When I was growing up in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, there was a clear demarcation between youth music and adult music. On the radio dial, the stations which marketed themselves toward the younger demographic played pop, rock, disco, R & B, soul and heavy metal. Alternatively, the stations which had an older, more mature audience played mainly classical and jazz. Most major cities in the U.S.A. had stations which were devoted exclusively to these genres as recently as a couple of decades ago. Those stations are now extinct, or nearly extinct. Teenage pop music, rap, and hip hop have taken over those coveted bandwidths on the radio waves. The adult audience has been unceremoniously evicted from radio.
This dire situation is compounded by the fact that restaurants, coffeeshops and cafes have followed the lead of the radio stations. Only in the most high-end and five-star restaurants can one now listen to classical or traditional music. I live in a large Southeast Asian metropolis, and I go out to eat and drink frequently. I can say unequivocally that teen pop music, along with cover music, has completely taken over the ambience in eating and drinking establishments. It doesn’t matter which neighborhood, which cafe or which restaurant I’m in. It doesn’t matter if it’s a chain or independent establishment. It matters neither whether it is Eastern or Western food or if it caters to tourists or locals, rich or poor. The music is always the same; shite pop music marketed to teens.
In shopping malls, gourmet markets, clothing stores, and convenience stores, it’s the same. Every time I open a door to walk inside ANY business, my ears are assaulted with the hideous, putrid garbage commonly known as ‘modern pop.’ Most of the time, the music is played at a loud volume. It is far beyond ‘background music.’ In other words, there is no escape.
What’s particularly interesting about this phenomenon is how utterly unaware people are of it. Whenever I question random people about the music, they reply with answers such as: “Oh, I didn’t notice it,” or “It doesn’t bother me,” or “It’s ok.” When pressed further, they are unable to identify either the genre or the artist currently being piped over the speakers. Apparently, it’s just some noise with a melody, but they don’t have a strong opinion about it either way.
At the moment, I’m sitting inside an extremely popular and hip coffeeshop chain during lunch hour. Approximately 25 percent of the clientele is over the age of 50 and half of the customers are at least 30 years of age. Yet none of them seem aware, let alone bothered by, the loud pop music wafting from the overhead speakers.
Here in Asia, Western music has completely uprooted traditional music. However, despite the fact that Western music is now ubiquitous and that a large percentage of the youth is studying English, the locals still can’t understand the lyrics of the songs. The convergence of the popularity of Western pop with the inability of the population to understand the lyrics creates bizarre and sometimes hilarious scenes. For example, the elderly who practice traditional Western dances such as the waltz in the park listen to a song where the singer croons about dumping his girlfriend whom he now despises. The oblivious couples think that they are listening to a ‘romantic’ song. The managers of fashionable clothing stores marketed to tourists play hip- hop songs from playlists downloaded from the internet. Last week, I was in such a store. This is what I heard from the speakers: “Hey motherfucker, whatcha gonna do? Fuck that shit, you can go fuck yourself, bitch….” And on and on. I pulled the young kid who was working on the floor aside and politely told him that perhaps this wasn’t the most appropriate music to be playing and nodded toward the families and kids nearby. He thought for a moment and said, “Yes, ok,” and wandered over to change the music.
What about the European parents who were in the store at that time? Did they not mind the music? Did they find that music appropriate for their children? They too seemed oblivious. We find ourselves in a predicament now where all of us, regardless of our age or preferences, listen to kids’ music. The adults in the world have abdicated the radio airwaves and the wider soundscape in the public sphere without a fight or even a whimper of protest.
I have found only one man, in Britain, who at least is trying to do something. I can only pray that he can find some support. Here in Asia, the battle is lost. All I can do now is fight a defensive battle and pick and choose the places I frequent with extreme caution if I wish to protect my brain from being scrambled with what passes these days for ‘music.’