The question of what makes some music more popular than other music in Western Culture is a question that has puzzled me for a very long time. Here I will be presenting some of my observations on the issue, for the purpose of generating discussion on the issue…
Growing up I always believed that skill and talent were the reasons for the individual popularity of a musician in Western culture. In other words, I would go see a musician or a singer perform and/or buy their album because they were providing music that was very difficult or impossible to replicate while still being enjoyable to listen to. The difficulty to replicate I always thought was a key here because if it were easy to replicate or were not enjoyable to listen to, why would anyone waste time listening to that person when they could just do it themselves? This is what I believed made music popular; however, in recent years I’ve come to see that my way of looking at it had some serious flaws.
My first flaw had less to do with the core reasoning I had, and much more to do with my own biases. Growing up I assumed that everyone had similar definitions of what skill and talent looked like, and I did not adequately take into account the specific tastes of individuals. For example, I personally have never found rap to be enjoyable, and was always somewhat cynical as to why it had achieved such grandiose popularity in Western culture. Over time, I’ve come to see that this view was naive, and I needed to broaden my conception of what others consider to be “good music” in order to be able to better incorporate the tastes of others into the equation.
My second flaw was more extensive and had to do with the core message of why I believed people chose to listen to music in Western culture in the first place. Previously I had believed that music became popular because of its inability to be replicated and because it was enjoyable to listen to for a very broad audience. In other words, it had to be considered “good music” by a very large amount of people. “Good music” is hard to define due to a wide variety of tastes that people have. However, in terms of popularity I believed, and to an extent still do, that it would be much easier to deduce in this context since the music would have to cater to the masses rather than a small niche group of people who could have very different musical tastes. Having studied this issue of “what makes music popular” further, I now see that this issue is much simpler than I previously believed, for “popular music” in this culture is defined by entertainment value rather than the other reasons I had previously listed. Entertainment value is very broad, for it does not mean that the musician has to be skilled, talented, or even produce music that is pleasing to the listener, rather it simply has to be entertaining, funny, amusing, shocking, or interesting. A perfect example of this can be found in the music of Ice JJ Fish who’s single “On the Floor” now has 44 million views on Youtube. Additionally in 2014, he signed a three million dollar record deal to Young Money which is the record label for famous artists such as Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Drake: [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq_d8VSM0nw?rel=0&w=560&h=315] http://huzlers.com/ice-jj-fish-signed-young-money-300000-cash/ . Yes it is conceivable that there are those who have a strong taste for Ice JJ fish’s music, but I do not find it reasonable to assume that in a western culture there are enough people who consider his music to be “good music” in order to substantiate the claim that “Ice JJ fish’s popularity is accredited to his musical skill/talent, and his ability to produce pleasing music to the listener”.
Ultimately, this is a very broad and sometimes difficult topic to discuss given how everyone’s musical tastes can be so radically different. However, in today’s culture, a musicians skill, talent, or ability to produce enjoyable music is less of a factor in that musician’s ability to become popular than is the musician’s ability to be entertaining to a broad audience.