Music: Not For Grown-Ups Any More

So, I told Shawn, at least Avril is not half our age

I just turned thirty-one, and although I no longer smell post-college fresh, I am not a CBS viewer, either. So consider that throughout the rest of what follows: although I am an acolyte curmudgeon, I haven’t passed the physical yet, so this complaint is not the rambling of someone who chases the damn kids from his lawn. With that dash of pepper, I have some advice to Big Music: get those damn kids offa the charts.

“Doom, doom!” the music industry shrieks. CD sales in the year 2002 declined from the year before, which also declined from some idyllic moment when the music industry assumed its growth would continue, unfettered by reality, at ten percent a year. By 2102, CD sales would reach a dizzying 10,792,975,584,549 or so units, or 100 CDs a day for each person currently in the United States. However, Big Music’s plans have gone awry or amok, or maybe both, and the number of CDs sold has dropped.

Pop music, for one genre, is dying. Britney, Eminem, Christina, and Ludacris aren’t selling the albums they used to, and certainly not the number of albums their predecessors did. Rockers like Creed and Nickelback fell 8.7%. Alternative hype bands with soon-to-be-forgotten names didn’t ring the platinum bell enough times for Big Music’s taste. So Big Music keeps looking for the Next Big Thing, or more appropriately, the Next Young Thing. Therein lays its fallacy.

As I review the music news these days, I notice the artists keep getting younger, and not just relative to my advancing age. Avril Lavigne, the new Canadian big thing now that Alanis Morrisette has retired, is almost ready for college. Singers who hit the big time before drinking age were a novelty in previous decades–remember Tiffany and Debbie Gibson? In 1998, 1999, and 2000, Destiny’s Child, Brandy, Monica, Mya, Dru Hill, Tatyana Ali, Usher, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, 702, Samantha Mumba, Blaque, Aailyah, and Pink all charted hits at age 21 or younger.

As the average age of the top 40 singers has declined, so has their music’s content. Avril only worries about her sk8er boi and her high school consort’s preppy clothes. Destiny’s children want only satisfactory bed partners. Britney wants her baby to hit her with a big sloppy kiss one more time. Even Vitamin C is promising to be best friends forever after graduation, and she’s thirty years old, which is either a commentary on to whom you have to target your music to be heard or a commentary on public schooling.

I know pop music has always been weighted to the young, but contrast the current musical scene with the top 40 charts of the 1980s, when I was busy walking a mile to the school bus stop across the street. Huey Lewis and the News sang about working for a living. Bruce Springsteen feared for his job and his family. Dionne and her friends reveled in long-term friendships. Although the chart had its share of skirt chasing, the overall content tempered youthful exuberance with adult concerns.

Big Music should correct this oversight, this overhype of youth at the expense of providing music for those of us with mortgages but with disposable income. Without recognizing life after 25, Big Music will watch its pop and other CD sales decline as adults migrate to songs with adult content. One genre continues to address these concerns: country music’s sales increased 12% last year. I suspect Big Music doesn’t know why, but probably assumes a nineteen-year-old navel-baring singer could make next year the best yet.