By Cody Kenner
Your favorite band is unoriginal at best, and honestly probably just plain derivative. Cage the Elephant? Just a rehash of music from the Pixies and Led Zeppelin. Mumford & Sons? Pretty much a cross-pollination of Dave Matthews Band and the sort of bluegrass music that’s been around since the ‘50s. CHVRCHES? Well, have you listened to anything by Depeche Mode, Eurythmics, or Ladytron? Whether you’d care to admit it or not, the modern bands you hold so dearly are not particularly creative. For the most part, they’ve relied on the foundations established by their personal idols.
This lack of progression in musical creativity has led many people, old and young, to devalue modern music, and instead gaze fondly at classic songs. Peruse Reddit or Tumblr and you’ll find jaded millennials wishing hopelessly that they’d been born in the ‘60s, or identifying themselves as “old souls.” Paul Stanley, frontman of Kiss and vanguard of rock, declares, “Music is about pushing the boundaries in search of ecstasy. And that’s missing today, for the most part. . .I just don’t find a lot really does much for me, and if it does, it’s because it reminds me of something else.”
So there you have it. Modern music is decidedly unoriginal.
But since when has music evolved in a vacuum? Since the dawn of recorded time, musical progression has always depended on the aping of others. Jazz was a marriage of European classical music and West African music. Led Zeppelin took the songs of blues musicians like Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon and reformed them into hard rock classics. The Beatles drew from Indian raga music to create songs like “Within You Without You” and “Love You To.” The Rolling Stones ripped off “Shake Your Hips” by Slim Harpo to invent their own “Hip Shake.”
The very musicians revered by contemporary naysayers are guilty of their own unoriginality. However, this isn’t a criticism. If anything, it’s commendation. Musical progression is not possible without derivation. So, while it can be argued that The 1975 sounds like Peter Gabriel, there is undeniable ingenuity in their modern take on his music.
Just as music doesn’t evolve in a vacuum, it also can’t be isolated from the period in which it was created. Current production values, present-day zeitgeist, breaking news stories, and popular trends all play into the originality of modern songs.
If you truly believe that new music is unoriginal, perhaps you’re not considering the whole timeline of popular western music. Change is not immediately noticeable. This applies to music’s growth as well as many other aspects of society. You can’t make a sweeping statement on the originality of today’s music because you’re still in the present. If any general claim can be made, however, it is that music is an art, and like any other form of art, it evolves daily. It is not static. To make a bet against the growth of musical creativity would be to bet against the general course of all of musical history.