A Fear of Change
One of the biggest and most frequent criticisms for songs on the charts nowadays from a lot of listeners (including myself) is how everything seems to sound the same. Of course this refers to all songs using the same chords, the same beats and predominantly the same topics, but I wonder- are we, the listeners the reason behind this? Of course, we are the ones who stream the music and influence the charts, but going beyond that, I think in the pop music industry, fans seem to adore consistency from their artists- not in terms of good-quality music, but more in terms of their style of music and personality. Any kind of change is faced with rejection and horror.
You often read comments under Youtube videos of a particular artist whining, “I miss the old (insert name)!” In other words, asking them why do you have to change? Pop listeners adore the comfort zone of their artists more than the artists themselves do. Even some of the most successful artists today came under fire when they first tried to change- Teenagers everywhere complained woefully about Taylor Swift leaving country music for mainstream pop, and recently, Katy Perry has been criticised by fans for her latest album, Prism, which focuses more on electropop than her previous works. Regardless of how good their new sound may be, fans are often uncomfortable with having to change the way they look at an artist and what they know them for.
It’s not just about a style, even something as irrelevant as a new haircut is often criticised by listeners. As I have stated previously, pop artists are now icons more than just artists. Hence, when their music style, appearance, or anything else changes, their fans lose more than just music they like- they lose someone they look up to. The biggest example of this is probably Miley Cyrus, who had one of the most drastic and controversial ‘transformations’ a few years ago. People who grew up watching her were suitably traumatised, and a large group of people rejected her music completely, not necessarily because it was bad, but because they couldn’t handle how much she had changed. Of course, it’s natural to be struck by the changes in someone you remember as a child, but I often wonder: how would people have reacted to Cyrus if they first saw her with her more mature, Can’t Be Tamed look and music? Would that album still have been her lowest-selling album till date, or would it have had a better reception, if people didn’t already have this pre-conceived image of her?
Further proof of the reluctance people have for change is the success artists have when they repeat their style over and over, or in other words, play to what they know are their strengths. The first example which comes to mind is Adele. From Rolling in the Deep to Hello, she has excelled with melancholy tracks about breakups, and people have rarely, if ever, questioned it- her last album, 25, filled with songs of a similar style had incredible success worldwide. Similarly, we also have Ed Sheeran, who broke numerous records on the UK charts this year, including having all 16 of his new tracks from Divide in the top twenty at some point. He may have talent, but it has to be said: Ed Sheeran’s Divide was a very calculated decision to give his fans exactly what they know him for. Every track on the album is quintessentially Ed Sheeran, as we know his image, the romantic, down-to-earth guitar player. I highly doubt he would have been as successful had he attempted to venture into another genre of music, or even experiment a bit more within acoustic pop, like he sometimes did in his earlier albums.
Unfortunately, it seems that lacking variety is what keeps popular artists in good books, and on the charts, and gives us music we simultaneously stream and complain about. Well, I’m not out to accuse every artist on the charts to stop what they’re doing, and make radical changes, but I do wish they could be less afraid to do so. Who knows how much variety we could end up with?