It’s not surprising pop dominates.

It is surprising it’s marginalized everything else.

You’ve got to go back to MTV. It was a rock world. Disco made inroads but in a racist, homophobic uprising rock fans killed it. And then Bob Pittman and his minions declared MTV an AOR outlet. That’s “Album Oriented Rock” for the great unwashed. A misnomer in that the tracks CAME from albums, but stations no longer went deep.

MTV minted new stars. Most famously Duran Duran and Culture Club, which AOR refused to play. As a result, Top Forty stations appeared on the FM dial to fill this gap. This was a revelation, prior to the early eighties Top Forty was an AM dungeon where only the most uniformed went to listen. KROQ, a marginal outlet in Pasadena, broke trend by playing this newfangled music, AOR started to crumble, and then came Michael Jackson.

MJ broke the color line. And after the success of “Thriller,” he called himself “The King Of Pop.”

Notice, not “rock,” not “soul,” but a word dreaded in the heart of every white boy American music aficionado.

But there was a reprieve. Although Michael infiltrated the playlist and other non-white performers followed him, KROQ took MTV hostage. Andy Schuon left Pasadena for New York, he decided what got on. And as a result, we had the great alternative wave, of not only REM, but ultimately Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

But rap gained a toehold. And expensive, effects-laden videos triumphed. And rockers blinked. They didn’t like sacrificing all this power to the director, spending all that money and looking like a doofus all at the same time. That’s when the good-looking nonentity took over. That’s when pop started to triumph.

But radio still mattered and records were expensive to make so other scenes still existed, other radio formats still mattered, pop was something, but it wasn’t everything.

It is today.

And we did not foresee this.

We thought there was room for everybody. That by opening the floodgates the big tent would be populated with a cornucopia of sounds.

But the truth is none of the rock acts that dominated MTV in the eighties can get any traction. Tom Petty and Don Henley can put out new music, but no matter how good, it ultimately stalls. And it’s not much different for those who came thereafter, like Metallica and Pearl Jam. Their audience still comes out in prodigious numbers to hear the classics live, and that’s seemingly all they want to hear, but their cultural impact has not only waned, but disappeared.

What happened?

The audience got younger, it had no reference points. Everything that meant something to both older listeners and the business not only didn’t matter, it was unknown! Credibility, writing your own material, having chops… That was from a different era. Now you can fake it. And when you can fake it, ear candy is everything.

Which brings us to today.

Like I said, pop started to dominate with Michael Jackson. But now, if you’re not on Top Forty radio, you’ve got no chance. You can garner a marginal audience, be on Patreon, sell merch on Pledge, but you just cannot break through.

We think we want choice, but we don’t.

That’s the story of today. One Amazon is enough. One Google too. Microsoft spent billions on Bing! and the only market share it got was paid for. We only have ears for hits, and the young audience that spends, that goes to the show, that builds acts, wants community, a club they can belong to, and today that’s pop.

Even better, anybody can play. You too can win the lottery. Whether on TV, with “Idol” or “The Voice,” or in your home studio utilizing Pro Tools to upload the end product to YouTube so you can gain notice and hopefully money. People go where the money is, and that’s pop.

And the oldsters can’t understand.

Oldsters remember when the Beatles and rock KILLED Top Forty, they believe music must be not only ear-pleasing, but meaningful. How can this be?

It could be something else. Doesn’t have to be the pop music on today’s chart. It’s just that the pop music delivers mass appeal in a way other genres don’t. Jazz is a joke and rock is moribund. Who wants to hear imitations of the real thing? Better to go back to the originals. As for meaning and credibility, we’ve got hip-hop, however long in the tooth that might be, and its most successful acts have gone Top Forty. And country still exists, but everybody in the format laments that not only is it Bro, it’s got elements of pop, the rapping, the sounds, Florida Georgia Line is just one step away from Top Forty. And the biggest country act gave up the ghost, threw away the banjo and went pop completely, and Taylor Swift only got bigger, turns out she didn’t need Nashville whatsoever.

She got it. She knew using Max Martin and singing anthems is more important than plumbing the soul and revealing one’s warts. She used to do that when she wore cowboy boots, but she’s taking no risk in today’s pop world.

It’s not going to get better. The landscape is not going to broaden. You can make it, but they probably won’t hear it. Pop is everything, because the market demands it. It whittles down choices and delivers what people want to hear.

Like I said, eventually they’ll want to hear something else.

Then again, every few years a trend used to come along to wipe the deck clean. Hair bands were replaced by alternative bands and then hip-hop killed them both.

Nothing new is on the horizon. We’re in a period of consolidation. We’ve only just figured out distribution, for ten years we were worried music was gonna be free.

But when the monetization becomes obvious, new forces will come along to dethrone what presently exists. But that hasn’t happened for fifteen years, which is how music lost its relevancy.

But not in cultural forecasting. This is what’s happening everywhere. Only a few movies succeed, never mind apps. This is our future. The big will get bigger, and if the small exists at all, most people will never see it.

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