“I feel like the Kurt Cobain of my generation, but people just don’t understand me.” This relatively famous quote is from the one and only Justin Bieber, the Canadian pop mega-star who originally made a name for himself online, and then went on to influence pre-teen girls everywhere to plaster their walls with pictures of his ever-so-adorable face. Is he influential? Sure. But, as anybody who has paid even the slightest attention to music over the past 20 years or so would know, he’s no Cobain. (Needless to say, his infectiously-catchy pop is also nothing like the powerful, abrasive grunge that Nirvana was known for.) While this quote sparked an outrage among both the music media and countless bloggers everywhere, it brings up an important point: Is comparing the present to the past even relevant, or dare I say possible?
When people compare the era we live in to various past ones, music is something that gets brought up a lot. Rightfully so – it’s an essential part of our culture, and helps to define certain time periods in history. Still, when these types of conversations occur, most tend not to prefer the music of today. Words like “stale” and “repetitive” get brought up a lot, and corporate greed is often seen as the cause for the overall blandness of what gets played on the radio. While I can’t disagree with any of these statements, it is important to keep in mind the musical climate of the era. Record companies were still run by the same types of people back then; however, different genres were more popular than they currently are. There was no independent music scene 50 years ago, so naturally, there was a higher amount of more talented musicians being signed by major labels. Granted, creative control wasn’t as much of an issue back then, but it might have been if there were more independent labels attracting the bands who wanted to do their own thing. Basically, as the popular saying goes: It was a simpler time.
These days, the music scene is more divided. Those who like to follow trends go with what’s being played on the radio, and the people who are more interested in music have a thriving underground scene to explore. In this age of technology and interaction, it’s slowly becoming easier for artists to support themselves, all while creating exactly what they want to create. Thanks to the endless possibilities of the internet, it has become easier for a band to find influence from all kinds of music around the world, a label to find artists to sign, and people who love a certain genre or group to come together and share their tastes with each other. Trends used to determine what most everybody listened to back then, but now, because of such constant connection with others, popular music is slowly losing its grip on society. People are discovering that there is something out there for them, something that isn’t necessarily “cool”, but something that they personally are interested in.
Maybe Bieber isn’t the new Cobain, but he doesn’t have to be. The musical climate has changed, and it’s opened the door for the hundreds of other Cobains out there wanting to express themselves. As it turns out, we aren’t worse off than past generations when it comes to music. Thanks to modern ambition and innovation, we’re actually better.