Songs get sad­der but pop’s va­ri­ety grows

The New Zealand Herald - - Entertainment - Bo­hemian Rhap­sody.

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.

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