that we are not likely to ever be without new music to enjoy, he does note that many songs fall into predictable patterns based on familiar chords and progressions that already sound good to us. In a previous article, I wrote about how certain music triggers instinctual emotional reactions in our brains on a subconscious level. We are probably never going to outrun the human need to connect to music on an emotional level, nor will we totally break away from such patterns. But the real question for me now is this: will our pop music always fit in to current pop conventions? Are the standards for what is mainstream just as ingrained within us?

In another article, I talked about the transition that certain genres have taken over the years. They start with the outliers and outcasts of society, loved by the downtrodden and weary because they express what the lower classes are going through. Then the genre gathers an “early adopter” following – these fans are not those from the original community, but they find the music appealing and enjoy hearing about life from a perspective other than their own. We might call this the “hipster” stage, where music is cool before it’s popular (or perhaps because it isn’t popular yet). Over time, outlier genres attract more and more fans who feel alienated from mainstream culture and are seeking an alternative that better suits them. At this point, the genre becomes, aptly, an “alternative” genre. It isn’t yet mainstream, but it has a following large enough to be significant on a regional, national, or even international level. Eventually, some members of the alternative community are willing to adapt their standards in order to appeal to a mass, mainstream crowd. Elements of the genre become more and more similar to pop music. Finally, the original outcast genre falls out of favor with the majority and is largely replaced with a pop-adapted version. Such was the fate of country, alternative rock, rap, and many others.

So we’ve hit our roadblock. How can music keep its identity without becoming like everything else that’s popular? What can keep a genre vibrant and sustained by its own identity, a unique community and fans? As a writer for a radio show that thrives on high-quality music that remains somewhat obscure to the larger public, I feel compelled to answer these questions. Join me again next week, when I will begin to tackle these dilemmas. How have the Internet and free distribution methods played their part? Where do record companies and money enter the picture? It will not be easy, but I believe we can figure out a little bit more than what’s already been said. Stay tuned for more!

Part Two here!

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Richard Lyne

Richard is an ACU graduate who was graduated summa cum laude from Abilene Christian University's honors college with a major in English and a minor in business administration. He hopes to return to school for an MA degree at some point, but is currently managing a coffee kiosk at the local grocery store in Denton, Texas. He has written for the Appetizer since spring 2015.

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