Songs get sadder but pop’s variety grows
twice, 16 years apart, Queen’s
It’s a complex production, not straightforwardly danceable, and sung from a murderer’s perspective. Yet it’s the source of much joyful group participation.
The way we consume music, and how that consumption is measured, has changed in 30 years. The charts are a lot less important now that the sheer amount of music available to listeners is greater than in 1985. Then, audiences relied on a comparatively small number of radio stations to hear new music. The charts were selected from a limited number of available singles and were much more prominent in people’s everyday listening.
Today, listeners have the history of recorded music in their pockets and increased control over how it’s playlisted and ordered to taste. The technology we use to listen to music has even altered our relationship with it, simultaneously expanding the parameters of musical choice and making the listening experience more intensely private.
Even though the charts have adapted over the decades, incorporating downloads in 2004 and streaming in 2014, they no longer represent the same measure of cultural dominance they once did. As psychologists Raymond MacDonald, David Hargreaves and Dorothy Miell note, there has been a “democratisation of musical styles in that the previous association of certain styles with ‘seriousness’ and others with ‘popularity’ no longer exists to anything like the same extent”.
While the charts record mainstream success, they also interact with and are fed by musical subcultures that are often defined in opposition to that mainstream. They initially grow because they’re different to what’s in the charts but can eventually achieve success by building on that status, creating tensions with the original fans.