Music Industry: Have You Got a Soul?

2/02/2010 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger, Jessica Bender

At a panel for the latest VH1 Rock Doc, “Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America," The Roots’ drummer and spokesman, Questlove, spoke on the current state of the music industry. “The music industry has a big question mark over it,” he said. Questlove went on talking about how nobody knows where the industry is going to go, along with saying that the soul in the industry is quickly diminishing. Along with soul, the heart of music is disappearing, since heart and soul intertwine to make some of the best records in history. Replacing soul music is a parade of generic rockers and pop singers who are mediocre carbon copies of the idols they long to be. This is beyond troubling for current and future musical trends.

Growing up in a household full of Motown and R&B records, I have a good notion of how soul can be incorporated into music. Groups such as The O’Jays and the Four Tops may have inspired the matching outfits of the boy bands in the '90s, but they knew how to tug at one’s heartstrings. With tense vocals and testifying one’s feelings into a three-and-a-half minute time span, they knew how to perfectly sell a song to the masses. Gladys Knight and the Pips also followed a similar formula, except Knight broke through with her gospel soulful voice. Old school Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey also put their hearts on their sleeves, at least in terms of their old material. Using catchy rhythms and their insane vocal range, the ladies exposed the world to how soulful a woman can be. In the earlier part of the 2000s, artists such as Anthony Hamilton, Musiq Soulchild and Sunshine Anderson tried to break through to the mainstream, but all seem to not ear the respect they deserve.

The Billboard charts this week have artists such as Ke$ha, Lady GaGa, Justin Bieber, The Black Eyed Peas, Owl City and Beyonce dominating. While all of these artists appeal to the American population at the moment, they lack the emotion and passion that older artists had. They’re not selling good, relatable music--instead, they are selling a look, a trend, and/or a fabricated lifestyle. Even Whitney and Mariah have sunk into a well of mediocrity. Whitney’s “Million Dollar Bill” is a four-minute tune with a cliché as its basis. Meanwhile, “Obsessed” is one of Mariah’s worst singles to date. No one is obsessed with you nowadays, Ms. Carey.

Despite the most popular artists lacking some heart in their work, more underrated artists are slowly breaking through. Grammy-nominated artist Melanie Fiona may only be gaining recognition lately for her song, “It Kills Me,” but the song has some of the most painfully beautiful vocals as of late on radio. The never-aging Sade is making a comeback after not releasing anything for over the past eight years. “Soldier of Love” is heart wrenching at its finest. Maxwell’s latest album is full of tunes that are throwbacks to great songs of R&B’s past. Heck, even some of Pink’s latest material can be considered soulful. After the disintegration and reintegration of her marriage to Carey Hart, her material has been the strongest it’s been since her debut.

The fact that there are still some great soulful songs on the charts means that the music industry can come back from its emotionally barren state it’s in right now. While the trip and transition back to its heartland may take a long while and a bit of effort (throw Ke$ha back into "The Simple Life" where she belongs!), there is still hope for us who crave it.

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  1. Anonymous said...

    we need some MJ recordings to save the industry!! Agree about Sade and Maxwell..they are among the very few artists left that can actually sing...